Video: Book Review: The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

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The Book of Joan is a sci-fi, dystopian retelling of Joan of Arc.

Review: the book is really good. Now that that’s done, let’s talk about it.

Be warned, there are spoilers here.

To understand the Joan of this book, one should first understand Joan of Arc.

It’s an old story, so I’ll be brief.

Joan of Arc lived during the Hundred Years War. People in her village were forced out of their homes and, believing she was on a divine mission from God to save the French people, a teenaged Joan cut her hair, dressed like a man, and led troops to to victory in battles. And then she was captured and burned at the stake just short of her 19th birthday. Her death turned her into a martyr, furthering her cause.

The Joan of this book is a futuristic telling of Joan of Arc. She burns, literally and figuratively, with the importance of her mission.

What’s interesting is that the cult leader (the antagonist of this story) is named Jean de Men.

Joan of Arc’s real name was Jeanne.

Is this Joan of Arc’s male counterpart?

Keep in mind, the real Joan of Arc dressed as a man. Joan and Jean could be the two faces of Mercury, one side light and the other side dark. Both think they’re righteous, but the real question is which one is right?

As the proverb goes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Jean de Men likely thinks he’s making the brutal but brave decisions to save humanity. Joan of Arc believed she was going against popular belief to do the same thing.

The theological references in this book are everywhere, especially fitting since Joan of Arc was a religious martyr.

Christine, a sexless, hairless, colorless mutation of humans on CIEL brands herself with Joan’s story. Literally. She uses a burning stylus to write the words on her body. In moments of revery, she traces the burned words on her skin, feeling Joan’s story, taking it inside herself.

It smacks of transubstantiation.

During communion in church, people drink the juice and eat the bread or wafer. Christine traces Joan’s story like a prayer, consuming it like communion.

It’s interesting to see what the author does with gender and even ownership of one’s body. On CIEL, people’s bodies are not their own. They’ve been stripped of gender and even the right to take pleasure in their bodies. The only thing left that’s truly theirs is pain. Christine revels in it, using pain to assert her identity, and sense of uniqueness.

And of course, the gender dynamics of Joan of Arc, who dressed as a man, and Jean de Men and Joan of Dirt, make the gender dynamics of the story so much more relevant. These are separate, gendered representations of the same person. Or perhaps the gender is an irrelevant red herring.

The main drawback to this story is that there’s just so much going on. It’s hard to keep up with it all.

The Book of Joan is moving, exciting, and sometimes confusing.

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