Amin Maalouf, The First Century After Beatrice (translated Dorothy S Blair)
I'm really not sure what I think of this book. I think it's important but flawed. I'd very much like other people's opinions and analysis. It's short, for what that's worth. It was first published in 1992.
The First Century After Beatrice is SF; the McGuffin is a bean that, when ingested by a man, ensures that all his children will be sons. This bean is transmitted as a traditional folk-remedy all over the global south, and at first dismissed as just that, but it is soon discovered to be completely effective. The birth rate of girls drops. The population drops. The planet is in crisis.
The Beatrice of the title is the narrator's daughter, and this is one of the points where I'm uncomfortable with the book. We only see Beatrice (and her mother Clarence, a journalist) through the lens of a narrator who clearly loves an idealised version of her who existed long before her birth. It is not satisfactorily demonstrated (to me, at least) that Beatrice has an existence outside her father's idealised version of her. When Beatrice says "You know, when I meet the man of my life, I'd like him to be just like you," it's way too fantasy-fulfilling on behalf of the narrator. And it's plain horrible that the narrator admits himself that he couldn't love Clarence anymore if she didn't give him a daughter, specifically Beatrice. And it doesn't pass Bechdel.
Also, the narrator talks very fiercely about how the global north needs the global south, and how the people of the global south are not, in his words, "those migrant multitudes, very close at hand, too close to us; and, in the distance, those crazed hordes, determined to destroy a world which they no longer understood, and who, first and foremost, were punishing themselves," but he doesn't show that, he only tells. There is not one single character living in the global south, and in a book about the divide between the global north and the global south, that is notable. Even the villains were northern. I was particularly struck that he didn't depict any people in the global south resisting the crisis. They were all passive victims and aggressors. All the resistance was provided by global north intellectuals, all of them but Clarence men. And was it necessary to have Clarence in a coma so she could come home to live with her family? It felt too much like fridging for me.