Sangu Mandanna-The Lost Girl

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Themes Explored: cloning, ethics, morality, humanity, what is a soul, family dynamics, rebellion, independence, courage, creativity, sibling bonds, cultural shock, teenage angst, first love, loss, death, identity, ostracism, happiness, power dynamics, personhood, frankenstein

Synopsis: Eva’s life is not her own. She is a creation, an abomination—an echo. She was made by the Weavers as a copy of someone else, expected to replace a girl named Amarra, her “other,” if she ever died. Eva spends every day studying that girl from far away, learning what Amarra does. So when Amarra is killed in a car crash, Eva should be ready. Now she must abandon everything and everyone she’s ever known and move to India to convince the world that Amarra is still alive. Eva is then forced to choose: live out her years as a copy or risk it all for the freedom to be an original. To be Eva. (Adapted from Goodreads)

Review: What lengths would you go to keep a loved one alive? In Sangu Mandanna’s debut novel is a contemplative exploration of what it means to be human and the difficulty of letting go.  The story is obviously inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and deals with the theme identity. This is not a retelling of Frankenstein, but it uses Frankenstein as an inspiration and building block. The Lost Girl is mainly about what could have been and how people do not enjoy the unknown. Mandanna’s novel explores the “could have beens” in life and how people cope with a reality they did not expect. The Lost Girl is not the first book to explore the issues of cloning and it will not be the last. However, I thought the narrative was an interesting twist on the genre.

If people do not want to lose a loved one, they can hire the Weavers to make an Echo. Eva is an Echo, an exact physical copy of Amarra. She has studies all her life in order to step into her original’s life is needed. However, she lives in constant fear that her ‘original’s’ family will no longer want her and will execute a ‘sleep order’. However, Eva no longer wants to just be an echo, she just wants to live her life free of Amarra. Eva has lived with the knowledge that her life is not her own and that all her actions are influenced by Amarra. Since Eva was created for the sole purpose of duplicating Amarra, she never has the chance to be herself. Just as Eva begins to explore her own need for independence, the unthinkable happens and Eva has to step into a role she never wanted. Despite spending all her life studying to be Amarra, Eva is not prepared or willing to erase herself in order to be someone else.

Echoes are created by the Weavers on The Loom. However, the echoes are not perfect yet, the Weavers eventually want to create echoes that are simply replacement bodies for their other’s souls. But the Weavers have not reached that point yet and the Echoes only physically resemble their originals but have different personalities. The Weavers want to use Echoes to continue life indefinitely. Echoes are only a step towards the Looms ultimate goal: immortality. While the protagonist is likeable, the narrative lacks plausibility. The book never explains how the Echoes are woven and it is difficult to believe a Weaver can create a human with a personality and fully functioning body. Science fiction requires some grounding in reality and I really wanted Mandanna to explain the science of the weaving. Without this information, I had a difficult time believing in the plausibility of Echoes.

Also, I could never figure out why Amarra’s parents would want clones of all their children. Mandanna hinted at a painful history between Amarra’s parents and Matthew from The Loom, but never explored the strong paranoia.  In this world, Echoes are illegal and any family who commissions one will always be living in fear. And then there are the fractured family dynamics. Only a handful of people look at Eva and actually see Eva, not a “thing” that should not exist. I wish Mandanna had further explored the emotional impact of losing a child and then trying to accept a “replacement”. Though, I have to say, that I would have a difficult time accepting a physical clone of my siblings. Yet Amarra’s siblings embrace Eva rather easily. And I understand why Amarra hated Eva. I would hate having to keep meticulous notes about my life so that someone else could replace me. So I can understand Amarra’s viewpoint but I also sympathize with Eva.

Perhaps the strongest part of this book is Eva. She is a wonderfully developed and I think she is a fantastic heroine. Eva is on the hunt to find her own life and does not want to live according to someone else’s rules. From the beginning it is apparent that Eva possess a strong sense of self. Yet throughout the narrative Eva has to constantly repress herself in order to fulfill her duties as an Echo. Having to read her constantly struggle to deny her own desires and goals is heartbreaking. And there are several scenes where Eva is bullied and ostracized for being different. Even though her creation and other circumstances are out of her control. I think she is the most compelling character. Though I wish her romance with Sean had been fleshed out a little more. Overall, Eva is a complex heroine and she really jumps off the page/

World building wise, the details are a little sketchy. The events in the story take place in London and India. However, the references to these places are so scarce, the action could be happening anywhere. The only way to differentiate between London and India is the cast of characters surrounding Eva. I would have loved some more cityscape descriptions.  When I first picked up this book, I expected the narrative to explore the issues of identity and personhood a little more deeply. All the philosophical themes are barely touched upon or explored in depth. Despite the flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Lost Girl and hope there is a sequel.

The Lost Girl, Balzer + Bray, 2012, ISBN 9780062082312

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