But I still can’t let go of what I wanted to believe as a child. I don’t imagine any of us ever do.
When Anna was younger, she spoke to satellites, but now that she’s older, they don’t respond. A lonely satellite herself, she has a lot on her shoulders, caring for her elderly grandfather who is lost in his own confusing world of senility while her mother is gone weeks at a time. In his mind, that is more of a sieve, he forgets he has a granddaughter and it is his ever questioning mind, lost in a maze of time, that is heartbreaking. At school Anna is an outcast, to them, a child who will never grow out of her fantastical daydreams, a target to be mocked and ignored. It seems no one in her universe understands her but one night a Low Earth Orbit satellite, Leo, comes to life under her penetrating gaze. The birth of Leo is a gorgeous meditation on what makes us real, the grace of love and attention, in stark comparison with the erasure of indifference.
Leo learning about humanity, and Anna’s world in particular is both horrifying and exhilarating. That even a satellite turned boy can immediately pick up on the ostracism, the parts of herself that make her stick out and put people off, makes for an emotional study of our intolerance. Anna’s life, he observes, is nothing but a constant test she is bound to fail.
Anna wants Leo to become his own person, to combat becoming her mirror. He is just a ghost of a thing, unseen to all but her. Anna is Leo’s creator, and is ashamed of bringing him to this rotten earth. Anna is many things, but like all of us, she is deeply flawed and Leo isn’t the only being she has brought to life with her hungry need for love, friendship. Soon, Leo spends his time trying to comprehend his creator, but she is just as alien to the world she inhabits as he. Her tragedy slowly unfolds with Leo as her sole witness. Anna realizes her mistake was in bringing Leo to earth and devises a plan, she will build a machine that will put the two of them where they truly belong, and as the millennium comes to a close (it is 1999, Japan where the story takes place) timing couldn’t be more perfect.
Soki has moved with his mother and father to Sakita, dissappointed in this new city that feels like ‘a city filled with ghosts’. A forgotten place left behind by the rest of the world, lacking in progress. His father hails from a long line of Shinto priests in charge of looking after the shrine, one day he left it for good, never explaining why. This has been a great shock to Soki, whose path was to follow in his footsteps. His father now works as an ‘urban planner’, the family of three moving around often, leaving Soki yearning for their life before. In the city mall parking lot Anna happens upon their car where he sits waiting for his mother, and the two strike up a conversation. The two cross paths again at school, and fall into a discussion on religion, and ‘kami’. Will he become her friend or turn out to be just like everyone else?
There are moments the author so perfectly pins what it means to be human, ” I had been so caught up in Anna as an idea, I had forgotten about Anna as a person.” It is an absolute for us all as we are all guilty of loving versions of people, of casting them as we see fit in our own story. We are always projecting our needs and our demons, missing the sum of one another, and we must include ourselves, denying our own parts, sometimes only seeing the edges of who we are. Anna is slipping away, and no one of flesh and blood (beyond her satellite boy Leo) is truly playing witness, caught up in their own life stories. Anna fails Leo too, though, as she has her other imagined creations. There are other characters that make for an interesting read as we journey through Anna’s mind. Anna visits an elderly, deaf and blind man named The General. His life is shrouded in mystery and as they communicate through Morse Code, she is digging for wisdom and missing what is in front of her eyes.
Nothing about life is any clearer for Anna than it is for her senile grandfather, new boy Soki nor Leo. She is struggling and all she wants is to escape into the vastness of space. I ached for each character but Anna most of all. What a gorgeous novel.
Publication Date: March 2, 2021
McClelland & Stewart