Cover Image: Surrender

Surrender

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I had a love/hate relationship with this title.  It takes place during a war but that's about all you know.  It's one of those books that keep the details very generalized and maybe that was my difficulty with it.
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Published in Spain in 2017; published in translation by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Mariner Books on February 25, 2020

In spirit and tone, Surrender brings to mind José Saramago. Ray Loriga’s style is less delightfully rambling than Saramago’s, but it is chatty and intimate, as if the author were telling a meandering story to a good friend. The story combines surrealism with the realistic fears of war-torn people who are willing to surrender their individuality for the sake of gaining security through conformity.

The place where the war occurs is unspoken, as are its participants. We know only that the war is not going well for the place where the narrator resides. His two sons went to war, but the narrator does not know if they are still alive. The bombs are coming closer. The only good news, from the narrator’s perspective, is the appearance of Julio, a mute boy who wandered into the narrator’s life. The narrator and his wife keep Julio hidden in their basement. “If all goes well and he behaves himself, maybe we’ll move him upstairs one day, to our sons’ room.”

The zone agent tells the narrator that the decade-long war is being lost, that everyone must evacuate to the transparent city. The narrator has no choice but to trust the government, provisional though it may be, because the alternative is anarchy or death. After all, the government protected them from their wet nurse who cared so tenderly for their children. They made no protest when the government took her because they were grateful for its vigilance.

The story follows the narrator, his wife, and Julio as they make a difficult journey to the transparent city, where everything is indeed transparent. Walls are made of a transparent crystal; everyone is visible to everyone else as they shower, shit, shag, and sleep. The experience leads the narrator to understand that “although some of us have more flesh in this or that place and others have less, we’re basically all the same.”

Everyone in the transparent city is required to take three showers a day, but the water has properties that go beyond washing away dirt. The narrator soon finds himself unreasonably happy, so happy he doesn’t object when Julio’s tutor takes the narrator’s wife to bed. “My perennial happiness stuck to me the way goat poop sticks to your hunting boots.” Yet the narrator has a premonition that his happiness will come undone. “Sometimes you have to wait for things to unfold, even though you already sense what’s going to happen, because if you don’t, people will call you crazy.”

People in the transparent city must do what they are told, lest their heads be posted at the front gate. At first, surrendering control of his life seems fine to the narrator, because contentment has always been his goal. “Once you admit that god hasn’t chosen you to do anything extraordinary, you start to really live the way you should, with your head and feet inside a circle marked in the sand, not stepping out beyond your terrain or hankering for what isn’t yours.” When he recalls his past, the narrator occasionally searches his soul “for some shred of my old self, but it was useless, I couldn’t find it.”

“What malice lurks in the soul of a man who doesn’t recognize himself as one among many?” the narrator asks. The question is poignant in a time when selfish people eschew social distancing, but Loriga turns the question on its head. The narrator feels that the “tiny circle of my affections and concerns” helped him understand what matters, while being “part of something functional that assures my well-being and calls for my participation” makes him “feel inexorably excluded from the common good.” The resolution of that conflict, Surrender suggests, requires individuals within a society to retain their individuality even if they are necessarily part of something bigger.

The novel is also an argument against contentment as an ultimate goal. Nobody in the transparent city is hungry or sick, everyone is forced to feel protected and happy, “but was that enough to live?” The narrator misses doing things that cause pain, simply because the pain resulted from his free will. And in “the strange peace of the transparent city,” he and his wife have stopped loving each other, perhaps because they have stopped struggling together to attain the things that the transparent city gives them. Or perhaps it has something to do with the wife shagging the tutor.

At some point the reader will wonder whether the narrator is reliable. Is it true that nothing smells bad in the city, including the excrement that the narrator hauls away on a tractor every day? Is Julio really a savant, as the narrator believes, capable of speech but wisely remaining silent? In the end it doesn’t matter. The story is strange and wonderful, and even if the narrator can’t be trusted to tell us the truth, Loriga conveys many truths about the conflict between the demands of society and the needs of the individual.

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Thank you to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I thought this book interesting to a point but I didn't really like the characters, nor were they developed enough in my opinion.

In this story, we follow a 40-something-year-old man (I think, don't remember exactly) who has to leave his home with his wife because there is a war raging in their country. They leave, burn their house and bring a kid with them, that they pretend is theirs to keep him safe. They follow the rules and eventually get to the transparent city, which is when I started enjoying this book.

Everything is transparent in that city, from walls to utensils to pipes. Everyone's able to watch you at all times. You're given a job, an apartment, food, everything. Also, nothing smells because everything is "cristallized". But you have to contribute and respect the rules, which our mc starts to question.

