Review: A Country of Ghosts by Margaret Killjoy

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice. Fuck around and find out.

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January 26, 2022

Margaret Killjoy’s A Country of Ghosts is a work of beautifully crafted utopian fiction that reminded me of nothing so much as Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Dispossessed–except in a country called Hron where there is enough for everyone, as opposed to LeGuin’s moon Anarres, where there are precious few resources.

As the book begins, disgraced queer journalist Dimos Horacki is sent to “the front” to write a puff piece about an acclaimed Borolian general, except things don’t go as planned when the general, Dolan Wilder, is killed by the rebel forces about a third of the way into the book.

Dimos falls in with the rebels and begins to learn about the country of Hron, which is run on collectivist, anti-capitalist, and pro-anarchy principles. He is a necessarily naïve narrator, as it is through him that the reader also learns about Hron and its long tradition of mutual aid and independent action. Dimos acts as a bellwether of the impending Borolian invasion and is able to advise the different communities of the very real risk they run of being obliterated just because the Borolians can.

A Country of Ghosts is a practical instead of an ambiguous utopia. What I mean by that it isn’t presenting its principles through rose-colored glasses; the different characters admit that their society isn’t perfect. But the lack of perfection doesn’t bother them, they each keep doing the best they can, despite their various stumbles and missteps. All the characters feel so real, even when they only have minimal characterization. Dimos has to be an outsider for the book to work, but by the end he’s as much of Hron as any of the other characters.

I also find it important to point out that while many bad things happen in this book, while not everyone makes it to the end, the book in and of itself ends well and on a hopeful note.

I found this to be an incredibly thought-provoking read. It’s set in a secondary world–about 150 years before our current time–but without any other speculative elements. One of my favorite parts was how environmental justice and stewardship underlaid so many of the decisions the Hron people made.

As Killjoy points out in the excellent afterword, this is a novel and not a blueprint. She admits that she could have done a better job explaining how the indigenous Hron people were able to integrate 50,000 refugees without those refugees becoming a colonizing population.

I loved this book so much. Go read it.

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"It's chaos, be kind."
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