The Prophecies of Karma: The Warning
This is a novel driven by ideas and commitment, not art for art’s sake. Gharzeddine’s writing style is prosaic, but never dull. On the contrary, with biting satire, striking insights, down-to-earth details and unexpected twists and turns, he builds up harrowing suspense and an engrossing plot, with a message that needs to be heard.
The story fast-forwards half a century ahead in time. In this futuristic setting, genetic modification is commonplace; so are various classes of robots designed to serve people, and a multitude of built-in electronic devices for communication, study and navigating life. Birds, on the other hand, are extinct, having been hunted to “the last feather” after the outbreak of bird plague and the New United Nations Organisation’s declaration of war on them — a description evoking destructive campaigns that have actually happened.
Most of the technological paraphernalia in the novel are things one reads about; they are under development and coming soon. Furthermore, we are not in a faraway space station or other unfamiliar environment, but in Beirut, a city still easily recognisable. The close link to reality, as we know it, gives the novel credibility and makes its message particularly compelling, as does the fact that it is narrated by an eight-year-old boy, Jamal, who reaches maturity as the book draws to conclusion.
Jamal is genetically modified to become a diplomat. He goes to a special school to achieve this goal as electronically and efficiently as possible. His father is rich, and his mother is loving. His is an ideal, elite and well-organised life. Or so it seems until two dangers converge to turn his world upside down. One of these dangers is the age-old sin of greed; the second is a looming environmental disaster caused by human’s abuse of nature (not unconnected to greed).
After his father dies, Jamal is set to inherit his fortune when he reaches twenty-one. Until then, an entourage of family members and trusted friends are jostling to do away with him in order to get at the money. The problem is that neither Jamal nor the reader knows who is behind the plot. In swiftly changing scenes, suspicion falls on first one character and then another, and the author skilfully sketches Jamal’s feelings as he senses betrayal on all sides. Despite his enhanced abilities, he is plagued by extreme uncertainty: Who are the bad guys? Who can he trust? Jamal himself is not entirely innocent in the game of betrayal, for part of his enhancement as a future diplomat is being a “natural born” liar — a trait that he wields at will.
Jamal begins to grasp the brewing environmental disaster after meeting Sister Nour, aka “The Light” or “Karma”, a nun who has prophesised a series of catastrophes that are coming true: a food crisis that erupts after diseased farm animals are eradicated, the non-reproduction of the cloned animals developed to replace them, the mutation of farm animals into wild beasts attacking humans, and so on. “Her single message was for humans to immediately stop all abuse of the planet Earth, because the planet was about to pay humans back… “(p. 189)
She advises humans not to wait, for no one is coming to save them, evoking the anger of the church and the entire establishment, and inciting environmentalists to radical action. A chaotic, worldwide war over resources breaks out and crisscrosses with Jamal’s struggle to survive the plot against him.
Just as much as it is a futuristic story, “The Warning” is an updated rendition of the archetypal coming-of-age novel reflecting the young generation’s distrust of all that went before — and with good reason. When Jamal begins to realise the extent of the threat to his life, he says, “The more I learned, the more I felt that I had been tricked into the life I led. I could not believe how a system that preached love and unity could be born from such a nightmarish past. Every time I watched a human kill another human in the name of religion or patriotism, for the sake of survival, science, or fun, I remembered the robot graveyard that smoked not far from where I slept. Were humans just born to kill? What about me — was I a killer, too?” (pp. 38-39)
After further research, Jamal decides, “The Prophesy of Sister Nour was so real that if you decided to believe her it could drive you either to lose hope in life or to become an activist for change.” (p. 187) For now, Jamal is busy trying to save himself, but “The Warning” is only the first book in a trilogy. One wonders if Jamal will mature enough to be an agent for change in the next instalment. Surely that is what the author is pushing for. “The Prophecies of Karma: The Warning” can be found at Books@Cafe.