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Stephen King Reviews New Dystopian Novel That Mirrors Present Day

In what could become one of the next great dystopian novels, Stephen King finds myriad events that mirror the reality of the world today in his New York Times review examining “Our Missing Hearts."
Deena So’Oteh

By Diego Ramos / ScheerPost Staff Writer

Stephen King finds myriad events that mirror the reality of the world today in his New York Times review examining “Our Missing Hearts,” by Celeste Ng. King allows for a glimpse of what a dystopian near future could look like when dealing with censorship, dissent and what appears to be the most important theme of the book: relations with China.

King says, “In Ng’s version of the American Nightmare, there’s no need to burn books. ‘We pulp them,’ a helpful librarian tells Bird. (Bird doesn’t tell her he’s picturing book bonfires, but she intuits it.) ‘Much more civilized, right? Mash them up, recycle them into toilet paper. Those books wiped someone’s rear end a long time ago.’”

What King emphasizes most throughout his review is the level of similarity between the book and the real world. From DeSantis’ Florida Parental Rights Bill to the growing habit of castigating an Other, images of reality and dystopia intertwine. In the novel, China is the enemy and it is not far from what has transpired in recent years.

Despite King mentioning that Ng leaves out COVID-19 from the story, his account of how Chinese-Americans are treated sounds akin to the reaction of Americans during the onset of the pandemic. King says, “​​Here it’s Asian people in general and Chinese Americans in particular who are held responsible for everything that’s gone wrong — blame those who don’t look like White America. In New York’s Chinatown, street names have been censored: ‘Someone — everyone — has tried to make the Chinese disappear.’ Flag pins decorate every lapel.”

One can also imagine Russia as a fit to the mold. Since the invasion in February, the responsibility placed on Russia ranged from more serious calls to ban Russian travelers to the more benign prohibition of vodka.

This idea of the Chinese serving as an enemy to the United States is integral to the story as the Chinese American main character’s mother is being persecuted for writing an apparently seditious poem called “All Our Missing Hearts.” The son, Noah Gardner (or Bird), lives with his father in Massachusetts in an America recently hit by “The Crisis,” which caused the PACT—the Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act—to come into effect.

Read King’s full review of Celeste Ng’s “Our Missing Hearts” at The New York Times.

3 comments

  1. Decades ago I was relieved to learn my American coworkers need never worry about dystopian near futures, as by definition these exist in the future, not today. A quite workable approach seems to be to endlessly change the goal posts, so the possible condition to be feared is always just around the corner, a problem to be faced sometime soon, if we don’t do something.

  2. I recently saw a movie called “The Good Boss” which is up for international awards. It is from Spain.
    I has laugh out loud humor at times but is very much about human nature. To me it is the story
    of America with their exceptionalism and the dirty deals exposed.

  3. The review is behind a paywall, and I’m boycotting the NYT.
    In the first grade I learned about scapegoating and victim blaming when Ricky Walker (a polio victim with a leg brace) stood before the class and innocently recited:
    “Teacher, teacher, don’t whip me.
    Whip that (N-word) behind that tree.”
    Ricky was being shamed because he fell behind on a little hike we took to hear a speech at the VFW. Ricky stood in the corner all afternoon after taking his 4 whacks. That’s education!

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