It’s hard to believe that kind of thing happened here, in the United Stated in the twenty-first century, but it did

When this book started I thought that it was an interesting idea to have Lauren’s child go wholly against her.  I even wondered if it was Butler’s rethinking about Earthseed.   Larkin’s attitude about her mother doesn’t exactly change over these chapters, but it does morph a bit.  So much so that by the time chapter seventeen rolls around, Larkin comes across as a bit more of a petulant, jealous person than a critical thinker.

I wonder what my life would have been life if my mother had found me.  I don’t doubt that she would have stolen me from the Alexanders–or died trying.  But then what?  How long would it have been before she put me aside for Earthseed, her other kid?  I was her weakness.  Earthseed was her strength.  No wonder it was her favoirte. (265)

2033 was a terrible time and, frankly, a painful read.  The chapter of 2035 tells us that all of Olamina’s diaries from 2034 are lost.  Which is just as well for me since 2034 was a year of the same torture and hellishness and I’m just as happy to not have to read it.

Larkin writes that she met some people who were at Camp Christian (we don’t know how yet) and spoke to a woman named Cody Smith who told her about the attempted uprising by Day Turner and his people–an uprising that failed and that caused a massive increase in suffering for everyone there.

Larkin tells us that everything that was done at Camp Christian was illegal–despite what Jarret tried to make legal. The one thing that seems to have been made legal was the removal of children from their families at the Mexican border because of vagrancy laws.

Vagrant adults with children could lose custody of the children unless they were able to establish homes for them within a specified period of time… Not surprisingly children were “rescued” this way much more often from vagrants who were considered heathen than from those who were seen as acceptable Christians.  And “heathens” who were poor… might find themselves reclassified as vagrants so that their children could be placed in good Christian American homes. (219)

And a quote that seem more true every day:

It’s hard to believe that kind of thing happened here, in the United Stated in the twenrty-first century, but it did. (220)

Despite the laws, though, it was Jarret’s fanatical followers that were the greater danger.

During Jarret’s first year in office the worst of his followers ran amok.  Filled with righteous superiority and popular among the many frightened ordinary citizens who only wanted order and stability, the fanatics set up the camps.

Butler and her narrators don’t talk much about war, but I suspect this is her attitude:

Meanwhile Jarret himself was busy with the obscene Al-Can war.  The already weakened country all but collapsed.  Much blood was shed but little was accomplished. … The war just petered out… gradually over 2034 a terrible bitter weariness seemed to creep over people.  Poor families saw their sons drafted and killed, as they said, “for nothing.” (220)

After the war, Alaska seceded and people said Texas would be next.  [Had Texas threatened to secede back in 2005 or did she predict that as well].

In less than year Jarret went from being our savior, almost the Second Coming in some people’s minds, to being an incomptent son a bitch who was wasting our substance  on things that didn’t matter.  I don’t mean that everyone changed their feelings toward him.  Many people never did. (220)

Then it’s back to Olamina’s journals.  The first one February 25, 2035

Every Sunday they Camp Christian had six hours of sermons.  This one was about “the wickedness of bestiality, incest, pedophilia, homosexuality etc.  but here was nothing at all said about rape.” (223).

The sermons are exhausting, but they are warm and offer a chance to rest –the “teachers” don’t want to be cold, after all.  It was during this particular Sunday session that Beth and Jessica Faircloth–18 and 19 year old sisters who look younger–told on Mary Sullivan and Allie for their romantic dalliances.  The teachers dragged the two “sinners” up an shocked them both.  They shocked Mary until she died (while her father, Alfred, watched) and shocked Allie until she was a gibbering mess.  Alfred had a mental breakdown and was soon no longer seen either.

That was the last straw.  Olamina gathered the remaining Earthseeders and planned to break free. They found out where he main power source of the collars was and they decided they were willing to sacrifice some of them to disable it.

But that night there was a storm and huge mudslide–it’s nice poetic justice that the removal of trees loosened up the soil enough to cause a landslide.  It collapsed the cabin where the command center was and destroyed the shock collar machine.  A few women were killed but more importantly, many of the slavers were killed.  And most importantly the collars were ineffectual now.  The prisoners of the camp went berserk, killing all the slavers and taking whatever they could.

