Review of China Mieville’s “The City and the City”

5 Apr


I’ve just finished reading the City and the City by China Mieville. I’ll probably go back and read it again at some point.

I thought that throughout the book there was a very strong sense of place and it definitely reminded me of the former Soviet Union and some of the craziness of it all, the characters’ accents sounded just right in my head. It reminded me of a place like Chisinau where I lived, where there are definitely “two cities” (perhaps more than two) and to speak russian or romanian to somebody can be like committing this terrible anti-social crime, and to an extent people live in very separate worlds despite living together. But yet they can’t live completely separately.One of the things it also reminded me of was Transnistria where people live under separate laws, have a separate currency and “passport” despite living in Moldova.

There’s also a theme about class in there too, the whole idea that the middle class often have absolutely no idea (and vice versa) about how the working class live, definitely true in many parts of the former soviet union where speaking the two languages mixed together is often only something that working class people do. I think he captured some of the whole insanity of lots of aspects of this type of society perfectly.

As for the Breach thing I thought they were quite cool, they were very realistic and it’s like an exaggerated version of what actually happens. The unificationists were universally loathed and completely out of touch and actually the two cities were a lot more intertwined than anyone liked to admit, they all needed this ridiculous situation to continue. There is a line towards the end where one of the “avatars of Breach” says that they don’t need to stop people breaking the rule but they do it themselves because they’re scared of the consequences.

It’s like loads of social rules which people follow and nobody knows why and they don’t really matter at all, but actually in some ways they do. Both about capitalism like the “value of money” and so on and about other things.

I liked Borlu and the other characters, especially Dhatt who reminds me a lot of some of the people I met out there. I also liked the way that none of the characters were given strong political opinions that we were meant to agree or disagree with, you could even understand the point of view of the far-right characters who weren’t really villains, they were doing what they did in their way. In a lot of contemporary detective fiction I feel like the author puts their views into the characters’ mouths so you’re meant to agree with it. The nationalist’s line about “there’s only one city and that’s Beszel” that’s so true, that’s exactly what they would say and the type of thing I’ve heard people saying.

It’s such a great book, it’s so realistic, a lot more so than many people would want to think. I am sure I’ll go back and read it again and think of something I haven’t thought of before.


3 Responses to “Review of China Mieville’s “The City and the City””

  1. Black Ships Ate the Sky January 25, 2015 at 7:53 pm #

    It’s an old post and I know I’m late, but I’m liking this review A LOT, it’s so cool that it comes through how strongly you felt about the book and how it connects to actual life as people live it, whereas there’s a ton of The City & the City reviews out there that do quite well when it comes to dissecting the book and its thematic material, but they never feel like the reviewer has any actual experience of the matter at hand nor any strong emotions about the book.

    Great post!


  1. Book Review: The City and The City by China Mieville (3/5). Once you figure out the setting, your head will stop spinning. | Taking on a World of Words - May 9, 2014

    […] Posts: Review of China Mieville’s “The City and the City” | disillusioned marxist Book Review: The City and the City (China Mieville) | Keep Watching the Words [Column] The Backlog: […]

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