A sprawling metropolis on the edge of the Red Sea that is simultaneously a playground of the wealthy and a struggle for the poor. A woman working multiple jobs to survive because she isn’t rich in a place that isn’t kind to someone without money. A young boy, alone in the world. His only possession may be his ticket off-world and to a better, different life. It could also be the end of everything. A robot, centuries old, in search of a connection to a dangerous past, who enters a shop and asks to buy a single rose. In Neom, award winning author Lavie Tidhar weaves a tale from these disparate narrative strands that is lyrical, haunting and hopeful.
Tidhar’s titular city, Neom, is drawn from an actual place. It is a development dreamed up by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Tabuk Province of northwestern Saudi Arabia. It has been under construction for a number of years, although it is running behind schedule and, according to a recent report in The Economist, only a few buildings have actually been constructed to date. Tidhar uses this dreamed of place as a setting for his narratives. He imbues the location with such a strong sense of identity that Neom is more than a setting, it is a character in Tidhar’s story, interacting with the other characters in the story and influencing and guiding their actions and reactions to other developments in the plot.
Neom is a story of extremes: the past and the future, solitude and companionship, wealth and poverty, war and peace. He populates the novel with characters, not always biological, living in an undesirable extreme and follows them as they attempt to gain what they desire. He speculates about the measures we all take to gain what we feel we are lacking and raises questions for which there are no easy answers. All of this is done with marvelously drawn characters, sparkling prose, a strong sense of humor, and a growing sense of impending dread, because if some of the characters achieve their desires, it could mean the end of all life in Neom for ages to come.
Neom is a thoughtful, beautifully written story about what we have, what we want, how we achieve our desires, and what, and whom, we are willing to risk for our own benefit.
Read an interview with the author here.