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David Allan Barker
on Jan. 30, 2013 :
Beautiful Machine opens with sly generalities, playing on our assumptions. The headmistress accompanies an unnamed girl to a train station and surrenders her to military personnel. She boards the train with people who look like her. Before the train leaves the station, a young man tries to escape but the soldiers shoot him. The girl doesn't know where the train is going, or for what purpose, but she knows she is a prisoner. The soldiers have a name for her, and for her fellow prisoners, and although Cooper doesn't offer the name, we can imagine it for ourselves. We think "Jew" or worse. We think this is a Holocaust narrative. The soldiers are Nazis. The prisoners on the train are headed to the ovens.
But as the story proceeds, Cooper drops hints that challenge our assumptions. The soldiers have names like like Brighten, Harris, and Burton. The prisoners have names like Nazmiya, Raheel and Waa’il, and although we never learn the girl’s real name, some of the prisoners call her Ahlem. Nazmiya wears a shawl. The soldiers have white skin and the prisoners have brown skin. We discover that we are reading an alternative history in the spirit of Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle. It isn't Nazis who are the oppressors here, but Americans. And in this history, the victims are a different people altogether.
Like all good dystopian literature, the horror of Beautiful Machine does not lie in imagined atrocities of a different time and place, but rather, in the fact that the world it presents is eerily familiar. Using clean and understated prose, PW Cooper casts an unflinching gaze upon the world we have made for ourselves and draws it imaginatively to a logical conclusion—a final solution.
(review of free book)