The Windup Girl is a dark, grimy book, with a very distinctive feeling to it, like a strange science fiction infused third world country. Immediately, you are thrown into a harsh, busy world, a future in the city of Bangkok, full of smoke and sweat, emphasized by Bacigalupi’s stark descriptions. At times, I found this to be overwhelming, but for the most part it was interesting and enjoyable.
Along with the two advertised characters- Anderson Lake, a determined business and calorie man, who tends to act as though he’s invincible, and Emiko, a lonely but strong girl, who is also a windup, engineered to serve humans- there are several other important main characters. Among the most significant are Hock Seng, a smart and cautious Chinese ‘yellow card’, taking refuge in a country that looks down on his kind; Jaidee, the ‘Tiger of Bangkok’ who goes to extremes in order to protect his people; and Kanya, a woman torn between her past and future, who goes to follow in Jaidee’s footsteps.
Each of these characters are essential to the story for the wide variety of perspectives they provide. For many of them, money is the driving force; for others it is freedom. Although at first it was difficult to tell who and what the story is about, it gradually begins jumping fluidly between each of them. I’m surprised they aren’t mentioned in the book’s summary.
As I progressed through the main action of the story, Bacigalupi’s writing became much more exciting. The change in character perspective makes it more potent. Because of it, you are left feeling unsure of who the ‘bad guy’ really is, giving the story and the characters more depth.
While his writing was enjoyable, Bacigalupi’s strange way of wording things seemed like an ill attempt to give his world more of a sci-fi feel, something it had naturally. From the beginning, we are introduced to a plethora of new words and names, including several Thai words, most of which can only be translated in context. Although the Thai words help emphasize the book’s unique mood, many of Bacigalupi’s made-up words feel more like they belong in Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series. They contrast against the dark vibe of the story, something I could not get past, and one of the story’s biggest downfalls, in my opinion. Although the abundance of these strange words is confusing at first, some of them become easier to understand as the story goes on.
To me, this book isn’t simply about Anderson, the Calorie Man and Emiko, the Windup Girl, as the back cover of the book suggests. It reaches beyond the lives of those two characters, but it is through them that we are exposed to a much larger issue- what holds together one of the world’s only remaining countries, in a time when all foreign influences can be both threatening and promising.
As we learn through the character Jaidee, “all things are transient.” I found that the story does a great job at expressing this. The entire story moves at a constant pace, changing quickly with each transition between characters. As their lives move forward, so does the plot, and the city they live in. I enjoyed it more as things progressed and changed. It became easier to read and navigate through, despite stumbling on some of the words and names.
This book ended up being nothing like what I expected. It is very heavy, full of greed, sex, violence and death. It is a story that I think will continue to grow each time I pick it up to reread it. Eventually, I might be able to understand what all of the strange words mean.