In fourth grade, I had a teacher that was passionate about environmentalism — she talked about recycling, about turning lights off, about just not buying things if we didn’t really need them, about species & rainforests, floods & droughts. It’s forty years later, and we need the same lessons, we need to learn & act.
We’ve had nonfiction works galore to persuade us, documentaries & journalism of all types. Several novels that fall under the (new to me) subgenre Climate Fiction, or Cli-Fi — that is, fiction that deals with the effects of climate change on human society. From head-on nature-as-protagonist stories like Richard Powers’ The Overstory to more subtle horror stories about a world mid-crumble like Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind. Now, one of the best I’ve read.
In Eleutheria debut novelist Allegra Hyde tells a provocative & personal, imaginative & realistic story of the challenges & consequences of the Anthropocene era. The novel’s two questions are big ones: “What hath man wrought?” and “What now?”
Hyde writes with historical, sociological, and emotional precision all centered on a well-meaning young idealistic protagonist Willa Marks. Homeschooled by environmentalist preppers, Willa becomes drawn to a utopian project called Camp Hope – a carbon negative sustainable compound in the hurricane-battered Bahamas poised to be an example for how to survive our environmental choices.
In Eleutheria Hyde crafts believable near-future realities (a Green Republican party, Freegan-fueled riots in Cambridge) and sobering actual realities (scholarship weaponized by the eleite, mass natural catastrophes, the consequences of imperialism and consumerism) in a suspenseful and readable blend of a coming-of-age and a falling-out-of-idealism stories. But it’s not all Willa’s story — her story fits into so much more.
In weaving foils & historical echoes, Hyde demonstrates what’s at stake, who benefits, and how we are led astray: from social media to 17th-century history, from global politics to campus politics, from eros to gaia. The last chapter was riveting & moving – as Daniel Peña said in a recent Zoom with Hyde, I don’t think I’ve read a better ending to a novel in a long time.