Hardcover: 496 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (June 5, 2018)
Set in a dangerous near future world, The Book of M tells the captivating story of a group of ordinary people caught in an extraordinary catastrophe who risk everything to save the ones they love. It is a sweeping debut that illuminates the power that memories have not only on the heart, but on the world itself.
One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.
Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears too.
Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a perilous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless.
As they journey, each searches for answers: for Ory, about love, about survival, about hope; and for Max, about a new force growing in the south that may hold the cure.
AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOK DEPOSITORY
Praise for THE BOOK OF M
“A beautiful and haunting story about the power of memory and the necessity of human connection, this book is a post-apocalyptic masterpiece and the one dystopian novel you really need to read this year.” ―Bustle
“I was both disturbed and inspired by Max’s and Ory’s journey through apocalypses large and small. Peng Shepherd has written a prescient, dark fable for the now and for the soon-to-be. The Book of M is our beautiful nightmare shadow.” ―Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts and The Cabin at the End of the World
“The Book of M is exciting, imaginative, unique, and beautiful. Shepherd proves herself not just a writer to watch, but a writer to treasure.” ―Darin Strauss, bestselling author of Half a Life
“Prepare to fall in love with your own shadow. And to lose sleep. Shepherd is urgently good, and has written one of those books that makes you look up at two in the morning, to a world that’s new, newly scary, and freshly appreciated: what all the great stories do.” ―David Lipsky, New York Times bestselling author of Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself and Absolutely American
“A beautifully written existential apocalypse, following everyday people on a search for love, memory and meaning across the richly realized and frighteningly familiar ruins of America.” ―Christopher Brown, author of Tropic of Kansas
“Sheperd’s debut is graceful and riveting, slowly peeling back layers of an intricately constructed and unsettling alternate future.” ―Publishers Weekly
“First-time novelist Shepherd has crafted an engaging and twisty tale about memory’s impact on who or what we become. For aficionados of literary dystopian fiction such as Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven or those who enjoy stories of cross-country travel.” ―Library Journal
“Fans of Station Eleven, listen up!...This one is g-r-e-a-t.” ―Book Riot
“Eerie, dark, and compelling, this will not disappoint lovers of The Passage (2010) and Station Eleven (2014).” ―Booklist
Chapter 8IN THE SUMMERS, NAZ'S ARCHERY PRACTICE WAS very early, before the humidity became too unbearable. From June to August, Boston was like the inside of a clay baking tajine. It was almost worse than Tehran. She had to get up at 4 AM, but she would still watch the news for updates on Hemu Joshi’s condition while she dressed in darkness, and then pull herself away to go to practice.
It only got worse. By the third week, Hemu had forgotten almost everything about his life. He couldn’t recognize his mother, and when asked if he had any siblings, couldn’t name his brothers. He could recite his phone number, but not his address. He knew he was born and raised in Pune, but didn’t seem to know that Pune was in India, or that India was a country. Then he forgot what cricket was.
On the archery range, Naz tried to concentrate, but her mind wasn’t there. She wondered if she should go back. India was just so close to home. Her sister emailed and said to stay, not to give up her training. Naz hid her phone in her sports bra and between shots, lean down so her hands were hidden and text someone—her next door neighbor, her friends back in Tehran, anyone—it didn’t matter. They were all talking about the same thing. —Did you see the test where HJ could only remember 4 of the days in a week? Or, —HJ just tried to list all the streets in his neighborhood, did you watch that one?
—Yeah. Did you see the clip where they showed him pics of his classmates from high school and he tried to name them? They’d reply. It was constant. After a few days, Naz started to worry she was going to get kicked off the team, but then she peeked down the line of targets and realized the other archers were all doing the exact same thing. —Go to CNN live stream, they have an update.
