“We are parthonites. Our story is a cyclical one, one that cannot be easily told. In sharing the now, we allow the young parthonites to see the moments gone, so they can have greater cycles to come.”- Zaji, When We Were One
I enjoyed reading this novel about an Afrofuturistic utopia only inhabited by women. Humans are now known as parthonites, and have transcended in so many ways. Humanness is associated with problems, vileness, and brutality. But in this society these things are no longer an issue. The planet is Gaia where there is a connection with the earth and everyone. There is a respect for all and a spiritual connection with the earth:
“Everyone understood that in order to live in harmony with the planet, they had to understand it.”
The ancient records of the parthonites hold records about our time and they will be needed when the parthonites are attacked by outside forces. The parthonites are shocked by our stupidity, just as we shake our heads at our ancestors who engaged in slavery, anti-semitism and other atrocities. The only difference perhaps is that these parthonites recognize and learn from these lessons:
“Parthonites noticed the evident shift from physical enslavement to mental, emotional and intellectual enslavement.”
There is soon to be conflict in this utopian society and it first makes itself known with the birth of one of the sisters, Nzingha:
“Nzingha, without a doubt, was different in more than just the physical and emotional aspects. As time passed, parthonites began to realize that her entire way of thinking was different. She was not in sync with everyone else, and found herself in constant conflict with her peers and elders.”
The prose is thoughtful and quite poetic and the content definitely makes me long for simpler times when we lived in close-knit communities and were in greater connection to the earth. The whole idea of oneness resonates, the importance of being one, not just as people but with the planet too.
For me, this book brought up a lot of thoughts on the human condition and how we will be remembered by future generations. Also, is there a way for us to return to simpler ways of living, to feel more connected to each other and the earth? Clearly, as this book illustrates, we miss a lot by not being so.
What I also liked was the community, the sisterhood, and how they never give up on each other. They can’t, they are one. Through their interactions we learn so many lessons, lessons too about what we take for granted, for example time:
“All these notions picked up by a few, with nothing in nature as the marker for their truth. All were illusions designed to hinder and limit.”
The previous quote reminded me of the great essay, The Tyranny of the Clock, by the anarchist George Woodcock.
A very smart and enjoyable read. A huge thank you to Zaji for sending me a copy of this book.