The book that broke my heart

This month, I’ve read two book that left me wanting to curl into bed and cry myself to sleep (and one that made me sad, but it was a beautiful kind of sad, so that’s ok). The one that broke my heart was Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam.

SPOILER ALERT. I’m not even going to pretend that I could explain how this book broke my heart without spoiling the book, so if you’re inclined to read the book(s), stop right here. 

Also, you should read the book(s). 

Let me start with a bit of an overview of the trilogy. It starts with Oryx and Crake, where we learn about the people (person) who started the “flood” (plague) from Year of the Flood. MaddAddam is a mix of tying up loose ends, learning about the past, and diving deeper into life after the plague. The premise is that people are ruining the earth, a plague sweeps through, a dystopia emerges, but some people have survived.

I read Oryx and Crake several years ago, but I remember being riveted by the story. It was one of those books that left you wanting more. I loved Year of the Flood just as much. In fact, I loved them both so much that I had a hard time convincing myself to start reading MaddAddam. I was afraid I wouldn’t love it as much, which is silly because Margaret Atwood writes great books and I love her work.

I finally picked it up and dove in. It was a happy ending, of sorts (remember that the world as we know it is gone, so people still have a life of struggle). The survivors have (mostly) survived and are living together in a compound they created.  The Crakers have started to tell their own story (which is beautiful – Atwood clearly put a lot of thought into how they would speak and how they describe things that are unknown to them). Despite this happy-ish ending, I couldn’t stop dwelling on it and I didn’t know why. It took me three days of stunned confusion before I finally realized that the book had broken my heart.

Two of the main characters in the book are Zeb and Toby (who’s a favourite character from Year of the Flood). Toby loves Zeb and wants to be with him and Zeb tells her about his past past. I quickly as intrigued and attached to him as I was to Toby.

After the climax of the story, Atwood lulls you into a false sense of security. The bad guys are dead. The survivors have a truce with the pigoons. Three of the women are pregnant, but the group rallies to take care of them. But, quietly, Atwood introduces smoke in the distance. A few people go to see if it’s friend or foe. The smoke is gone, so the strangers must be gone. But, so are the people who went to investigate.

One of them was Zeb. This man that had become so important to Toby, the Crakers and the survivors was gone. And, we don’t know what happened to him: Did he suffer? Did he try to get back to Toby? Worse, did he die not knowing if he’d saved Toby and the survivors? That would be a terrible anguish to suffer.

My heart aches for him and for Toby. A week after finishing the book, and I still got teary eyed thinking about it. I’ve read sad books before and I’ve cried for fictional characters, but, this felt more like grief. I had a moment of denial (no, of course he’ll come back, just in time to say one last goodbye to Toby) and felt anger (how could Atwood do this? haven’t they suffered enough?), but then I cried a little and accepted the fact that in Atwood’s world, Zeb had to go.

I was tempted to ask her why she’d chosen to kill off Zeb, but I feel like that would take away this emotional connection to the book and I don’t want to lose that, even if it’s a sad connection. Instead, I’ve ordered the trilogy (I’ve been reading library copies) and I’m going to reread them.

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