This month my book group discussed Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress and what a wonderful discussion we had! It is clear that Beggars in Spain will be a hard act to follow.
Beggars in Spain started out as a novella that won Kress a Hugo and a Nebula. Kress decided to build upon her characters and her premise and she manages to do so in ways that keep the reader interested, surprised and invested. Leisha Camden is one of a small group of children who were genetically modified without the need to sleep. In their lifetimes society changes in reaction to the Sleepless as they quickly outstrip the Sleepers in intelligence, production and wealth. Kress looks at philosophical approaches to individual success, notions of community and what we owe to those who can’t or choose not to contribute, prejudice and how quickly it spreads, among other complex issues, through a seamless, character-driven narrative.
The room was packed with thoughts and opinions. One reader said that she appreciated how Kress lays out an ideology and then sets out to problematize it; Kress has said in interviews that she was inspired to dissect and explore Ayn Rand’s Objectivism and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Anarres anarchy. We spent time discussing characters, storylines and ideas in the book and then went around the table so all 15 members could give their final verdicts.
Here’s what they said about Beggars in Spain: It was a dense, well-written juxtaposition to the Alfred Bester novel that we had just read about individualistic versus distributed contributions with harsh perspectives to share on privilege and the forms it can take, how it can impact society; a fascinating read, explores the parent-child relationship so well; an Ideas book, which consequently made it a good read but forgettable for one reader who had read it 3 times over the years; liked that the villain in the book isn’t one-dimensional or motivated by typical female jealousy; Kress is incredibly skilled and covers law, economics and intimate relationships flawlessly; another comparison to Bester and how radical technologies have radical implications; the point of the book is that People Matter.
A book that elicits so many detailed thoughts and opinions is the hallmark of a book made for discussion. But like I said before, Beggars in Spain is going to be a hard act to follow.