Amatka

There’s a scene in Karin Tidbeck’s Amatka where the main character, Vanja, goes into a locked archive in her office to file papers and surreptitiously search for secret details about her commune’s past. Outside, a stern secretary watches the clock to ensure Vanja doesn’t spend too much time alone with these secrets.

It’s the same thing reading Amatka--we absorb bits of information in quick bursts, all the while feeling like time is running out. There is such a sense of dread hanging over this book that even as the plot unfolds there’s no relief. By the end, dread gives way to bafflement, and a desire to read the whole thing again.  

Here's what we learn: Amatka is a commune in a world that seems to be beside our own, one where everyday items like pencils and desks have to be touched and named regularly or else they dissolve into a gelatinous goop. Vanja comes to do research for her job, but she soon discovers secrets the oppressive government of Amatka is desperate to keep.

The world of Amatka and its sister communes recalls the gray, totalitarian world of Orwell’s 1984, but the reasons for the oppression of Amatka’s citizenry is not political. Tidbeck has buried this world’s origin story under layers of deceit and bureaucratic red tape, and what little is revealed only leads to more questions.  

Tidbeck’s previous book, the short story collection Jagannath, showed her ability to create weird worlds and ominous moods in short stories, but Amatka shows she can sustain it throughout an entire novel. That’s a powerful tool, and I’m excited to see what she scares up next.  

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