Mark Reads ‘The Obelisk Gate’: Chapter 17

In the seventeenth chapter of The Obelisk Gate, Nassun tries to help Schaffa and reunites with her father. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth. 

Trigger Warning: For child abuse, consent, homophobia

It is an astounding (and at times unnerving) thing to watch Nassun change before our eyes. I love that we have a point of view in this novel from a kid, despite that this is absolutely not a children’s novel by any means. There are things Jemisin is able to explore within Nassun’s story that would be a lot harder to pull off this way in, say, a middle grade or young adult novel. On top of that, since this story is told by Hoa, it allows for there to be distance and omniscience in the narrator that leaves room for a different kind of story. 

And it’s a story about love, when that love is mixed up with duty and oppression and violence and obligation and the actual end of the world. 

In the first half of this chapter, Jemisin examines the love between Schaffa and Nassun, and she’ll later examine the love between Nassun and her father. Here, there is tenderness, though the reader can easily add so much more depth and nuance to everything because we have a history with Schaffa that Nassun does not. So, that extra layer complicates Schaffa further, even though I’m now very confident about the distinction between Schaffa as a person and the Schaffa controlled by the corepoint. (It has a name!) On a purely meta level, it amused me that I finally did feel sure about it in the same chapter in which Nassun is tempted to remove it, even without Nassun’s consent.

And that’s the point where this works better as a child POV in an adult novel. We have an additional context here: The cycle of abuse and violence, one which I see manifesting here as Nassun thinks about love and pain. The two are always going to be intertwined in her mind because that’s how Essun showed her love: by hurting her. By insulting her. By verbally abusing her. From Essun’s point of view, she was trying to teach her child survival. But look at what it did to Nassun, who preferred her father because he loved her how she needed to be loved. Look at what happened as she came into Schaffa’s life. The very man who abused her own mother slowly became the man who she now trusts more than literally any other person on Earth. 

Is that what love is supposed to be? 

That’s the recurring motif here. Nassun has a specific conception of what love is and what you’re supposed to do with love, but this world isn’t making it easy for her to know if she’s doing it right. I mean, look at the opening scenes: After training herself on ants and then a captured raider, Nassun teaches herself how to heal. (That whole sequence alone started off being very cool and fascinating, and then it just kept getting more and more disturbing, particularly the ways in which Nassun views other bodies as means to an end or as vessels, which concerns me. But she’s also very young, and I don’t want to assume to much about who she will become because of that.) She then immediately runs off to Schaffa, all so she can attempt to heal him. It’s so obvious to her, too. She can heal, so she must try to make Schaffa feel better!

But with this comes the outright confirmation that the corepoint, the implant that makes Guardians who they are, cannot be removed without a Guardian aging rapidly and dying. I still want to know about the origin of the corepoint, since it’s clearly tied to Evil Earth somehow. Or maybe it can be infected by Evil Earth? I don’t know quite yet. But this whole situation brings up Nassun’s complicated feelings of love and how they reflect what she’s been through:

She’s wanted to do something good with orogeny, when she has used it to do so many terrible things already—and she wanted to do it for him. He is the only person in the world who understands her, lovers her for what she is, protects her despite what she is.

It’s fascinating how she frames all this, too, as there is an implicit acceptance within her words. Schaffa’s love is something that must accept her for what she is, or despite what she is, as if she is a terrible thing that others cannot love. So she wants to love him, and that means healing his body and taking away his pain. Yet how can she do that if removing the corepoint kills him?

If she hurts him because she loves him, is that still hurt? If she hurts him a lot now so that he will hurt less later, does that make her a terrible person?

In this, it’s hard not to see a parallel to Essun, who hurt her daughter with the hope that it would hurt her less later. Did that make Essun a terrible person? Maybe, but there’s that chilling line where Nassun resolves to blame her mother because Essun can bear it. 

Is that how she sees love? Is that what the love of a mother (or FOR a mother) means to her?

