the first century after beatrice

Title :: A Century After Beatrice
Author :: Amin Maalouf
Completed :: Apr 06 2008
Challenges :: Novella
Rating :: 4/5

May your name live forever and a son be born to you. - Ancient Egyptian proverb

What would happen if mankind became just that... mankind? Maalouf creates for us a world where the birth of a male heir has become so important that the population of women is dwindling and the world is about to suffer emotional, economical and political repercussions. The title character, Beatrice is born just before the turn of the 21st century and it is her father, an entomologist and nameless narrator, who weaves the tale of how a 'magical' scarab bean begins a worldwide debate on gender bias.

The novel opens with the entomologist being invited to Cairo to present a paper on the scarab beetle at an Egyptology conference. The Egyptologist that speaks after him talks about how the Ancient Egyptians viewed the scarab beetle with its links to reproduction, regeneration, and the journey of the sun across the sky. He mentions the Ancient Egyptian proverb, May your name live forever and a son be born to you and says that even to this day this is a wish of modern Egyptians. He then presents a small wooden box to the audience, its contents contain scarab beans which guarantee the purchaser that if consumed they will give birth to a son. He jokingly adds that the beans cost him $100 and that he wasn't sure if he would be able to claim them as a conference expense. The entomologist is curious and goes to the market, when he finds the beans he is able to purchase them for $10. With a smile he returns to the hotel believing his bargaining skills to be top notch only to realize that his wallet is missing. Annoyed by this blunder he hides the scarab beans in his desk back in France and forgets about them.

It is not until he meets Clarence, a journalist that he falls in love with, that the scarab beans are remembered. While she is away on assignment in India he receives a strange call from her asking to compare the instructions with his scarab beans to those that she has found in a market in India. Her research into small Indian villages as well as Indian hospitals does seem to show proof that female births are declining. The entomologist contacts an old friend and they begin looking into the demographics of several countries. They eventually involve a scientist into their research and it is then that they learn that a company had successfully created a drug to be used in animals to provide male births.

It becomes clear that this drug has been spread across countries such as China, India, Mexico, Africa, and other poorer countries that are over-populated. Eventually these countries begin to collapse economically and their men grow frustrated sexually and are deprived of family life. Violence and rioting break out and there is a veritable scare of girl children being kidnapped.

Maalouf's tale on the surface may seem unbelievable but I was surprised by how easily something of this nature could come about. He mentions high abortion rates in countries such as China, where people are allowed only one child as well as places where male offspring are viewed as important to help with manual labor such as farming. The writing is beautiful and poignant and the arguments for and against gender bias are amazing. I am so glad I snagged this book up and I definitely will be keeping my eye out for more of Maalouf's work.

Other Thoughts ::
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!

. listening . simple kind of life . no doubt . return of saturn .


posted by Ashleigh @ 16:07,


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random field notes

    ashleigh (ash'lė) n.
    1: egyptologist; currently living in the uk attempting to obtain a phd in egyptology, hoping in the end there will be a job.
    2: literary; reading to escape reality, to improve conversation, for inspiration.
    3: crafter; crocheting and needlework, creating heirlooms, keeping the world warm.
    4: dreamer; head in the clouds, full of fantasies, wishing to be someone else, somewhere else.
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