A contemporary search for identity and a virtuoso game with the laws of nature
In her Libris Literature Prize-winning novel, Mariken Heitman explores one of the major themes of our time: the relationship between identity and gender. In parallel with that, she takes us back nine thousand years to the dawn of agriculture.
How have we become who we are? Who or what got nipped in the bud over the centuries and is it possible to push back against that as an individual? Is there still a way back to something like an origin? And what is the relationship between pea sprouts and the societal norms we’re expected to conform to? These are just some of the intriguing questions Mariken Heitman raises in her daring, original novel.
Worm Moon tells the story of seed grower Elke, who heads for an island off the north coast of the Netherlands after a failed attempt to cultivate a new pumpkin variety. She wants to ‘rewild’ the pea, a crop which has been domesticated by humans. In parallel we follow the mythical figure of Ra, nine thousand years earlier in Southwest Asia. She is respected in the tribe because she is believed to possess special powers, which elevates her to the status of oracle but at the same time makes her a scapegoat for the commu- nity. Will she be able to end the famine?
Has she been sent from above? And is Ra actually a man? Both Ra and Elke are ‘middle people’: their androgynous appearance creates confusion. Biking around the island on a tandem bicycle by herself, Elke is taunted by the judgments of ‘the woman she didn’t grow up to become’, who has climbed onto the back seat: Smile more! Wear a skirt for once! Why are you making things so hard on yourself? Is Elke the one who is different? Or is Elke each of us?
Using both a contemporary quest for identity and an agricultural origin myth, Heitman shows how nature is intertwined with gender norms – and with stories. With its vivid, sensitive style and layered structure, Worm Moon is an uncompromising novel. Heitman makes things complicated, but also shows us why that’s necessary.