What would you do if reading the wrong book could get you arrested?
In a decaying city controlled by the First General and his army, expressing the wrong opinion can have terrible consequences.
Clara is haunted by the disappearance of her father when she was 11-years-old.
Except he didn’t disappear: he was taken by the Authorisation Bureau for the crime of teaching banned books to his students. Soldiers came to the family home in the middle of the night and dragged him away. Clara never saw him again.
But she never forgot his passion for books, for the truth. She grew up to teach at the same university, determined to rebel against the regime that cost her family so much.
The only weapons she has are the banned books her father left behind, so she decides to share them with her students. Despite his reluctance, she persuades her boyfriend, Simon, to help. But when one of their students disappears, they are drawn into a nightmarish investigation that leads to Lumière, a rebel group with plans to fight back against the government.
Major Jackson is obsessed with the wife of his latest detainee. He’ll do anything to possess her, even if that means destroying her husband and daughter completely.
But as their relationship deepens, their lives become entwined in a toxic combination of love, fear and regret that threatens to ruin them both.
Told from the perspective of two characters on opposing sides of the regime, this is a story about what happens when our rights are stripped away, when we don’t have freedom to speak or to follow our dreams. When democracy is replaced with something more sinister and society begins to forget what came before.
It could never happen to us.
But…what if it did?
I was eleven when my father disappeared. It’s almost twenty years since the night I last saw him. I still remember that knock at the door; it echoes down through the years, as it echoed that night through the walls of our home.
I use the word ‘disappeared’, but it always feels like a lie. My father didn’t vanish. He didn’t walk to the shops for a packet of cigarettes and fail to come back. He didn’t run away to start another life somewhere, another family. He didn’t even leave behind a body, washed up on some riverbank, or slowly spinning from a straining tree branch.
That last night with my father was like every other. He returned late from his job at the university, where he lectured in English Literature. Public transport was unreliable in those days, when the regime was still taking hold. He would walk the five miles home each day, carrying his bag, heavy with papers. I would watch from our sixth floor window as he made his way across the car park, past the burned out shells of old hatchbacks, where the braver children would sometimes play army, machine gunning each other with sticks or old bits of piping. His ragged hair would take on a life of its own in the breeze, his thin shoulders tensed beneath the weight of his students’ words, twitching uneasily at every fake bullet that came his way.
By then we had been moved into the flat. Shared accommodation, they called it. We weren’t allowed to live in our house in the suburbs anymore. My mother mourned the loss of her rose garden and the expensive paper that lined our living room walls, its delicate floral pattern climbing from oak floor to corniced ceiling. She wept about the silverware she was forced to leave behind, a wedding gift from the grandmother who passed away weeks after her marriage.
Our new home became a one bedroom flat, former housing association detritus that stank of cat piss and had holes in the plaster the size of fists. I slept in the bedroom whilst my parents shared an old sofa bed in the main room, which was littered with piles of my father’s books, the vibrancy of their spines bringing life to the beige world we found ourselves adrift in. He had salvaged as much as he could but my mother wouldn’t let him risk rescuing them all. He would fret sometimes, struck by a jolt of longing for a particular book that had been abandoned.
We hadn't long fallen asleep when the knock came. I sat up in bed, disorientated. The knock came again. My head whipped in the direction of the front door, but everything was dark. My parents whispered in the front room, my mother’s voice low and pleading.
My father snapped, “I have to.” I listened to them half-dressing in haste. I could picture my mother smoothing her hair as he opened the door, a nervous smile on his face. I crept out from beneath the covers to peep through the slit in my bedroom door. The sudden light made my eyes water.
They barged in without invitation: four men in Authorisation Bureau uniforms. The door was flung back hard; there was a crack as it hit the wall. My father was jostled as they marched into the living room, where there was barely enough space to stand.
They were all much taller than he was, with broad shoulders and thick arms. They were young too. I didn’t realise how young until years later, looking back.
There was another man with them. They saluted him stiffly. “Major.”
He barely acknowledged them. “Please, excuse the interruption. I’m sorry we had to call so late, but we need to ask your husband some questions.”
He addressed my mother, who hung back, clutching her thin dressing gown closed over her nightdress. The width of the sofa bed was between them, yet she took a step back as his eyes raked over her.
My father moved forward, his body shielding her from the major’s gaze. “What’s all this about?”
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