Fairly new to Canadian audiences, Johanna Sinisalo is sure to become a beloved speculative fiction writer alongside the likes of Margaret Atwood, Nalo Hopkinson and Octavia Butler. In The Core of the Sun, Sinisalo recreates Finland in her terrifyingly ‘eusistocratic’ vision where the health of citizens eclipses all of their other rights. It is truly an extreme welfare state: alcohol, tobacco, sugar, and even hot chili peppers have been banned by the omniscient Health Authority.
Rigid gender roles determine people’s fates. Women are bred to be elois– submissives who exist only to have sex, procreate and maintain homes for men (who can, of course, be anything they want). If they demonstrate any sort of intelligence or free will at a young age, they are sent away from their families and made to work menial jobs. They are also sterilized. Elois, although seriously repressed, enjoy the benefits of wedding bonuses from the government, an eduction (home ec, but still) and an elevated social position.
Meet Vanna, our narrator who was raised as an eloi, but is secretly intelligent. Raised by her encouraging grandmother who subverted the laws to procure books on botany, astronomy and biology, Vanna’s mind was allowed to grow in ways that other elois were a party to. Meet Manna, Vanna’s ‘doll-like’ sister who fits the eloi stereotype completely, and is infatuated with all things pink, frilly and domestic. Manna goes missing shortly after her wedding, and her husband is the likeliest suspect since he inherited Vanna and Manna’s childhood home (women aren’t allowed to own property once they are married). The police don’t think it is worth investigating, but Vanna, wracked with guilt and rage, takes the case.
While searching for her sister, Vanna discovers a seedy (pun intended) black market for chili peppers, eventually dealing capsicum herself. Later, she finds fulfillment working with a guerilla gardening group to develop a new chili pepper purported to be the hottest in the world: the Core of the Sun.
It is a sophisticated story, tinged with sci-fi elements, the nuances of a sibling relationship fraught with societal expectation, and finished with a healthy dose of science.This smart take on pervasive societal themes about the control of certain substances by the government and gender roles and will no doubt cement Sinisalo’s reputation the queen of Finnish weird, both in her native country and in Canada and leave readers with a taste for something a little spicier.
The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo
Trade paperback with flaps, $22.95
Available now from PGC/Raincoast Books