Let me kick this review off by saying Thank you to the amazing Jael Richardson for joining our book club this past weekend. When I started Sue’s Stokvel, I never imagined that we would one day have an author joining us for a book club meeting. While this is not a review of Jael Richardson, her sincerity and commitment to activism shines through beyond her writing.
About the book: This dystopian novel is set in a fictional settler-colonial state, where spatial segregation separates the privileged colonizers living on the mainland, and the colonized who live in an impoverished inland settlement called The Gutter. At the centre of this story is Elimina, a “gutter child” who grows up on the mainland with her adoptive Mother. Elimina’s life changes when her adoptive mother dies, and she is integrated into the Gutter System she had
previously been immune to. The Gutter System punishes the indigenous population/the colonized for rebelling against the colonized many years before. Every gutter child is born with debt that must be paid to the mainland government before they can gain freedom.
Gutter Child reminds me of Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. Both stories are coming-of- age stories and interestingly, the protagonists’ names are similar, in Parable of the Sower, the protagonist is a young girl named Olamina, in Gutter Child, the protagonist’s name is Elimina. I asked Jael whether this was intentional, and she said no. I still think it is a beautiful coincidence, because of the similarities in how the two stories are told. I think it takes a great deal of skill to reimagine the world while still holding a mirror to it. Their work feels limitless and ground-breaking in that way despite being published decades apart.
Contrary to my assumption, the book is not an amalgamation of the experiences of different marginalized groups, the gutter people are black people. This idea of gutter debt is an effective way of conceptualizing intergenerational poverty and neo colonialism. What I really love about this book is that I saw multiple versions of myself in the book, which is extremely rare, even when I read work by North American writers writing about black people. I can only explain the book as a Venn diagram of our experiences as a community. In Gutter Child, Jael Richardson tells the stories of individuals, but always in the context or with the intention of highlighting their collective racial identity.
If you love the Brazilian Netflix show 3%, you will absolutely love Gutter Child.