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“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” 
― Stephen King, On Writing.

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"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."— J.K. Rowling

The City & the City - China Miéville Wow. Okay, I'm definitely fangirling for China Miéville. I love his limitless imagination, the skill to effortlessly make an unbelievable premise feel real, and ability to turn any setting and place into a true protagonist.SOME SPOILERS MAY HAVE CREEPED IN SOMEHOW, SO BE WARNEDThis is my first non-Bas Lag novel, set in the (more or less) real world. But no reason to worry - this remains as much of "weird fiction" as anything else by His Chinaness. As Miéville tries to write a novel in every genre of fiction, this time he tackles a hardboiled noir crime mystery. A murder of a young woman, investigated by a slightly cynical but good and incorruptible detective Tyador Borlú of Beszel Extreme Crime Squad, quickly evolves into a much larger mystery plot. It is a detective story, a hard-boiled crime with all the specifics and peculiarities of this genre. We have a murder mystery, high reliance on dialogue, fast-paced plot, many logical leaps and jumps that may confuse the reader about certain plot points but that still shed light on the story as a whole. "We are all philosophers here where I am, and we debate among many other things the question of where it is that we live."But the mystery plot, albeit engaging and interesting, feels just as an excuse to introduce the reader to the fascinating world of quasi-Eastern European twin cities of Beszél and Ul Qoma. The cities are the true protagonists, not Detective Berlú whose character is little more than an outline, the window into this world. Once a single city, Beszél and Ul Qoma were split apart by a mysterious Cleavage centuries ago. "From that historically brief quite opaque moment, came the chaos of our material history, an anarchy of chronology, of mismatched remnants that delighted and horrified investigators."These are two separate nations with distinct languages, customs, clothes, economics. They do not like each other much. And yet they are not separated by any physical barrier - the division between them is done by their citizens who have been conditioned since the early age to 'unsee' and 'unhear' the citizens of the other country, even if they share the same streets and buildings in the 'crosshatched' areas belonging both to Beszél and Ul Qoma. The cities share their past and present and their geography, but rigidly maintain the invisible lines of separation. Simply seeing and acknowledging someone from the other city - who can be within inches of you on the same street, on the same sidewalk, but yet in another country - is the ultimate crime, the breach. And it is this semi-willing separation between Beszél and Ul Qoma that brings out the overarching themes of this book. The City & The City addresses the question of national identity and how it is determined. There is much more than simple geography that goes into creating a people, a nation. There are subtler things like bits and pieces of learned behaviors, strange and puzzling to the foreigners beliefs and habits, time-tested social conventions, seemingly ridiculous taboos based on strange old traditions. It's the amalgam of the little seemingly senseless and hard to understand things that defines a nation. As I'm visiting my Eastern European motherland right now, I'm struck by the realization of the same - how much the national identity is the direct result of little idiosyncrasies. And the question arises - what will become of the nation itself if its beliefs and peculiarities are questioned? Is there a comeback from that?"It's not just us keeping them apart. It's everyone in Beszél and everyone in Ul Qoma. Every minute, every day. We're only the last ditch: it's everyone in the cities who does most of the work. It works because you don't blink. That's why unseeing and unsensing are so vital. No one can admit it doesn't work. So if you don't admit it, it does. But if you breach, even if it's not your fault, for more than the shortest time ... you can't come back from that."As usual, Miéville presents us with superb and sophisticated world-building. The both cities are vivid and memorable, the atmosphere in both is depicted with skill and depth, and the nuances of this world are revealed subtly and unobtrusively without overt clunky exposition. As I came to expect from him, China Miéville takes a concept that is rather difficult to swallow - the duality of this world, relying on little else but the tradition to keep it going - and develops it so well that by the end of the book it felt real to me.The language of The City & The City, when compared to the Bas Lag books, is quite simple, even minimalistic. It is not luxurious or flowing; on the contrary, it is crisp, clear, and devoid of any extraneous words, any extraneous descriptions, any possible fluff. It was the first book by Miéville that I found a quick and easy read. And yet, despite the surface easiness, it is still incredibly sophisticated and very visual.This book fully deserves 4.5 stars. I highly recommend it both to Miéville fans and those who for whatever strange reason have not read his books yet.