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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Column: The R(ead)sling List

Every other week, Emma Soberano ’17 reviews books and pairs them with locally available wines. Happy reading and drinking!


Published in 2003, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake is a science fiction tale, which, like the best of its genre, is at once alien and all too familiar. Using language at turns lush and starkly sparse, Atwood weaves a tale of mystery, survival, and the collapse of both civilization and friendship. Oryx and Crake follows Snowman, once known as Jimmy, as he cares for a tribe of strange humanoids called “Crakers” in the aftermath of an initially-unexplained disaster. As Snowman navigates his environment, and teaches, protects, and curses the Crakers, we learn his history and how closely it entwines with the history of his post-apocalyptic world through a series of flashbacks and reflections. At its core, Oryx and Crake is a warning against the dangers of neoliberalism and a meditation on the importance of scientific ethics. Written amidst advances in genetics and cloning, Oryx and Crake is set in a world in which science has few limits, and ethical constraints on bioengineering are laughable.


Jimmy is the son of two biologists whose work is to grow human organs for harvest in pig hybrids called “pigoons.” Yet Jimmy is an outsider in this scientifically-structured society, relegated by his aptitudes to the world of words. Crake, Jimmy’s enigmatic and scientifically brilliant best friend, serves as a foil, and it is no surprise when they both fall in love with the same woman, Oryx. While the novel focuses on exploring Jimmy’s relationship with the titular pair, it at times falls into cliché. Unfortunately, this is the case with Jimmy’s fetishization of the flippantly philosophical Oryx, a young Asian woman sold into prostitution as a child. Though Oryx reappears throughout the novel, her characterization is weak when compared to Jimmy’s, and her relationship with him shallow when contrasted with Jimmy and Crake’s strained friendship.


Atwood succeeds both in building a world and in her portrayal of the development of a close friendship over the course of two very different lives. Ultimately we find that these two successes are not so disparate – Jimmy’s relationship with Crake continues after the world’s end, morphing into Snowman’s relationship with the Crakers and their post-collapse surroundings. Thus, despite some flaws in the execution of Oryx’s character, Atwood crafts a tale which is well worth the read, particularly as the world around us changes in ways some of us may have previously found hard to imagine.


I’ve paired the novel with a Riesling because the variety is refreshing, acidic, and moderately complex, much like Atwood’s writing. Riesling isn’t the lightest of wines – you can feel in your mouth that it has some heft and that’s due partly to the alcohol content – but its slightly tart bite makes it somewhat refreshing. Rieslings are generally distinguished by their gasoline aroma and perceived sweetness; they’re so fruity you may think they’re sweet, meaning they have lower alcohol content and high residual sugar. However, they tend to have medium-high alcohol and low sugar, but our brains interpret fruity notes as “sweet.” The Riesling I’ve picked is 2015 Kungfu Girl from Washington State, and it’s on the mild side, both in sweetness and gasoline/diesel smell (which goes away if you swirl the wine). I chose a Riesling partly because of the somewhat off-putting gasoline scent – much of Oryx and Crake takes place in a tech-heavy future, and the somewhat tar-like chemical smell the wine gives at first sniff echoes the tone of the novel’s world. Like Oryx and Crake, however, once swirled and tasted, Kungfu Girl shows a pleasant side which reminds me of green and yellow fruits (or in the case of the novel, a world slowly retaken by nature): green apple peel, pineapple, and a bit of nectarine come to mind. It’s an incredibly drinkable wine, with a nice clean finish, much as Oryx and Crake is a swift, elegant read. Both wine and novel are pleasant to experience and may leave you lingering over them, though perhaps only briefly.


For a non-alcoholic pairing alternative, try:

Equal parts seltzer water and apple juice, lemon and grated ginger to taste.


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