The City and the City

What an unusual novel! It’s billed as science fiction, but it isn’t really. It’s more like…well…geography fiction, or government fiction, or some other nonexistent category. This fascinating story takes place in the present day (more or less) in a  fictional city, which I think is supposed to be Sarajevo, but there’s a catch. The city, which is a sovereign city-state, is actually two cities (hence the title) occupying the same space: Besźel and Ul Qoma. The geography of the dual city is very complicated, with some zones being in Besźel, some in Ul Qoma, and some “cross-hatched.” Citizens of one city are not allowed to notice anything or anyone in the other city, even across the street or a meter away. For all practical purposes, the two cities are occupying the same space, even though they don’t always. People have to train themselves not to see what they’re not supposed to see. If this sounds metaphorical and incomprehensible, as it well might, you may want to start by reading the Wikipedia article. Better yet, read the book itself. The feeling is indeed science fiction, but it’s also a mystery. Mostly it’s sui generis. (Look it up.)

Categories: Books