Anna by Sammy HK Smith
Rebellion, hb, £11.99
Reviewed by Shona Kinsella
“Anna” is a young woman, living alone in the Unlands, a post-apocalyptic setting where there appears to be little civilisation left – until she is captured by a man who keeps her as a slave, a situation that is completely accepted by the other people they come across. Anna is his property, and even if she managed to escape, no one would help her. The strong take what they want, and the weak comply unless they want to die. Anna deals with violence and sexual assault, and it doesn’t pull any punches. This is not comfortable reading. The book demands your attention as it takes an unflinching look at the psychology of a victim of abuse, both during and after the event.
As a survivor of the kind of abuse dealt with in the book, it was without a doubt painful reading, but it also made me feel seen in a way that other narratives have not. It is brutal and honest and brave beyond measure.
“Anna’s” story is set against a dystopian society, where nothing is quite what it seems. The characters’ behaviours and motives are utterly believable, and the breakdown of society is only partially understood. Part two of the narrative shows a community struggling to rebuild, a town full of people who appear to be kind and welcoming, but there’s a subtle undercurrent of wrongness, but the reader is so intimately entwined in Anna’s experience that we cannot be sure if this is reality or trauma. An experience familiar to survivors.
Although set against a global backdrop, Anna is a very personal story with a tight, driving narrative that grabs you by the hand and pulls you along until you arrive, breathless and beaten, at the last page. It’s a difficult book to write about without spoilers; it feels to me that it’s best gone into with little knowledge and a lot of strength.
There are moments of joy and lightness, as well as the trauma of a broken society and broken people. It will pull your emotions every which way, so expect to have quite the book hangover when you’re finished… and maybe line up something light to follow it with.