Bibliophile | Joan of Arc faces the future in The Book of Joan

The Book of Joan
by Lidia Yuknavitch
Allen & Unwin
Where to start? Maybe with a quote from the book. “Once there was a girl from France. She heard a song and became a warrior for her country, but her country lost its shape and aim in the Wars, as all countries did, and then there were just combatants and civilians gone brutal against one another, endless violence. Then the girl made a choice.”
Then some background. In the 15th century, eighteen year old Joan of Arc led the French to victory over the English during the Hundred Years’ War. A year later she was captured and charged with witchcraft, heresy and dressing like a man. She was burned at the stake as a heretic by the English and their French collaborators, only to be canonised as a Roman Catholic saint 500 years later.
In Lidia Yuknavitch’s near future a re-imagined Joan of Arc (Joan of Dirt) lives on an earth devastated by global warming and wars. Earth’s resources and technology has being seized by those who kill the best. While the earth is a “lifeless boat of nothing”, it is orbited by a CEIL which was constructed from old space stations. This colony is ruled by repugnant tyrannical cult leader Jean de Men who claims to have killed the “heretic” young rebel Joan.
But Joan lives underground on what remains of Earth and there are dissenters aboard CEIL – Trinculo Forsythe who created CEIL and his partner Christine Pizan who is named after a medieval feminist. Christine is burning Joan’s story onto her skin while living in a prison cell. The pain of the dying Earth and the pain of Christine’s burning intermingle as the story of Joan continues as songs of creation and songs of destruction merge.
This tale of devastation continually questions what it means to be human and warns against letting heterosexuality destroy other story options. Humans on the orbiting world have morphed into hairless, sexless beings with pale skin and ports to interact with technology. Trinculo’s highly sexualized rants about the false fiction that was meant to save humanity in this gender-defying story remind me of Margaret Atwell’s fascinating texts that also dwell on the future of sexuality.
Lezly Herbert

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