It’s at this point that Jemisin flips the script, and we move from a father figure (Schaffa) to a father (Jija). Look, y’all, I had hope for maybe two pages. IF THAT. I thought that Jija missed his daughter enough that he would treat her better. But holy shit, the degradation of their rapport is so swift, all of it tanking at the near mention of Essun. It’s obvious to see why that’s the breaking point. They wouldn’t be where they are if it were not for Essun, though each character has their own context for why this is the case. Still, we’re grounded in Nassun’s point of view, and it’s clear that she realizes she has to shed any delusion that her father doesn’t hate who she really is. As she notes, “…love always comes bound in terrible things.”

In Jija are many terrible things. His hatred of orogenes. His murder of Uche. His abuse of Nassun as they traveled to Fresh Moon and his abuse of her when she finally tells him that she likes being an orogene, that it gives her satisfaction. Wrapped up in this is trauma, too, as Jija’s justification for his hatred of orogenes comes in that story about the young child he saw iced. But I have to wonder what the world would look like if young orogene children were taught about themselves at a young age. If people knew how to recognize the presentation of their abilities and could foster them in a healthy, loving environment, not one where fear took precedence. I am sure that Jija couldn’t even imagine that reality. Instead, he sees orogenes as things to be feared and disgusted; they harm everyone and everything around them; and they deserved to be hated.

Oh, except Nassun, right? He might compartmentalize her in order to accept her presence, but he doesn’t do too well, does he? He still strikes her when she confesses to liking her life as an orogene. He still sees her as someone who isn’tworthy of actual love and respect. I think this moment will deepen her attachment to Schaffa, too, since at the very least, he respects her for who she is.

The whole thing is just heartbreaking, though, and from a personal standpoint, I can see a parallel. Because I know what it’s like to have a parent who hates who you are, who sometimes compartmentalizes in order to accept you into their life. But it’s never full acceptance and it never will be, right? A person like that—like Jija—has to have a full reckoning with themself before acceptance can be real, genuine, and meaningful.

I saw Nassun’s actions as being a rejection, sure; she has chosen her father figure. But what she does was also a warning. If need be, she can protect herself from Jija without lifting a finger. And now he knows that.

NOTES

  • Versus…. whomst?????
  • Capable of healing!!!!
  • It’s amazing to me that she’s able to do things that Essun wasn’t even aware existed until she was in her 30s
  • oh shit, it really IS like surgery
  • what’s jija been up to?
  • “nassun decides to become the woman’s luck” well, that’s an ominous sentence
  • HOLY FUCK, SHE DID WHAT?????
  • it’s wild to me that everyone understands the dynamic/hierarchy between schaffa and nassun
  • oh
  • oh so this
  • this is what we’re doing
  • she’s gonna try to remove the implant? But won’t that harm him? If I remember, the implant also prolongs a guardian’s life?
  • how many orogenes died trying to connect to an obelisk??? lord.
  • corestone!! it has a name!!!
  • NO TELL ME WHAT THAT MEANS, SCHAFFA
  • AH okay!!! so I was right!!!!!
  • oh no HATE THAT. what they’re capable of? he means that implosion thing, right?
  • okay that one guardian he visited who was aged!!!! that explains it. so he once knew someone who had the corestone removed
  • HER WHOLE THOUGHT PROCESS ON HURTING IN THE NAME OF LOVE. HOLY SHIT.
  • oh this reunion is already too much
  • “is this not how love should work” THIS BOOK WILL NOT LET ME LIVE
  • oh this escalated
  • OH IT’S STILL ESCALATING
  • “Why do you hate us so much, Daddy?” I’VE EXPIRED
  • oh the COMPARTMENTALIZATION
  • fuck everything, nassun realizing uche could not have done anything to provoke her father THIS HURTS
  • this is
  • I’m so stressed out
  • how much more of this can she take????
  • oh
  • oh I shouldn’t have typed that
  • “she knows her mother can bear it” oh, well i can’t
  • the end… of this chapter….

Mark Links Stuff

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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