Susan Palwick, author of the remarkable Flying in Place, now returns with a compelling new novel of a family cast out of an idyllic realm, learning to live in our own troubled world. With its richly imagined portrayal of a lost culture, complete with poetry and fables, traditions and customs, and its searing yet sympathetic view of own society as seen through new eyes, The Necessary Beggar is an compelling examination of humanity and the redemptive power of love, in the spirit of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed and Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.
Lémabantunk, the Glorious City, is a place of peace and plenty, of festivals and flowers, bejeweled streets and glittering waterfalls. But it is also a land of severe justice. Darroti, a young merchant, has been accused of an unforgiveable crime – the brutal murder a highborn woman. Now, in keeping with the customs of their world, his entire family must share in his punishment – exile to the unknown world that lies beyond a mysterious gate.
Passing through that gate, and grieving for the life they leave behind, Darroti and his family find themselves in a harsh and hostile land – America just a few years hence, a country under attack in a world torn by hatred and warfare. Unable to explain their origin, they are rapidly remanded to an internment camp in the Nevada desert, along with thousands of other refugees. There they endeavor to make sense of this ill-fated land where strange gods are worshipped, and living things like flowers and insects are not respected.
After Darroti, unable to bear his disgrace, takes his life, the rest of the family escapes to the outside world. There, each tries to cope in their own way. Timbor, the head of the clan, troubled by the restless spirit of his departed son who comes to him in dreams, does his best to preserve the old ways, and avoid conflict with the outsiders. His eldest son Masofo, who calls himself Max, is lured by the worldly temptations of this new world, while his second son, Erolorit, strives to make a decent life for his family.
But it is Timor’s granddaughter, Zamatryna, who is the quickest to adjust to this strange new world. It is she who is the first to learn its language, to adopt its customs, to accept this place as her new home. And, as the strain of adapting themselves to this new life begins to tear the family apart, it is Zama, sustained by the extraordinary love of an ordinary young man, who finds a way to heal their grief and give them new hope.