cover image The First Century After Beatrice

The First Century After Beatrice

Amin Maalouf. George Braziller, $18.5 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8076-1373-3

One wouldn't normally choose an erudite, publicity-shy Parisian entomologist to narrate a story about gender and population politics set in the first decades of the 21st century. But that's what the Lebanese-born Maalouf does in this elegant novel, in which a popular drug that ensures women will give birth only to boys has sharply reduced the world's female population and cut fertility rates. The industrialized nations, seeking to curb Third World population growth, have encouraged the drug's use in poorer countries, which collapse economically. Men everywhere, frustrated sexually and deprived of normal family life, turn to violence and delinquency. An American televangelist launches a massive airlift of impoverished newborn girls from Brazil, Egypt and the Philippines, transporting them to Europe and the U.S., where ethnic protest riots subsequently erupt. Because of his love for crusading journalist Clarence Nesmiglou, his live-in female companion, the nameless narrator campaigns against the drug. But when their daughter, Beatrice, becomes pregnant at age 25, she wants a boy. Maalouf, who has lived in France since 1976, expertly constructs a dire allegory that is as much about the amorality of science as it is about sexism. His choice of narrator is perfect, for his writing is most eloquent in those passages in which the aging entomologist, accustomed to the study of insect species, expresses his hopes for his own. (Sept.)