The Girl in the Road Review
Welcome to the future. To paraphrase The Girl in the Road, India is the new America. India is focusing in on Africa for economic and scientific development. As people tend to be when a foreign power moves in to take advantage of their resources, the Africans are none too happy. Set against this backdrop, two young women are trying to make their way to Addis Ababa, one from the East and one from the West.
Meena is a young woman with Indian parents who was born in Addis Ababa and raised in India by her well-educated professional family. After suffering a snakebite, she sets out on a quest to travel The Trail, an energy source that's been built through the Arabian Sea to Africa. It's a series of connecting tiles that harvest wave energy, but has also become a magnet for a variety of eccentric characters with a variety of motives.
Mariama is a Western African girl who runs away from home on the instructions of her mother after coming home to see a snake coiled in their living space. She ends up connecting with a group who is traveling across Africa for business, and that's how her fate and final destination are chosen for her. While on her journey, she is taken care of by a woman named Yemaya, which is also the name of an ocean goddess.
The Girl in the Road is at times surreal and at times quite grounded and earthy. There are both spiritual and sci-fi elements, but overall it's mostly a timeless human story. I'm not a huge sci-fi fan, but I do really enjoy books about the future. Any genre fiction needs to be very well-written for me to enjoy it, though, and the literary quality of this novel is astounding. If you are into futuristic sci-fi for the gadgets, there are plenty, but the gadgets are secondary to the human stories told here.
I enjoyed this book from cover to cover. There's not a false note. Byrne slowly reveals connections in a way that keeps you reading and leaves you really satisfied and often quite surprised. It's a new twist on the coming-of-age novel as well as a "road trip" novel. And if India is the new America, I'd say The Girl in the Road is a postmodern Western.