She kept waiting for good news, but there never was any. Only bad, and more bad. Then the Angels of Mumbai and the Nashik Cherubs began to follow Hemu’s path. All suffering various degrees of amnesia, with no discernible pattern across age, sex, education, or geography. There was one woman from Mumbai that seemed to be decaying the slowest, while one of the teenagers from Nashik had completely forgotten all the facts of his childhood and his ability to speak Marathi, the local dialect, within five days of becoming shadowless.
Scientists from every country converged on India, armed with hypotheses and ideas for experiments to explain why the shadows never came back, or why without one a mind starts to flake away like ash on a cindered log. They ran test after test on Hemu, trying to prove it was early-onset Alzheimer’s, trauma-induced amnesia from one too many cricket balls to the head, stress from the fame, hippocampal damage due to alcoholism he didn’t have, whatever. They took a brain scan from a patient in the US to compare to Hemu—a middle-aged man who had suffered total and permanent retrograde amnesia in a car accident just a few weeks before Hemu Joshi's own case appeared. PATIENT RA, he was dubbed by the media, to protect his privacy. Oddly, there was nothing abnormal about Hemu’s images. The news reported that the two men even met, the American amnesiac and Hemu Joshi. They flew PATIENT RA from New Orleans all the way to Pune for a week, to see if talking to another person suffering a similar affliction might knock something loose.
It didn't. PATIENT RA flew back home with his entourage of doctors, to return to his assisted living facility. After that, videos of Hemu never appeared on air again. Naz didn’t know what that meant.
Reports about the other shadowless from Mumbai and Nashik still filled every broadcast though. The experiments grew wilder as the scientists grew more desperate. They shocked them, hypnotized them, starved them of sleep and then tried to plant memories in their delirious states, cut into their brains. Nothing worked. It sounded silly, but there was no other way to say it. Uttarayan and the earth’s rotation aside, what happened to them wasn’t science. It was magic.
Even so, Naz couldn’t stop staring at the scientists poking at them on the news, whenever they gave interviews. The world kept following. Everyone hoped they would all get better. That they’d remember who they were, that they’d recognize their families again. But they never did.
She probably would've kept watching forever, rooting for them, but eventually she had to stop. There was just nothing left to watch. Stories about the shadowless disappeared from broadcasts, and even the skeleton crews pulled back, until there was no coverage at all. It seemed to be the end.
Until eight days later, a curly-haired kid in Brazil looked down during lunch recess and realized he didn’t have a shadow anymore. And then two days after that, he couldn’t remember his own name.
The Brazilian President was on the air about five hours after the news broke, announcing that he’d closed Brazil’s borders to all international travel, to help contain whatever this was. Brazilians abroad weren’t allowed to return, and non-citizens could only go as far as their embassies. It was an international outrage, but no other country dared to actually retaliate, or rescue their citizens by force—they’d have to send soldiers in for that. Into the place where shadows were disappearing.
The kid’s family vanished. There was ‘POLICIA - NÃO SE CRUZAM’ tape up around their property on the news, and the Brazilian government released a statement that said they’d been taken into custody in order to provide them “the best treatment possible.” The phrase chilled Naz. Their neighbors put themselves into self-imposed quarantine. None of them lost their shadows. Americans camped angrily out in the consular hall of the US Embassy in Sao Paolo. Australians built a giant barbecue on the front lawn of their own. Naz emailed Rojan about going home again, but tickets had jumped to $15,000. Airports everywhere but Brazil were overrun with desperate travelers trying to run to—or run away from—somewhere. So instead, Naz just held her breath, hoping it was some kind of strange fluke.
But it wasn’t. Another case showed up on the other side of Brazil, completely unconnected, near the border with Peru. Then a week after that, it seemed like all the shadows in Panama disappeared at the same time.
Copyright © 2018 by Peng Shepherd
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peng Shepherd was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where she rode horses and trained in classical ballet. She earned her M.F.A. in creative writing from New York University, and has lived in Beijing, London, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York. The Book of M is her first novel.
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