Tlotlo Tsamaase’s 2020 The Silence of the Wilting Skin is a stand-alone work of speculative fiction.
The narrator is visited by a dreamskin, the eidolon of her grandmother. Normally, dreamskins are reflections of the living, harbingers that manifest to inform their living original of impending death. The narrator has been chosen for something else. If only her circumstances did not make it nearly impossible for the narrator to understand what, or to act.
The City is divided by train tracks. The train carries away the souls of the dead of the narrator’s people (henceforth NP). Naturally the train is revered by the NP.
Not so the citizens of The District on the Other Side of the City. They look down upon the NP and have no respect for their train. The District values conformity and demands that the NP conform as well. The District has the power to enforce this.
The sensoria of the NP have been carefully tweaked to shield them from certain inconvenient inputs. They cannot see skin colors, even their own. They can make an educated guess as to skin color, however, because the dead have black skin. There are sounds they cannot hear and sights they cannot see, even names they cannot grasp. In this they are very, very different from the folk of The District. How different they are, they cannot know.
The narrator’s brother labors in the service of the citizens of The District on the Other Side of the City. He and his family never seem to prosper, yet he is still determined to serve his bosses well.
The boundaries between the NP and The District can move. The District citizens can force the NP to sell their land so that The District can expand and luxury high rises can be built.
The narrator and her people are being erased. Each defining characteristic (skin color, words, names, land) is being removed. Nothing will be left.
Is there anything the narrator can do? Or will she and her loved ones simply vanish?
This novella was shorter than I expected. This is because for some reason I thought it was Tsamaase’s upcoming novel, Womb City, which is coming in 2023 from Erewhon Books. As I recall, it is the first of three Tsamaase books Erewhon has purchased. It may be some time before I see the novels, so this serves as an enticing introduction to Tsamaase’s work.
The events of this story are a metaphor but they are a very loud metaphor.
I am not being coy about names. While the citizens of The District on the Other Side of the City have names, neither the narrator nor anyone like her have names. If they did, the names would be different from those of the citizens of The District on the Other Side of the City in ways that would be culturally informative about the narrator and her people, which would make more difficult the process of assimilation and erasure.
Tsamaase is forced to embrace circumlocution, it being impossible by design to speak directly of many things. This might be an impediment for other authors but not so for Tsamaase, for whom suggestion and things seen only briefly from the corner of one’s eye are sufficient.
I expect “dreamlike” featured prominently in reviews of this piece. Nightmarish is closer to the mark, made more so by the author’s skillful prose.
The Silence of the Wilting Skin is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Book Depository). It is not available from Chapters-Indigo as far as I can tell; yet another example of a POC-authored work Chapters-Indigo does not carry.