cover image Canal Dreams

Canal Dreams

Iain M. Banks. Doubleday Books, $19 (198pp) ISBN 978-0-385-41814-0

Because she is afraid to fly during a time of international tensions, famous Japanese cellist Hisako Onoda boards a tanker en route to her concert in Rotterdam. When a conflict erupts and the Panama Canal is closed, the ship is forced to drop anchor in Gatun Lake. A guerrilla faction takes the passengers and crew captive, Hisako is raped, and we watch as the sensitive musician metamorphoses into a grenade-toting avenging warrior. This stunning, hallucinatory, semi-surreal fable pits an artistic, precariously balanced sensibility against a world of brutal political forces. Among the ship's passengers, all taken hostage by the People's Liberation Front, are a South African engineer, an erudite Egyptian and Hisako's wimpy young French boyfriend. Banks ( The Wasp Factory ) doesn't do much with these characters. His wrenching story, which can be read as a parable of the feminine principle reasserting itself and taking revenge on earth-destroying males, derives its power from the exploration of Hisako's mental states, her violent nightmares and her flashbacks to Japan, where she became a prodigy, strove to please her mother and missed a father she never knew, dead from radiation sickness in the aftermath of Hiroshima. (Sept.)