Required Reading: The Lost Conspiracy

Throughout this month on the blog we are going to be asking some friends about books that they think should be required reading for back to school types; it’s time to sharpen those pencils and remember to pay attention to what’s not being said…

indexMimi Thi Nguyen recommends: Frances Hardinge’s The Lost Conspiracy (Gullstruck Island in the UK printing) is a wildly imaginative children’s fantasy novel that tackles the relation between governors and the governed that so often lies dormant in fantasy fiction– and does so from the perspective not of a white savior (see Tamora Pierce’s Tricksters series, whose protagonist is literally dubbed “Aly”), but an indigenous heroine. In lyrical prose and intensely detailed world building, The Lost Conspiracy unfolds as a postcolonial fantasy tale and political thriller centered around two young sisters – the mysterious prophetess Arilou (whose reputed powers number her among the extrasensory Lost) and her caregiver and afterthought, the quiet, stubborn Hathin. Rumors and conspiracies reveal much about histories of violence, and in this book such stories tell a truth about the colonial condition as it collides with an indigenous social world. Hailing from the nearly decimated tribe known as the Lace on Gullstruck Island, the sisters together and apart confront the realities of colonial rule – including coercive encampment and the bureaucratic dispersion of deadly administrative power, alongside other genocidal policies given insidiously hygienic names – and in so doing, they radically reshape this world anew.

Drawing upon the stories of indigenous peoples from across the Pacific Islands and Southeast Asia, The Lost Conspiracy is a haunting, rousing story of devastating loss and grief, responsibility and revenge, trust and betrayal, power and defiance, adventure and spirituality, childhood and the difficulties of self-making. Hathin, whose name in this world evokes the silence of dust, is an inimitable wonder – a beautifully conceived heroine like no other imagined before or after.


Mimi Thi Nguyen is an associate professor in Gender and Women’s Studies and Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her book The Gift of Freedom: War, Debt, and Other Refugee Passages focuses on the promise of “giving” freedom concurrent and contingent with waging war and its afterlife (Duke University Press, 2012). Nguyen has made zines since 1991, including Slander and the compilation zine Race Riot. She is a former Punk Planet columnist and Maximumrocknroll shitworker; she is also a frequent collaborator and touring member with the POC Zine Project. In June 2013, Sarah McCarry’s Guillotine (“a series of erratically published chapbooks focused on revolutionary non-fiction”) released PUNK, a conversation between Nguyen and Golnar Nikpour.

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