Meg Elison

May 3, 2019

The Book of Flora

47North 2019

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Meg Elison’s The Book of Flora (47North, 2019) trilogy is as much about gender as it is about surviving the apocalypse.

The first installment, the Philip K. Dick Award-winning The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, set the tone with a pandemic that destroyed civilization, leaving behind 10 men for every woman. To avoid rape and enslavement in this male-dominated landscape, the eponymous midwife must present herself as a man to survive.

In the next volume, The Books of Etta, set a century later, gender remains fraught but the rules have changed. The midwife’s legacy lives on in the town of Nowhere, where women are decision-makers and leaders. In this evolved world, Etta is allowed to choose the traditionally male job of raider, although she must still pretend to be a man to travel across a sparsely populated Midwest. Fortunately, this isn’t as heavy a lift for Etta as it had been for the midwife since Etta prefers to be called Eddie and identifies as male.

The notion of choice is one that Elison takes a step further in the trilogy’s latest and final installment, The Book of Flora. Assigned male gender at birth, Flora was castrated as a youth by a slaver, and, as an adult, identifies as female. Although she doesn’t always find acceptance among the communities she encounters, she refuses to hide her gender identity even when traveling alone, preferring the risk of being female to hiding who she is.

As the world goes from absolute chaos to small pockets of … a more peaceful existence for women, I thought the most gendered person in the series, Flora, was the right person to come to something like peace,” Elison says.

Set in a still dangerous world, The Book of Flora is nonetheless a riot of humanity, full of characters representing marginalized voices and communities incubating new cultures and norms. There’s even a hint of an evolutionary leap that may one day make gender obsolete.

“I was really interested in books like Gulliver's Travels, but also in the idea of, after the loss of national media and immediate communications, how different our societies would immediately become: we'd have these little pockets of culture where every town would have its own urban legends and every town might have its own religion and every town might have its own courtship rituals. So that that gave me a real opportunity to get weird and I got really weird with it, and it was extremely fun.”

Rob Wolf is the author of The Alternate Universe and The Escape. He worked for a decade as a journalist, writing on a wide range of topics from medicine to justice reform. He now serves as director of communications at a non-profit dedicated to justice reform. You can follow him on Twitter.

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