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First Look Club: Jean reviews How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

First Look Club: Jean reviews How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu


By Sequoia Nagamatsu

Publication date: January 18, 2022

Reviewed by Jean Arboleda

“Here, at the edge of the world, I spend a lot of time thinking about ice and land crumbling into the ocean—all the secrets the world meant to keep hidden from us. It’s strange how the discovery of an ancient girl in Siberia and viruses we’ve never encountered before can both redefine what we know about being human and at the same time threaten our humanity.”

In 2030, Dr. Cliff Miyashiro arrives in the Arctic Circle to continue his recently deceased daughter's work, only to discover a deadly ancient virus buried in the melting permafrost in the Siberian tundra. In a series of intricately linked short stories, Sequoia Nagamatsu details how the Arctic Plague will reshape life on Earth for generations to come, and imagines the myriad ways we might deal with grief and loss on an unprecedented scale, and find hope once again. 

Haunting yet strangely hopeful, How High We Go in the Dark is both a prescient warning against a potentially dark future, as well as an ode to humanity and our capacity for resilience, when we come together. Each chapter, written in the first-person perspective, shows a pivotal moment in each character’s life where they realize they can’t possibly survive alone. A cynical theme park employee falls in love with the mother of a terminally ill child. A scientist who couldn’t save his son gets a second chance at fatherhood with one of his test subjects. A medical examiner at a plague ward forms an intimate bond with an infected patient. Even when surrounded by death, on a slowly dying and increasingly hostile planet, we find an inescapably human urge to take comfort in each other, to turn to community as an antidote to crisis. 

Nagamatsu is at his best when he paints the quiet devastation of everyday moments, particularly when he zooms in on how family members deal with grief in their own ways—one might isolate himself in shame, while another lashes out in anger. (It’s worth mentioning that Nagamatsu started on working on this ten years ago, spurred by the loss of his grandfather.) This compassion and empathy is the novel’s beating heart, and grounds it even as it spans generations, centuries, even entire star systems. How might we survive a tragedy like this? Where would we go from here? Nagamatsu builds layers upon layers of this new world and skillfully weaves each slice of life to show how we will always find it in ourselves to look towards the stars, and find meaning even in the bleakest of circumstances.

“In retrospect, all of us ran toward possibility because we saw no other choice. It’s a wonder that we ever found each other, with all the running around we did.”

How High We Go in the Dark shows us at some of our darkest moments, then challenges us to turn and run towards the light. What fresh wonder we might see; what possibilities might yet unfold.

Jean will try anything once. She has, at different points in her life, worked in government, interviewed international celebrities, and been the social media manager for several brands. On any given day, she would rather be reading, preferably surrounded by puppies. You can find her on Twitter @jeanarboleda and Instagram @_alikelystory.

[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]

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