2009’s Dendera is a standalone novel by Yuya Sato. The 2015 Haikasoru translation is by Nathan A. Collins and Edwin Hawkes.
Every inhabitant of the Village who manages to make it to age seventy (despite a life of hard labor, disease, and famine) is rewarded by exile to the Mountain (in winter) where, they are told, they can expect a quick death and Paradise thereafter.
Eager for Paradise, Kayu Saito cheerfully heads up the mountain. She is outraged not to find her Elysium.
Thirty years earlier, Mei Mitsuya had gone up the mountain — and down the other side. There she founded a secret village that she called Dendera. She has spent the next three decades retrieving other elderly women from the Village side of the mountain. Life in Dendera is often hard, but the women of Dendera cooperate to ensure that as many survive as possible.
Kayu does not find Dendera inspirational. She finds it an affront to decency. She was promised Paradise. Instead she is faced with yet more years of struggle in Dendera until she finally meets death. Kayu is loud in her protestations; the other Denderites are less than sympathetic.
One unhappy woman is not a political problem. What is a political problem is Mei’s desire to take revenge on the Village that had sentenced her to death. She wants to lead a small army of old women back over the mountain, to kill all of the inhabitants and burn the Village to the ground. Others, led by Masari Shiina, want to forget the past and focus on making life in Dendera easier. The first faction is called the Hawks, the second the Doves. Neither side can prevail, because so many of the women in Dendera are undecided.
There is yet another faction, a non-human one: a large bear whose fear of humans has faded before winter-driven hunger. Mei sees Dendera as the base from which to launch an attack, Masari as a lasting home. For the bear, the town is a corral full of tasty food.
One can only assume the people who are bothered and perplexed by the very idea of a Lord of the Flies scenario with girls (despite an existing proof of concept in Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens) will be appalled at a replay enacted with old women. Fair warning: if you are one those people, you should not read the book. Heck, you should probably not have started reading this review.
You could read this as a mainstream novel, but if you prefer not to, there is a brief mention of a demon whose activities decades ago transformed Masari’s life and through her Dendera. It’s possible, though, that the demon is merely rank superstition and that events attributed to it have their roots in human behavior.
Some people will be curious about the fate of the old men of the Village. They go up the Mountain too. The women do not bother to rescue them, having had quite enough of being bossed around. If any men manage to survive, nobody in the book ever mentions it.
Because Dendera recruits from the Village, its culture has been shaped by the brutal, violent culture of that little town. Some of the Village’s customs persist because they are really useful; they enhance the community’s odds of survival. However, other customs seem to be born of ignorance, superstition, and hierarchy. The women in Dendera do their best to make something better, but few of them can truly escape the seven decades of ongoing trauma that was their life before escaping the Village.
Oh, yes, and there’s the bear. The women do not have firearms, though there are hints that such things exist, far far away. The women have spears and traps with which to face a much larger, stronger, and faster opponent. Confrontations with the bear are likely to be not necessarily to the benefit of the women.
Oddly enough, it is the disgruntled Kayu who sees a way out. Because she has estranged herself from all the village factions, she is not blinded by what everyone knows. She manages to uncover secrets long buried and to glimpse a path to victory over the bear. Of course, she may not succeed in executing her plan….
Grim but engrossing, Dendera is available here (Amazon) and here (Chapters-Indigo).
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