This book was on fire! (sorry I had to make the joke). This has been one of my top reads for this year. I sped through this book in a day and a half. The edition I had clocks in at 304 pages and was soft cover.
Johanna Sinisalo is a female Finnish author of multiple Fantasy and Sci-Fi works. She is the recipient of multiple awards for her writing and was awarded the “Prometheus Award for Best Novel” for this book, The Core of the Sun. Her writing is unique, expressive and has been coined “Finnish Weird”. The Core of the Sun written in 2016, is her most recent work.
The Core of the Sun takes place in Finland. It has been turned into a society where women are raised to be submissive, unquestioning eye candy who sole purpose is to fulfill the man they are with. They are given no voice and no rights other than what their husbands may give them. Beauty is prized above all and intellect is looked at as a disease to be subdued.
There are 2 castes of women in this society. One is called the Eloi. These are women that possess traits such as physical beauty, submissiveness and basically act like the crew of girls from that movie “Mean Girls”. The other group of women that don’t fit in this group are called morclocks. These are women who have brains over beauty. As young children, each girl is given an aptitude test to see where they may fall. The smarter, more dominant women tend to end up as morlocks, which basically amounts to being shunned by society. Think of it as being the brown tootsie roll pop in the bag. You may look like the others but let’s face it, they are just gross.
The main character Vanna is a blip in this system as she is highly intelligent but also extremely beautiful. Early on, she realizes that in order to stay with her sister, Manna, (who is the quintessential eloi), Vanna must pretend not to be smart in public. Therefore, she secretly reads books on every subject. These books are smuggled in to her and must be hidden under ground when she is not reading them. Through a chain of events, Vanna and Manna end up having a sort of falling out over a man that comes to stay with them. The man is attracted to Vanna because of many of the things that she is not supposed to have, like intelligence and the ability to reason. As a result, Manna blindly finds the first man she can and marries him. The relationship is rocky and she ends up disappearing without a trace. Vanna feels responsible for Manna’s blind leap into marriage and spends most of the book searching for her. Much of the interaction the reader has with Vanna revolves around letters written to the disappeared Manna and it is not until the closing chapter that we find out what has happened to her.
Much of the book involves chili peppers as well. In the future, Finland has eradicated any thing that could be addictive such as alcohol, tobacco and drugs. However, in people’s desperate search for a “high” they have turned to chili peppers and the high they get through the effects of capsaicin. Capsaicin is the fiery chemical in peppers that regulates the amount of burn you feel when you eat them. In the book, Vanna becomes a capsaicin drug user and dealer. It is through this desperate search for a bigger and better pepper high that she ends up being part of a project that creates the hottest pepper ever known called you guessed it…The Core of the Sun. It is interesting to see how anything can become addictive given the chance.
This is definitely a unique and interesting take on dystopian literature. While I was reading, I thought about the small changes and tweaks that are made to society all the time to mold it one way or another. I believe this is a cautionary tale about identity and the damage that can be done when we pretend to be someone or something we are not. It is very Handsmaid Tale-ish crossed with Chili Peppers. Its hot stuff (no pun intended)!