You look half-furtively at my clothes and rub the ends of your noses. Girls squeezed into tight blouses take turns at the mirror examining their eyelashes, or their piercings, twisting strands of hair around their fingers. Chewing gum flashes in the gaps between their teeth as they smile at one another. Many of you already have more tattoos than you have moles. The boys straighten their black woolly hats just so and roll up the sleeves of their hooded flannel sweatshirts, and they hoist their oversized baggy trousers so that lumps of packed snow fall from the rolled-up cuffs. Oh, sorry . . . “It’s only WATER.” I wipe the floor at your feet with a damp cloth, and as I stand up I glance at myself in the tall mirror: freshly washed hair in a loose ponytail, black polo-necked sweater and green knitted dress, black tights and red woolen socks.
Rakel is in her forties, lives alone, and teaches at a high school. She feels saddened and amazed at the valueless void her students seem to live in: fashion is the highest form of expression. Her own political convictions were once so strong and radical that the memory often shames her. One December evening, she invites her entire senior class to her home. She wants to tell them what history has taught her. She wants to open their eyes before they face life on their own. But no one shows up.
Her long wait leads to a monologue on shameful secrets, past mistakes, and future hopes. Rakel claims that we all seek a teacher. If society fails to heed this need, our search for guidance turns primal and desperate. In the end, anything will do: theories and assumptions and prejudice, a map of paradise on the chalkboard—all are better than nothing.
Maps of Paradise takes a healthy swipe at our contemporary chaos of values and emphasizes the importance of understanding history, of recognizing good times and bad. It is a love story, an ideological novel, and a likely spur to discussions of where we are and how we got there.
German (btb / Random House)