cover image The Core of the Sun

The Core of the Sun

Johanna Sinisalo, trans. from Finnish by Lola Rogers. Grove/Black Cat, $16 IS

Finnish author Sinisalo (Troll: A Love Story) spins a dystopian tale in her latest. The novel opens in a cemetery, where an illegal transaction of capsaicin, the ingredient in chilies that gives them their heat, is underway; Vanna meets an unknown seller to get a sample of the product, which she tests by shoving it into her underwear. What kind of world bans spice? In a series of personal accounts, letters, dictionary entries, and excerpts from “historic” source materials, we learn that life in the Eusistocratic Republic of Finland is dictated and controlled by the Health Authority, which unlike the European Decadent states bans substances for the supposed health of its citizens. It also divides its citizens into sexual hierarchies. Elois (the terms are borrowed from H.G. Wells) are females who have been bred for their beauty and submissive traits; only they (as opposed to morlocks) are legally allowed to reproduce. Despite the various sources, the heart of the story belongs to Vanna. Born in Spain and raised on a farm along with her beloved sister, Manna, by Aulikki, their grandmother, after their parents’ death, Vanna looks like an eloi but her intelligence and curiosity make her something else, a secret that Aulikki helps her protect. When Manna’s mysterious death drives Vanna to addiction, she joins with Jare, a former farmhand on the property, to sell chilies. Being an eloi makes a good cover, but the Authority appears to be closing in on the whole underground, including a cult that prizes chilies above all. Sinisalo is at her best when describing the action; she makes you feel the heat of those chilies, but relies a bit too much on letters from Vanna to her sister for exposition. Still, this is an unusual and fun story with a strong dose of social commentary. Agent: Elina Ahlback, Elina Ahlback Literary. (Jan.)