They removed their collars and the Earthseed contingent calmly gathered the caches of supplies and made a plan for the future.

That was really cathartic.

The people of Earthseed gathered for one last time trying to come to terms with what they’d been through and what they could do from here.  They decided to split up into smaller groups–no more than 5 or 6–and to go separate ways.  They would have a special location for communicating with each other, but otherwise they would not know where the others went–it was safer that way.  It was the only way that Earthseed could continue.

And then an interesting admission from Olamina:

In order to rise
from its own ashes
a phoenix
First
must
burn

It was an Earthseed verse , but not a comforting one.  The problem with Earthseed has always been that it isn’t a very comforting belief system.  (235)

Larkin informs us that the crusaders deliberately split up siblings when they took children. It did not have the desired effect.  Among the Faircloth boys, one became a CA minister the other rejected CA completely.

Christian America was, at first. much more of a refuge for the ignorant and the intolerant than it should have been.  Even people who would never beat, or burn another person could treat suddenly orphaned or abducted children with cold self-righteous cruelty.  (238)

Larkin talks about her own upbringing with the Alexander family.  It was pretty miserable. They would not stop talking about their beloved deceased child Kamaria–comparing her to Larkin (Larkin always coming out worse of course).  They felt that quiet was good and questioning was bad.

People believed that they needed to break and rear child in the CA way.  Of course, breaking people is much easier than putting them together again. (238)

There was a mindless rigidity about some CA.  They were so certain that they were right that they’d kill you to save your soul.

She talks about a time when she found a doll in their yard (clearly a Barbie).  She had no idea what it was since such images were sinful.  Her mother saw her with it and snatched it away.  Then she dug a hole and burned it.  She make Larkin take out that hot melting plastic and said “If you think that hurts you just wait until you get to hell.”  (251)

Pictures of any kind were frowned upon, except for the Dreammasks.  Those were permitted because they mostly showed CA-approved videos.   But older kids would pass around secular masks that offered stories of adventure and sex.  She had one labelled The Story of Moses that was the story of a girl who had wild sex with her pastor.

Despite what Larkin had said about people calling Jarret a son of a bitch, she seems to be right that people hadn’t given up supporting him.  This sounds familiar from oh say 2017, -18 and -19

They say he has to be given plenty of time and a free hand so he can put things right again.

But those dedicated to other religions, and those who are not religious at all sneer at Jarret and call him a hypocrite.  They see him for the tyrant that he is.  And the thugs see him as one of them.  The working poor who love Jarret want to be fooled, need to be fooled.

Olamina has left with Harry, Nina (Dan’s sister) and Allie.  They have moved into Georgetown, because they know they can trust the woman who runs it–she makes you pay for everything, but she’ll never rat you out.  Olamina sets up a business teaching children and drawing pictures. She had been calling herself Cory Duran (her stepmother’s name) because it was so far from her actual name.

They had hoped to find all of their stolen children.  The first they found was Allie’s boy Justin.  He had run away from his foster home and made his way to Georgetown hoping to find information.  Honestly trying to find the children in other people’ houses seems pretty much impossible.

Justin saw Olamina and ran to her.

When we get back to Olamina’s journals in March, she writes

So much has happened.  No that’s wrong.  Things haven’t just happened, I’ve caused them to happen.   Must get back … to knowing and admitting, at least to myself, when I cause things…  Good things were the acts of our teachers or of God, Bad things wr our fault.  If you hear nonsense like that often enough for long enough you begin to believe it.  (240)

The reunion with Justin is very satisfying.

Harry had gotten a job working with the George brothers–they drive around hauling things.  Harry was a good worker and they liked him which allowed him to travel around and gather information.

The biggest surprise is that Olamina went to the police to ask about Larkin.  She gave them a false story about how her daughters was stolen from her and then paid the “fee for police services” that you have to pay for anything other than an emergency.

Things seem to be going well, but then Harry tells Olamina that he quit his job and is going on his own to find his children.   He heard of a children’s home run by CA and he thinks it’s his best lead.  She tries to talk him out of it but she can’t and he is gone the next day.  So Olamina is alone–Zahra is dead, Harry is gone and Allie has the one she cared about (Justin).  And Nina just wants to get married and settle down.

