There is something magnetic about a story that centers on feral children, unfettered by adults, who live by their own rules and justice. A Luminous Republic does just that, evoking memories of the Salem witch trials and Lord of the Flies.
The hordes of unchaperoned children in this novel arrive to the city mysteriously, and it’s uncertain whether their purpose is to wreak havoc or they only seem that way because the society they’ve set up runs contrary to rules most adults abide by. The narrator, who himself is guilty of transgressions and lack of empathy, struggles with his feelings about this mob of mysterious children who disappear every night into a secret civilization.
“They’re just children . . . children we’ve treated like criminals.” But what if their own children are inspired by these untamed children? Then how do the adults feel about the innocence of this ragged group?
Barba uses foreshadowing to allow the reader glimpses of grim events to come, keeping tension and foreboding strong. The reader knows from the outset that the situation deteriorates tragically for many involved, but not how, when, or why. Through this narrative technique, Barba also allows the narrator time to lay blame and normalize behaviors which cross into forbidden territory.
This is a gripping and beautifully written book which questions the ease in which members of a ruling society can excuse behaviors that cast out those who differ, believing that incorporating these nonconformists will weaken the bonds of their carefully molded world.
A Luminous Republic by Andrés Barba. Mariner Books, April 2020.
Reviewer bio: Julia Wilson is pursuing a Masters in Writing at Johns Hopkins University.
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