That premise is interesting and gave me some thoughtful insights, but I couldn't help but feel like the main character was nothing but a misogynist trying to be smarter than everyone else and that was not enjoyable. More than that, the writing was dry and not a lot happened in the end so I was left wondering if there was anything to get at in this book.
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Surrender by Ray Loriga is a Spanish dystopian sci-fi novel, which I read translated into English by Carolina De Robertis.  I really enjoyed the first half, where our first-person narrator, his wife, and the mute child they have taken in, are evacuated from their town and sent to the “transparent city”.  I liked how it felt part-historical with references akin to the Spanish Civil War, whilst also being clearly set in the future or an alternate reality.  However, I became disengaged with the story once they reached the city and things began to drag.  I feel like the author was going for an Orwellian "big brother' vibe, but failed to match this.  There are no final answers in this tale, so it depends on how that kind of thing sits with you.
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Note: I was given an e-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Surrender by Ray Loriga is a dystopian sci-fi novel recently translated from its original Spanish text into English by Carolina De Robertis. It follows a couple in the midst of an ongoing war, with no information on what is going on and what to expect. But around the time they are expected to evaculate to the “transparent city”, a young mute boy appears on their property without context. Together, the three evacuate to their new home, unsure of what they are leaving behind – and what their new home will bring them.

To start, I found the translation of Surrender to be very well-done and the words flowed so smoothly throughout. The story is entirely narrated through the husband’s thoughts through a stream of consciousness. The way that the author captured the thoughts and feelings of not only the narrator, but also his wife were very real to me, and I felt for them very much when they had to evacuate.

The second half of Surrender, however, seemed to have lost that touch for me. The narrator’s descriptions begin to change in such a way that he’s merely only telling the reader directly what his thoughts and feelings are. And in a way, it does match with the events of the book, but at the same time, it reads as if the narrator’s thought process is underdeveloped. The way that the main character begins to make connections is too sudden and unnatural, and the narration in these scenes reflected that – especially when there were ways to make that connection work.

Additionally, I thought that there was a lot missing in terms of the storyline and world building. I’ve noticed in the dystopian novels that I’ve read that the cause of the dystopian world being created is sometimes left out as a stylistic choice. Often, this is done either to focus more on other aspects of the novel, such as the character’s choices in that world, or context clues to make the reader put the pieces together on what really happened.

In Surrender, however, there’s no more than a paragraph that gives context in why this war is going on. I interpreted this as another stylistic choice, as the characters are left in the dark in terms of what’s going on in the war. However, I thought it would have been much more realistic had there been at least a little more description of why the war started in the first place, and the events leading up to the lack of communication to civilians. I think this would have led to a lot more depth to the story and context behind the dystopian world that was created as a result.

But to put these points aside, Surrender was still a very intriguing, fast-paced novel that explores what makes us human – and when that is taken away from us. This book leaves a lot left to ponder on and think about, especially when it comes to the transparent city and how it really operates. Additionally, the role of the boy in this novel and his observations throughout were interesting to think about. Overall, this book puts a lot of the speculation into the reader’s hands – and your preferences on how much or little speculation you expect may impact your opinions on this book. But if you enjoy a more “soft” dystopia that focuses more on the current world than how it came to be, this will be a better fit for you.
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The blurb enticed me to request a copy of this book and the premise seemed very promising. The execution however was neither of these things. A collection of repetitive and pretentious ramblings by the narrator made it almost impossible to finish. I will not be providing a full review for this book.

Thank you to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Mariner Books) for providing a digital copy.
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An interesting take on the dystopian genre. In Surrender, an unnamed narrator and his family are relocated to a "transparent city." It's just like it sounds - a completely glass/crystal city where everyone can see EVERYTHING that everyone else is doing. Interesting concept, and there were a few aspects of the story that could have been explored a bit more thoroughly, but then again it was likely the author's intent to leave some to the imagination. Thought-provoking for sure, especially given our already too-public lives thanks to social media. Who do we become when our whole lives are on display? We inherently cannot be the same people - we project only the good parts of ourselves, so what happens when that is all we can project? This small novel packs a good punch.
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Spare and disconnected, Ray Loriga's short dystopian novel Surrender examines what happens in a faltering, unnamed country after a mysterious decades-long war.  Our unnamed narrator and his family, complete with a makeshift child, are being shepherded toward a "transparent city," where they will now be forced to live after their homeland falls to war.  Surrender follows the family on their trek to the transparent city and takes us beyond those clear glass walls, where everything is out in the open except for the true intent of those in charge.  

Surrender is a simple little novel that explores complex subjects, such as government control and manipulation.  Its appeal comes in how murky and bare bones this story is.  Our narrator is a simple man without significant purpose or position.  His observations of the crumbling world around him are not involved or conspiratorial.  He just sees what is presented to him in plain sight, which is what makes this novel all the more frightening because you, as a reader, know there is more lurking below the surface than what meets the eye.  What exactly is lurking is left for you to discover within the pages of this quick read.

Thank you to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
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Not sure if the author was going for a storyline with "mystery" or maybe something was lost in translation but it comes across as very repetitive and jumbled. Could have been interesting with the Crystal City concept.
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