Friday, January 22, 2016


Not Dark Yet, Berit Ellingsen, Two Dollar Radio, 2015, 183 pp
Summary from Goodreads: Brandon leaves his boyfriend in the city for a quiet life in the mountains, after an affair with a professor ends with Brandon being forced to kill a research animal. It is a violent, unfortunate episode that conjures memories from his military background.

In the mountains, his new neighbors are using the increased temperatures to stage an agricultural project in an effort to combat globally heightened food prices and shortages. Brandon gets swept along with their optimism, while simultaneously applying to a new astronaut training program. However, he learns that these changes—internal, external—are irreversible.

A sublime love story coupled with the universal struggle for personal understanding, Not Dark Yet is an informed novel of consequences with an ever-tightening emotional grip on the reader.
My Review:
At times, because I read incessantly, I grow weary of novels published by the major houses; novels that are written and released with the intention to reach a majority of readers and to sell. For palate cleansing I turn to books from indie publishers. Two Dollar Radio is such a one, run out of their home in Columbus, OH, by a husband and wife team. Berit Ellingsen is a Korean-Norwegian science writer and novelist who lives in Norway and writes in English. Not Dark Yet is her second novel.
A weird and wondrous novel it is. The first sentence: "Sometimes, in Brandon Minamoto's dreams, he found a globe or a map of the world with a continent he hadn't seen before." He has just left his boyfriend in the city and gone to live in a decrepit cabin in the mountains, seeking quiet. His military experiences and an incident when he felt forced to kill a research owl haunt him. Inner quiet and outer space are his quests. He hopes to be accepted into the space program as an astronaut.
His life in the cabin moves as slowly as a glacier through fall, winter, and early spring. In flash backs we learn his history and gradually come to realize that you wouldn't want this guy in a spaceship with you.
As a teen, he used to dream of a "round body of water the color of the sky" that echoes a fountain he had visited with his mother when he was a toddler.
During a visit to their paternal grandparents in Korea, he and his brother went to a shrine containing the relic of a monk who had been mummified after fasting to death. Then follows a story (from inside Brandon's mind?) of the monk's long and agonizing journey into the spirit world through starvation. Brandon's conclusion is "He wanted to be happy. What more does human life have to offer?"
Self-imposed loneliness, more dreams of a bodiless spirit nature, training his body to survive in space, and a brief foray into environmental terrorism follow. In a refreshing twist, this is not a post-apocalyptic novel but a pre-apocalyptic one. The awareness of climate change, melting ice, rising sea levels, violent storms, food shortages, and animals going extinct, permeate the story.
Written in close third person making you feel you are in Brandon's head, seeing with his eyes, feeling the cold, longing for space, this is a novel that might convince even a climate denier to have another look. Not since Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl have I experienced such an intense second sight meditation on where we are headed. Except that in Not Dark Yet, the elegant symmetry between one man's yearning and the demise of the entire race moves it several paces away from an eco thriller.
The tone is more like early J G Ballard. Deadpan recital of mundane daily events punctuated with explosions of disaster or Brandon's surreal dreams. I finished the book and could not leave the world she had created for hours. I cleaned the house and ordered Christmas presents. I tried to read another book. No go. This is why I read! 
 (This review also appears at Litbreak.)
(Not Dark Yet is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.) 


  1. Wow! It sounds like a great read, Judy. Great review too.
    This particular sentence caught my eye: "In flash backs we learn his history and gradually come to realize that you wouldn't want this guy in a spaceship with you."
    I so would like to know why...

    1. Thanks Carmen. I hope you get to read it.

  2. This sounds like a really lovely reading experience. Your review definitely made me want to run right out and pick up this book!

    1. Ha! Well, I loved it so much, that was my intention.

  3. Sounds like an unusual story, otherworldly and haunting too. It's neat you find these books.