Reviewed by Kristyna Zaharek
I bought The Windup Girl in a set with a few others from a departing teacher. I hadn’t heard of it before and didn’t know what to expect. For months, it sat on my shelf while I read other, more pressing novels. Eventually, I finished that list. I would glance at the book, sitting patiently on the shelf, collecting a light layer of dust until, finally, a day came when I sat down and opened this book by Paolo Bacigalupi to a middle page.
I knew from the first sentence that this book would be delicious, and boy, was I right!
Set in a futuristic, dystopian Bangkok, this book weaves its way through the stalls of open markets to the damp, rusty corners of food factories. Imagine that money no longer held any significance. Instead, calories were the new form of cash. Going for a run would burn calories – it basically wastes your money. Eating a sweet, delectable piece of cake would cost you far more than a plate of vegetables.
Oh, yes – one more thing. Fruits and vegetables have been dying off by disease. It’s nearly impossible to purchase a mango without risking rot or illness. People are dying. It’s in the air. It’s in the food. It’s in the water.
So, these buildings called “calorie factories” start popping up. They gene-rip a fruit or vegetable by copying its genes. Then they mass-produce them and sell them for a higher price. These gene-ripped mangos would then be free of possible infection, but they would also be far from the real thing.
Hock Seng is the Chinese factory manager. Hated by all and untrusted by his boss, Anderson, he has plans to escape Thailand and find a better life. The world seems to be against him at every turn.
Anderson is an American gene-ripper. The government hates people like him: rich people who steal the genes of produce and make money from a fake replacement. While he is busy hiding his identity and hunting for other fruits to gene-rip, he runs into a girl named Emiko.
Emiko is a robotic humanoid, or a “Windup,” that is not legally allowed to be in Thailand. Created in Japan, she was abandoned by her owner and is now hiding from the law. Her new owner pays off the secret police because she brings him calorie money by servicing his guests in an underground brothel.
Emiko is on a short leash, and she’s desperate to get free. When Anderson is introduced to her, he begins to put thoughts in her head of freedom, which leads her to drastic decisions that put the lives of everyone she knows at risk.
Then we have Jaidee and Kanya who are part of the “white shirts” (the secret police). They keep the peace as well as ensure the gene-rippers are taxed when they import goods (though they are known to take bribes every now and then). They, too, are caught up on the political warfront as everything goes to hell.
Throughout these twisted, intertwined stories, we see love, betrayal, fear, stupidity, bravery, and more. The choices of a single Windup – of one robotic girl with dreams of freedom – end up creating havoc in the country and possibly toppling the entire system.
But, of course, you’ll have to read the novel yourself to discover the fate of these characters.
I was drawn into this book. Every chance I had to read it, I devoured the pages and the words. I even learned a little Thai on the way! My favorite part of this book was the absence of a clear villain. Everyone has dark secrets, but everyone also has dreams that make them human. I grew to love the characters. Sometimes, I even hated them. It really depended on their choices. In the end, I felt hopeful. The book left me satisfied – though I would love to read a sequel one day.
Kristyna lived in Gwangju, South Korea for two years. She is a hopeful novelist with a heart for travel. She also really likes dark chocolate.