People are the Disaster: Dehumanization in N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season

Hi! Thanks for checking out my first book review. You won’t be disappointed. N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season is so good that reviewing it poorly would take skill. I’ll give you an idea of what the story is about and then share my thoughts on the novel’s themes and delivery. In the end, I hope you’ll grab a copy and read it on your own, because this was one of the most rewarding reading experiences I’ve had in a quite while, and I want to share my joy with you.

The Story

Essun’s life is blown up when her husband brutally murders their three-year-old son and then takes off with their young daughter, leaving her behind in a town that only accepts her because they don’t know what she is. This happens just after a powerful shake disrupts the continent known as The Stillness and sparks a formidable “Fifth Season” (think “Winter is coming”). As the world falls apart and plunges into darkness, Essun embarks on a mission to find her daughter (who is like her) and to confront her husband.

The politically correct term for what Essun is is “orogene.” Orogenes, from my understanding, are kind of like earth benders, but are also more than that. Orogenes can control energy (start and stop earthquakes and things of that sort). The derogatory term for orogenes is “roggas.” These people are hated and feared, and The Stills (think “muggles”) take extreme measures to control them. Essun has successfully hidden her orogeny for the past several years, but now she’ll do whatever she has to do to save her daughter, even if she rips the earth apart while doing it.

The Message

There are numerous ways one could approach this novel (Jemisin’s text is rich), but I’ll keep it brief and analyze this story from one angle: dehumanization. Dehumanization is what one group of people does to another group of people when it wants to justify exploiting and/or destroying them. It’s the mindset that allows one group of people to enslave another group of people, or encourages an administration to separate children from parents and keep them in cages, or enables a white man holding a gun to shoot a black teen holding a bag of skittles. The constant dehumanization of roggas in The Fifth Season mirrors that of oppressed people in the real world. People considered less-than-human. Jemisin writes:

“But a rogga is not any man. Roggas have no right to get angry, to want justice, to protect what they love.”

N.K. Jemisin p. 418

And I don’t know how Jemisin settled on her naming conventions, but every time I read the word “rogga,” it makes me think of another derogatory term with two g’s in the middle. And if there’s anyone out there doubting that there are racial undertones in this book, here’s Jemisin:

In The Fifth Season, people (and the way they treat other people) are the reason the world is ending.

The Delivery

The Fifth Season is written in the present tense and told through three alternating perspectives. Essun’s perspective is written in 2nd person. T’was strange at first, but I was really into it by the end of the first chapter. It takes a little work to orient yourself to Jemisin’s world (it took me about 100 pages). It’s a compelling world—foreign, familiar, and arguably forthright—but the nonlinear storytelling can be mildly disorienting at times. Keep reading (not that you’ll be able to stop). The payoff is great. Jemisin is a master storyteller and everything is revealed in due time.

Conclusion

This concludes my first book review. Thanks for reading! Next week, I’ll either be reviewing The Obelisk Gate, which is the sequel to The Fifth Season, or Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti. We’ll see which one I finish reading first.

In the comments below, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Would you read The Fifth Season? If you’ve read it already, what did you think? Comment below!

2 thoughts on “People are the Disaster: Dehumanization in N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season

  1. After reading this review I’m impressed with both the book and your interpretation. Unless you engulf yourself in the story and block out all of the white noise you may not get the same out of this book. It sounds deep and if it were not for you review I would never pick it up. At first glance the book cover didnt catch my interest. The author should be happy for your reviews because it captures others that would not have considered this story line. I’m excited about this near future read. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Kristin,
      Thanks for the compliment! I went back and considered the cover and I think I might not have picked this book up based on the cover alone either. That’s a good point. It helped me to know who Jemisin is/what she’s about. She’s the reason I read it, so I’m glad I got to introduce her to you. The book is deep & also entertaining. Let me know if you read it 🙂
      Ty

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