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re­leased OUT NOW! 291 pages | Pa­per­back/ebook Au­thor ling Ma Pub­lisher Text Pub­lish­ing

Car­riage ponies roam free through the semi-aban­doned streets of cen­tral New York, while fevered cit­i­zens are con­demned to re­peat sim­u­lacra of their daily tasks in un­end­ing loops in this post-apoc­a­lyp­tic musing, which reads more like a wist­ful mem­oir than a genre novel.

Chi­nese-born Can­dace Chen, camped out in her of­fice in Times Square, re­luc­tantly joins a cult-like group of sur­vivors es­cap­ing the city. That’s the nar­ra­tive drive of the story, though the rich­ness of Ling Ma’s text comes not from what’s hap­pen­ing, but how Chen came to be here and the mem­o­ries of place and fam­ily she brings with her. Gor­geously evoca­tive – a feel­ing she de­scribes as “Fuzhou Night­time Feel­ing” (af­ter her home town) is al­most tan­gi­ble – Sev­er­ance is a rich and as­sured lit­er­ary sci-fi tack­ling themes not un­fa­mil­iar to the dystopian genre (con­sumerism, loss of iden­tity, the in­di­vid­ual vs the group).

The “zom­bies” here aren’t flesh-hun­gry mon­sters ei­ther, but the sad husks of trapped souls. Though the here-and­now plot spat­tered through­out is slight, it’s a fram­ing de­vice – a sce­nario to af­ford Ma’s hero­ine a rea­son to re­flect on her cul­ture and background: on the West from the eyes of the East, on love and life as a whole. Un­sat­is­fy­ing if you thought it was a zom­bie novel, per­haps, but as a piece of ex­is­ten­tial con­tem­po­rary fic­tion it’s stun­ning. Rosie Fletcher

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