cover image NEKROPOLIS


Maureen F. McHugh, . . Eos, $24 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-380-97457-3

In this exquisite if melancholy novel, McHugh (Mission Child) evokes a repressive, intensely sexist 22nd century Morocco that is largely cut off from the rest of the world by the dictates of the Second Koran. Hariba, a young servant woman, has grown up in the Nekropolis, an ancient burial ground that also serves as home to the city of Fez's teeming poor. Unsuccessful in love, she chooses to be "jessed," undergoing a medical procedure designed to turn her into the perfect servant, one who is psychologically incapable of being disloyal to her employer. Unfortunately, however, Hariba soon runs afoul of her employer's wife, a restless shrew of a woman who devotes most of her time to bismek, a convoluted form of participatory virtual-reality soap opera. Worse still, Hariba, who's terribly lonely, falls in love with Akhmim, a harni or artificial person, who looks human, but isn't. Akhmim "impresses" on Hariba, returning her feelings as best he can. Indentured to another employer, she misses Akhmim terribly and eventually runs away with him. Alternating between four narrators—Hariba, Akhmim, Hariba's mother and Hariba's best friend, Ayesha—McHugh centers her novel on a well-realized set of sympathetic, but imperfect characters. Each speaks with a distinct voice, describing a complex and not entirely healthy web of friendships and familial relationships. McHugh's Morocco, with its intensely symbolic Nekropolis, is very real, but ultimately it is Hariba, Akhmim and their heartbreaking, impossible relationship that the reader will remember. Agent, Sandra Dijkstra.(Aug. 30)