© 2019 Amy Lord
Clara Winter was only a child when her father disappeared. A poet and English teacher, he made the mistake of criticizing Britain’s new order, the martial rule imposed on it after a terrorist attack at Whitehall. Now, a teacher in her own right, Clara prepares to follow in her father’s footsteps, and will face down the very man who took him from her life in the bargain.
I checked out The Disappeared after spotting it on goodreads because it brought to mind the increasingly frequent issue of books being pulled from marketplaces for being Wrongthink, like When Harry Became Sally. (I immediately imported a copy from a private seller in defiance of Amazon’s attempt to smother dissent.) The Disappeared has little to say on that particular aspect of censorship, however, as its villains are fairly generic Grumpy Military Men who seal Britain off from Europe and institute such rampant bookburnings that Clara’s students have no idea what 1984 is: the book has been cast into the memory hole, as it were. Clare and her boyfriend Simon are both private dissidents, who sneak into a university library with such voluminous holdings that not everything juicy has been banned yet: they attempt to fight the Man in their own way, by offering a secret history course. After Simon is taken by Grumpy Goons in a Grumpy Man Van, the plot accelerates.
The meat of The Disappeared, frankly, is not the spectre of a dictatorship in Britain (thanks to covid, we all get to live in draconian dystopias, with the added joy of smothering ourselves when we’re not avoiding each other), or the message about censorship, but the absolutely twisted family dynamics that poor Clara grew up in. Her stepfather is not just any member of the Authorisation Council: he’s the very man who arrested her father and personally oversaw his long, drawn out interrogation while he was seducing his victim’s effective widow. It gets worse.
I appreciate the core point of The Disappeared, the importance of stories and ideas and the inherent immortality in preventing people from accessing them. Fighting censorship — eviscerating censorship, tying it up and throwing it screaming off a cliff into a pit of spikes and alligators and noseeums — has never been more important than in the 21st century. The story here, though, is generic aside from family dynamics more twisted than anything seen since…oh, Ptolemy XIII and Cleopatra VII. The regime is so nondescript that it’s chief grumpy man is simply the “First General”, and to infuse it with personality I imagined something like the world of V for Vendetta or the televised version of The Man in the High Castle.
The Disappeared is entertaining and relevant, but lacks a certain…oomph.
Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi. A teacher holding a covert literary course amid a regime that bans Wrongthink.