Saturday, June 06, 2020

Review of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Back in 2011, I actually started a book review that started with "If you're not familiar with The Hunger Games, it is a trilogy by Suzanne Collins about a totalitarian dictatorship." Perhaps you are familiar with it now. I loved the series, which I binge read over a Christmas break, then the movies as well. Now Suzanne Collins released a prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, which is about future President Coriolanus Snow as a teenager.

Of course, we know where he ended up (and I see him always as Donald Sutherland, just perfect). So this is a story about how a political regime we know, and Snow himself, move from some postwar uncertainty to a fascist dictatorship. The Hunger Games are part of that, and Snow (prodded by the malevolent Dr. Gaul) spends the book thinking about what order and control are. He is from the Capitol, cash-poor but with an elite name, and his own political philosophy stems from his own sense of being at the top of the pyramid. Those in the districts not only caused the war in his mind, but they are backward socially and culturally. He is in the elite high school academy, and with some classmates gets integrated in the games, which at that point are not yet slickly produced.

For him, loyalty to Panem is not artificial or imposed. Panem was unfairly attacked, chaos ensued, and then it won the war and made everyone's lives better by re-establishing control of the country. If inferior people couldn't see that, then it just made sense to force it on them. Fascism came naturally to him--nationalism, control, and order all flowed together.

A romance (with all kinds of challenges) is central to the novel, and Snow navigates it--and his friendships--as his worldview develops. To say much else would be a spoiler. The book is great entertainment, but is not exactly escapist because fascism is on all of our minds these days in a way that is distressingly close.


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