“The new century will surely bring the miracle we need, the islanders tell each other. Earth may have abandoned others to its swallowing seas…but, they claim, that could never happen to us.”
The novel Exodus illustrates the consequences of global warming, superstorms, and rising sea levels on island communities. In Exodus, young Mara comes to the realization that Wing, her island home, will soon succumb to devastating storms and rising waters. She manages to convince her community to risk a journey across the ocean and seek refuge in New Mungo, a “sky city” that was rumored to rise above the water.
But while New Mungo turns out to be real, Mara is horrified to realize that the sky city has closed its borders to climate refugees. Mara and the other residents of Wing join hundreds of other refugees outside the sky city’s walls, floating in boats and suffering from hunger, thirst, and disease. Some of the refugees are taken by the sky people and enslaved. In guilt and despair, Mara flees the refugee camp and she ends up underneath the sky city. Here, she encounters the Treenesters and a community of “urchins” who have managed to survive and adapt in the sky city’s “netherworld” but are under threat from the sky city police, dwindling resources, and still rising waters. Mara then resolves to infiltrate New Mungo and find a way to create a new home for the refugees, the enslaved, and those living in the netherworld.
Exodus can help start conversations about how climate change is already radically transforming the shorelines, infrastructures, and economies of island nations. In the foreword of the book’s fifteenth anniversary edition, released in 2017, Bertagna relates that she was compelled to write the novel after reading a news story about the Republic of Kiribati, a nation confronting rising sea levels. Bertagna, however, shifts the setting from present-day Kiribati to an outlying island of Scotland in 2099. This move might inadvertently suggest that climate change is a future threat that is yet to happen, in effect denying the current reality faced by the citizens of Kiribati and other island nations. It also implies that global warming and melting ice caps only become urgent problems when they result in the erasure of White Anglophone/White European cultures. Still, Exodus does create opportunities to discuss how climate change threatens human rights around the world. The novel points to the relationship between climate change and the displacement and forced migration of peoples, providing an opportunity to discuss how refugees from Syria, South Sudan, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and other nations are forced to flee their homes partly because of the climate crisis. The novel can also be used to discuss climate apartheid as well as how climate change increases the risk of human trafficking.
©2021 ClimateLit (Marek Oziewicz)
Audience: Rebels (14-older)