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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Strange Horizons, August 12, 2013

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Strange Horizons, August 12, 2013

“Din Ba Din” by Kate MacLeod

Reviewed by Daniel Woods

My grief is scattered across my life. But I have yet to live that day.”

A nameless woman kneels in the dirt. Her hands are weathered, but there is still some strength in them yet, so today she will work the soil. Tomorrow, she may be too old to move. In Kate MacLeod's latest piece, time and memory are too unstable to rely upon. In a world without continuity, only a mother's grief, and the pages of the Din Ba Din book, are constant enough to cling to.

“Day By Day,” or “Din Ba Din” in Hindi, is an intriguing tale about loss and fate. The narrator is a woman who does not live her days in sequential order. There is no timeline to speak of, but we immediately notice a doom lurking on the horizon – a nameless disaster we haven't “lived” yet – and this creates a nice sense of anticipation. MacLeod's non-linear storytelling works well, and comes into its own quite early on. Once the narrator reveals that her son is going to die (indeed, has already died), we know what will happen, but not when or how, and this allows us to share in her constant unease. Better yet, when the dreaded day finally comes, it is so out of the blue that it still shocks us. I enjoyed the portrayal of a woman living in dread of an event that has already happened.

The plot may at first seem like a cheap reiteration of The Time Traveller's Wife, but MacLeod is very careful to separate her story from the Niffenegger novel. This is not a time travel piece. And actually, it's quite easy to follow, thanks to the Din Ba Din book itself. No matter where in time the narrator is, the book is always there, and this gives a much-appreciated anchor to an otherwise erratic story. Despite an ending that is too “neat” for my taste, “Din Ba Din” really shines in its second half, and it leaves us with some interesting questions about the narrator's state of mind. Did the Din Ba Din book really have some power over her, or was the narrator suffering from a mental breakdown after the death of her son? Did she successfully rebel against “fate” in the end, or did blaming the Din Ba Din book simply help her to overcome a schizophrenic episode? Whatever your conclusions, this a bleak but engaging piece, and definitely worth a look.