Oryx and Crake
Margaret Atwood
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Oryx and Crake
Margaret Atwood
400 pages
March 2004
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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A pilot, a small hotel on the beach, and an insurrection; such is the inspiration for a fascinating tale of love, betrayal and the loss of innocence. The residents of Vieques, a small island off Puerto Rico used for U.S. Navy field exercises after World War II, are forced to evacuate so that the Navy can periodically carpet-bomb their homes and land.

Although the novel is set in the present, the crux of this story takes place in Puerto Rico in the 1950s as the author blends past and present in an exotic tapestry of myth and truth, secrets and mystery. Andres Yasin has waited fifty years to confront J.T. Bunker, now eighty-three and dying of cancer, the only man left who may have the answers to lifelong questions.

Yasin is determined to uncover the truth about the tragic events that defined his childhood and poisoned his youth; Bunker will not exit this world without answering Andresí questions. One of the secrets Bunker hoards is an affair he supposedly had with Andresí mother, Estela. But the son seeks more than the details of the affair; he yearns as well to learn the circumstances of his motherís death.

Known as Oryx and Crake in the 1950ís, Bunker was a pilot who transported those who died on the mainland back to the island for burial, a common practice at the time. As a child, Andres believed that ďthe corpses transported by the Captain in his small plane were travelers who had fallen asleep.Ē

As Yasin reaches into memory, he relives everything from the perspective of youth, locked in a past that haunts him. All of it came crashing down in one fated day, hopes extinguished for more than his family. While the family history is shrouded in mystery, the secrets Andres assumes J.T. will finally disclose answer only one small part of an experience that involved everyone - his father, Estela, the man she so desperately loved, and Bunker.

As so often happens, Andresí years of rage and confusion have been misspent; the unvarnished truth isnít so easily obtained. Caught in the great human drama of revolution, Andresí family is central, but to the boy, his parentsí political aspirations are irrelevant; he views all through the eyes of a child. Even as a grown man, he is unable to relinquish the hurt feelings he nurtures.

As the story evolves, Andres is forced to accept alternative perspectives, images of a time and place where personal freedom is purchased at a great cost, his misconceptions perishing along the way. Yasin has pinned all his hopes on the dying declarations of an old man. The truth he uncovers requires courage, and with it, a revelation of self.

Individual family passions mixed with a nationalist obsession, one manís unfettered lust for Estela and a jealousy that eats away at the mind, are all part of this richly evocative era embroiled in political upheaval, social change and the fanaticism of political beliefs.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Sharon Schulz-Elsing, 2005

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