Concordia’s Summer Book Read, “The Power,” is set in a world that we easily recognize with one compelling change – the sudden appearance of a new physical power that only women have.
One of The New York Times’ top 10 books for 2017 and winner of the U.K.’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (June 2017), “The Power” is a science fiction novel about the emergence of this female-only electrical ability that branches out from the collarbones of women, tripping an electric current that they release from their hands to ignite and burn.
Written by Naomi Alderman, the novel forces the reader to address questions of power in a plotline that Cosmopolitan calls “‘The Hunger Games’ crossed with ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’”
Starting with one or two teenage girls and spreading like lightning, the power kindles across the globe as girls awaken it in older women and learn to harness and wield it. As with most strengths, some use it for good and some to harm. For society as a whole, it reverses long-accepted roles of dominance.
Readers must consider if only the evil exploit the vulnerable or if any person in power confronts the temptation to use it to her advantage. Do we demand a king, preferring a leader to tell us what to do? What is the line between pleasure and pain, consent and abuse? Are women supposed to be naïve and chaste, or only until a man calls on them to stop being so? What allows one person to manipulate another?
Beyond gender dynamics, Alderman visualizes how power transmits between people in order to evoke change: “It follows that there are two ways for the nature and use of human power to change. One is that an order might issue from the palace, a command unto the people saying, ‘It is thus.’ But the other, the more certain, the more inevitable, is that those thousand points of light should each send a new message. When the people change, the palace cannot hold.”
“The Power” is a book within a book, portrayed as a historical document written by an author, who shares it with Alderman for her insight. Though it reads like a novel, touching on the stories of multiple men and women, it eerily leaves one wondering what’s real, what’s our true history and how our society got to the point that it’s at today.
Throughout the novel, women feel the lasting sensation of the electric power having shot from their bodies and readers, too, are left with “a lingering tingle that’s part discomfort and part exhilaration” (Cory Doctorow, author of “Walkaway”).
After reading Alderman’s novel, all first-year students will participate in group dialogue about the book during Orientation Week. The discussion is meant to introduce new students to academic life and spur on necessary conversation about issues that greatly shape current and future communities.
In addition to being explored in classrooms throughout the academic year, the novel directly ties into the 2018 Faith, Reason and World Affairs Symposium, “Power Plays: Why Gender Matters.” The symposium will explore how power and gender inextricably link and intersect with other forms of difference, including race, class, sexuality, (dis)ability and religion. Speakers and sessions will examine how our personal interactions and sociocultural institutions function to produce, maintain and/or challenge gender inequities globally and regionally.
Learn more at ConcordiaCollege.edu/summerbookread
Kayla Stenstrom is a project manager at Concordia.