Book Reviews

Book Review: The Taiga Syndrome by Cristina Rivera Garza (translated by Suzanne Jill Levine & Aviva Kana)

Genre : Speculative Fiction
Date Published : October 1st, 2018
Publisher : Dorothy

Whew! Summer is winding down and because of the holiday weekend I finally feel like I can breathe a little. The last few months have been fairly chaotic – I started another part-time job, moved houses, visited family, and got a promotion at the library (!!!) all in a very short span of time, and so this year I am very grateful that I don’t work on Labor Day. Because August was so busy, I didn’t have a steady reading schedule (and I’m still slogging through Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and…….it is going very, very, very slow), and so this week I’ll be reviewing the book I read for Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club this month at my local indie book store. This post is going to be a little bit about book clubs and a little bit of a review, all mashed into one. Enjoy!

The Taiga Syndrome follows a detective/murder mystery novelist on her journey into the taiga, where she has been sent to find her client’s estranged wife and the wife’s new lover. The taiga is a place of wilderness, magic, and uncertainty, and as the longer the detective remains in the taiga, the more we begin to doubt her sanity. Many strange and inexplicable things happen on our detective’s journey into the wild northern forests – the more truth she uncovers, the weirder things get, and by the end there are more questions than answers. When the book finally came to a close, I was left feeling like I had just read a particularly chilling Grimm’s fairytale.

The overall vibe of this book is very folkloric in nature – it’s very lyrical and poetic, strange and unsettling, and a very quick read (it took me about 2 hours to finish). But Rivera Garza not only captures the feeling of fairytales – she also includes mentions of them throughout the story. The detective ruminates frequently on Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel & Gretel, tying her experiences with the taiga back to the foreboding forests of these stories. A prominent and recurring image is that of a wolf – this wolf, real or imagined, follows our detective both into and out of the forest, and left me with chills when I finally put the book down!

Overall, The Taiga Syndrome was such an odd and unsettling reading experience (in the best way possible). I was left with SO MANY QUESTIONS and am happy to say that none of them were answered during our book club discussion – in fact, I left our monthly meeting with even MORE QUESTIONS! (The big one being – WHAT THE HECK were those tiny elf creatures?! And were they real?!?). It’s been a while since I’ve felt so challenged and invigorated by a book, and I’m so grateful that Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club is constantly bringing new and strange speculative works like The Taiga Syndrome to my attention.

With my new library promotion (woohoo!!!!) I’m unfortunately going to have to take a mini-break from book club because it won’t fit with my new work schedule. But I am SO GRATEFUL for the amazing people I’ve met and the amazing books I’ve read with Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club this year – and I can’t wait to see what books we read next!

My rating:

9 Unsettling Lumberjacks out of 10

-Emory

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