Review: The City & The City, by China MiƩville

I first learned about this book because of the fact that in the BBC television series based on it, the creators decided to use the Georgian alphabet for one of the two cities — because they found it sufficiently weird.

Having now read the book, which came highly recommended by a number of friends, that turns out to be the least weird thing about it.

The author has imagined two cities situated in the same place, sharing the same roads, and in some cases the same buildings, where it is illegal for residents of one city to see or hear the residents of the other. He creates a verb for this very purpose — to “unsee” — and it’s bits like that which have led some to compare the author to Orwell.

It’s a thought-provoking book in the most literal sense; one is forced to pause and think many times about the issues raised, like divided cities, national and ethnic divisions, and of course social class. Michael Harrington famously described “the other America” more than half a century ago as the poor part of a wealthy society that went largely unseen by most.

I haven’t yet watched the BBC series and am keen to begin, not least because I cannot imagine how one can visualise two cities that largely exist only in the minds of their residents, who are busy “unseeing” what is often within touching distance.

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