So Olamina sets out teaching–she teaches verses and aphorism from Earthseed but doesn’t really preach the doctrine.  She also does labor around the house.  She hopes for a place to sleep but will take what she can get.

I don’t know if this was intended for comic effect during a very dark period, but I did enjoy that Olamina stays with a old man who was in a band in the 1970s.

They travelled the world, played raucous music, and had wild sex with hundred, maybe thousand of eager young girls.  Lies, I suppose. (281)

In May, she finally gets the courage to go to one of the Christian America centers. She won’t sleep there but she accepted their food (in exchange for a sermon).  On her third visit, the minister was Marc!

Then there is a quote from Marcos’ Warrior book.

He praised Jarret for creating Christian America and moving from the pulpit to politics.  And then he says a shocking line: “Jarret became his teacher.”

As the week’s reading ends, Olamina tries to meet up with Marc on a later night.  She leaves him a note signed by their (presumed dead) brother.  Olamina dressed like a man and surprised Marc outside of the congregation area.

Marc is freaked out by pretty much everything she says.  Olamina quickly loses her cool and unleashes everything that happened to her on him–how can he stay with CA when CA people did what they did to his sister?  He doesn’t believe her stories, she must have misunderstood what was going on.

The questions he asks in reply are telling:  “How did you get away?  Was your sentence up?”

His questions are also concerning to me: “How did you get free?  There’s no escape from a collar.”  And “You killed people?”

He started to walk away and when Olamina grabbed him, he turned and punched her in the face.

She went back a few nights later, this time dressed as a woman, to see if Marc would at least help her find Larkin. But when she got there she learned that he had left for Portland.

[In light of what we’re learning about the Jan 6 insurrection]
I had heard on one of my earlier visits that the all-male CA Center Security Force was made up of retired and off-duty cops.  That, if it were true, was terrifying.  (286)

As she left, someone handed her a note from Marc.  Her mind was reeling as she walked home–this time dressed like a woman.  Two men snuck up on her.  She couldn’t get to her gun but she got to her knife and was able to fight them both off.  Both men were killed in the fight and after being crippled by that, Olamina knew she couldn’t stay there any longer–not with two dead bodies near where she was staying.  So she up and left the area.

Then she read Marc’s note.  He couldn’t help her.  He said that the people who destroyed Acorn were splinter group–not Jarret’s own group [“see I was right”].  They call themselves Jarret’s crusaders but Jarrett has disclaimed all connection with them.  He called them very great people misguided but courageous.

He says that in order to find Larkin, Olamina should join CA:

Your cult has failed.  Your god of change couldn’t save you.  Why not come back to where you belong?  If Mom and Dad were alive, they would join. (291)

As if that weren’t a twist of the knife he continues:

I have to warn you though, the movement won’t let you preach.  They agree with Saint Paul in that: Let the women learn in silence with all subjection.  But I suffer not a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over the man but to be in silence.  But don’t worry there’s plenty of other, more suitable work for women to do to serve the movement.  (291)

At this point she probably wished she hadn’t even rescued him.

I’m ending with this last prescient quote because I can’t help myself.

What doe Jarrett really think about the crusaders?  Does he control them?   If he doesn’t like what they’re doing he should make some effort to stop them.  He shouldn’t want them to make their insanity part of his politic image.
On the other hand, one way to make people afraid of you is to have a crazy side–a side of yourself or your organization that’s dangerous and unpredictable. (292)

This book is really messing with my head but I am very glad I didn’t read the whole thing before the election or I would have been apoplectic trying to make everyone else read it.

2 thoughts on “It’s hard to believe that kind of thing happened here, in the United Stated in the twenty-first century, but it did

  1. Jeff Anderson May 1, 2021 / 7:11 pm

    On Texas: It has of course once seceded from the Union—only 16 years after joining. It even got its name in the caption for the US Supreme Court decision that secession is a legal impossibility (Texas v. White).

    And what a cliffhanger for this chunk of reading, with Marc “transferred to Portland”; I was sure it meant he had been bundled off to a camp for asking inconvenient questions! Especially when his note to Olamina didn’t even mention the move…

  2. Paul Debraski May 3, 2021 / 1:40 pm

    She does have quite the way with the elliptical ending!

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