or, the juxtaposition of previously unrelated trajectories
I had a quiet weekend not feeling well a few weeks ago, so I decided to binge read Jo Walton’s A Just City, chosen for me by my husband and daughter on their weekly library visit. My daughter wanted to read it immediately, after looking at the first few pages and realising it was a book about Apollo and Athena. The basic premise of the book is that Athena decides to honour the prayers of all the people throughout time who have read Plato’s Republic (in Greek) and prayed to her to be able to live there. She pulls together 300 or so such people, takes them out of time, then gives them the task to make it happen. Apollo (in god time) has recently had a near miss in a ‘chasing game’, where the nymph he was pursuing to mate prayed to Athena to be turned into a tree rather than mate with him. He decides to incarnate (be born as baby in the right time) and join the city as a child in order to learn about volition and equal significance — meaning that other people besides gods have volition and their will is also equally significant. Basically learning about consent, in today’s language. The book follows Apollo (as Pytheas), another girl named Simmea, and an 18th century minister’s daughter, renamed Maia who is one of the ‘masters’ (the intial 300 adults).
What follows is an often amusing, and often thought-provoking exploration of the extent to which Plato’s Republic is feasible. As is to be expected, most of the female masters are classics scholars from universities and most of the male masters are actual famous folk like Cicero who have grown up in times that don’t take Plato’s idea about having females as equal partners in the Just City seriously. They go through with all the stuff, like having yearly mating rituals but communal babycare and no marriage, in an effort to avoid nepotism. The book highlights the themes of volition and equal significance throughout — there is a disturbing rape scene where the rapist is convinced his victim is enjoying it, there are discussions about the robots brought from the future to do the work of slaves only for all to realise that they are actually sentient and there against their will.
I think for the most part my daughter would get alot out of it, and enjoy the portrayal of Athene and Simmea particularly, but I haven’t given it to her to read because of the rape scene and 2 or 3 sex scenes that I think would be confusing for a 10 year old. I so remember being at the age (I actually finished the entire children’s section of our country library around 10 or 11 years old) and being so frustrated about finding things to read that were meaningful — beyond teen narcissim and angst. There is a lot more available now for her age, so I guess its just a matter of a few years before we can read and enjoy some of the same books. I try to read series she is really into, sometimes first (e.g. The Hunger Games) and sometimes I just pick them up now and then to read a bit. I don’t know, I guess I feel frustrated that Walton’s book is mostly about 10 year olds, but not really FOR 10 years olds. She might disagree…