Agnes Gomillion's The Record Keeper was published by Titan Books in June 2019.
About Agnes Gomillion:
Agnes is a speaker and writer based in Atlanta, Georgia, where she lives with her husband and son. Homegrown in the Sunshine State, Agnes studied English Literature at the University of Florida before transitioning to Levin College of Law, where she earned both a Juris Doctorate and Legal Master degree. She’s a voracious reader of the African-American literary canon and a dedicated advocate for marginalized people everywhere.
About The Record Keeper:
After World War III, Earth is in ruins, and the final armies have come to a reluctant truce. Everyone must obey the law - in every way - or risk shattering the fragile peace and endangering the entire human race.
Arika Cobane is on the threshold of taking her place of privilege as a member of the Kongo elite after ten grueling years of training. But everything changes when a new student arrives speaking dangerous words of treason: What does peace matter if innocent lives are lost to maintain it? As Arika is exposed to new beliefs, she realizes that the laws she has dedicated herself to uphold are the root of her people’s misery. If Arika is to liberate her people, she must unearth her fierce heart and discover the true meaning of freedom: finding the courage to live - or die - without fear.
REVIEW: THE RECORD KEEPER BY AGNES GOMILLION
Agnes Gomillion's debut novel, The Record Keeper, will astound, shock and touch readers in many ways. It's a powerfully written and visceral story about freedom, racism, oppression and resilience that will stick to the reader's mind, because it has a deep level of resonance that sets it apart from other novels of its kind.
What makes The Record Keeper excellent is the author's strong approach to dystopian fiction. The story is clearly rooted in what has happened in our world, because the author depicts a world in which people suffer from arrogance, inequality and oppression by the white English.
The Record Keeper tells of Arika Cobane who is a First Brother and has been selected to become one of the Record Keepers whose task is to record the history of the Kongo race. She's a valedictorian at the Schoolhouse and is about to graduate. She has set her eyes on becoming the Senator for the Kongo at the American Assembly. However, when a new student, Hosea Khan Vine, arrives at the Schoolhouse, Arika is exposed to new beliefs and ideas that make her realise that the laws she has followed all her life are the cause of her people's misery... Meanwhile, a dangerous and deadly fever has arrived in the territory and a rebellion is stirring among the Second Brothers...
This marks the beginning of a sophisticatedly complex and visceral story that will impress readers. I was personally taken by the subtle complexity of the story, and I was fascinated by how strong a character Arika is and how fluently the author writes about her life.
I was impressed by the worldbuilding, because Arika's world is stunningly realised with many details. The world has been ravaged by World War III and the only habitable mass of land is located on the East Coast of former North America. The new world has been divided into three terroritories: Northridge (a place where the white English live), Clayskin (an area inhabited by the brown Asian people) and Kongo (the southern area where the dark-skinned Kongos live). The Niagara Compromise has given each of the territories separate but equal rights. The English are agricultural engineers and researchers, the Clayskin are household servants, manufacturers and merchants, and the Kongos are agricultural workers who are divided into First Brothers and Second Brothers. According to history, the Kongos had volunteered to cultivate the land for the greater good of all humanity, but their situation is strongly reminiscent of slavery, because they're being brutally and systematically controlled and manipulated by the white English.
Arika is an interesting and well-created protagonist. The author writes excellently about Arika's life, childhood and training. Arika faces hardships and brutality in her life, but she perseveres and is resilient. She has been brought up to follow the laws, but doesn't realise that the laws are actually designed to oppress her people. The coming of a new student marks a change in her life as she begins to realise that the laws she has obeyed are manipulative and wrong.
Headmistress Jones at the Schoolhouse is one of the most sadistic and vicious characters I've ever seen in this kind of dystopian novels. The author's descriptions of her brutality and viciousness are truly disturbing, because she runs the School House with hard discipline and crushes all kind of resistance with her actions.
I found the concept of the Rebirth unsettling, because it makes people content and docile. Those who have to experience it will lose much of themselves and forget things. They're not the same people anymore, because the Rebirth changes them in a profound way.
One of the things that I noticed when I read this novel is the author's passion for justice and equality. She writes well about these things and makes the reader think about what is happening in the world with her gripping writing. It's also evident that the author is interested in history, because some of the happenings reflect what has happened in our world.
I like the author's writing style and find her prose satisfyingly literary. Her way of writing about the happenings from Arika's point of view works well and makes the reader eager to find out what happens to Arika.
The Record Keeper can be recommended to readers who are familiar with Margaret Atwood's dystopian novels, because it will resonate with fans of Atwood's novels. Although this novel has been written for mature readers, there's a possiblity that experienced young adult readers will also be intrigued by it.
Agnes Gomillion's The Record Keeper is a well-crafted debut novel that impressed me with its powerful story. I can recommend this novel to readers who love dystopian stories and want to read speculative fiction that makes them think. It's excellent dystopian fiction that deserves to be read and felt, because much of the story will move the readers due to its visceral contents.