In Beukes’ novel Afterland, most of the world’s men came down with a mutated disease that resembled extremely aggressive prostate cancer. Women around the globe were forced to watch as the men and boys in their lives died a slow death. Men are mostly gone in this post-apocalyptic world and any remaining boys and men live in government facilities where they are studied and kept safe.
Cole and her twelve-year-old son Miles escape a government facility where they are being held and go on the run. The pair is originally from South Africa and they spend the novel trying to make their way home. This is complicated by the fact that Cole bludgeoned her sister Billie who helped them escape when she found out she was trying to kidnap Miles and sell his sperm on the black market. Cole and Miles travel the United States, hooking up with crazy characters to get themselves a bit of safety, transportation, and resources along the way. From an anarchist commune in Salt Lake City to a religious cult that takes them cross country, Cole and Miles try to make their way in a world that isn’t made for them anymore.
Reading a novel set three years after a global pandemic (named the Manfall) has its similarities to modern day, of course. Men are described as dying in ways that feel similar to what Covid has done to the world. We fear each other and we fear death, and Cole and Miles have to traverse what is left after this disease runs rampant.
I have been amazed at some of the literature to come out last year – as this was published in July of 2020 – when these novels were written before the beginning of the Covid pandemic. It is eerie and creates a more authentic reading experience when the reader can identify with the emotions the characters are feeling as a result of a global pandemic. It brings depth to our understanding of Cole and Miles, as well as the people they meet as they travel back home. We can understand why a religious cult would exist that believes that if women truly repent, God will bring the men back. We search for answers although we know there is no logic.
Beukes does a terrific job of keeping her reader latched onto Cole and Miles as they attempt to right themselves in a wrong world. Even though the novel is 411 pages, it feels more like a journey to find peace with Cole and Miles rather than slogging through an overabundance of details that aren’t crucial to the story. Beukes makes sure that every detail and every conversation matters in here, or else I’m sure the novel could have been much longer. It is precisely the right length. As an author, you always run the risk of losing your reader in the lengthy page count, but that does not happen here and that is a triumph.
Beukes lays out concepts for the reader to reflect on that are meaningful. Is a world run completely by women better? Beukes gives us her version of the answer. This novel has gore, bloody fights, high concepts, and thriller aspects that will make your heart pump. A tremendous addition to Beukes’ repertoire.(4 / 5)