Mark Reads ‘The Fifth Season’: Chapter 7

In the seventh chapter of The Fifth Season, Essun learns just a little bit more about her companion. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth. 

Trigger Warning: For extensive discussion of death/death of a child, grief, PTSD, and brief parts about colonization and slavery.

It’s still so astonishing to me that Jemisin can say so much with so little. I’m not surprised; I knew she was this good. I just mean… y’all. LOOK AT THIS.

Things about Father Earth and his whispers, way-down-below things as Uche had called them—

But you’re not ready to think about that.

There’s a thing Jemisin does here with grief that, unfortunately, feels so damn real to me. Grief has been almost all I’ve known for the last six months of my life. It permeates everything I do, and some of you got to see the unique way that manifested as I read through the final Discworld book. Grief can change the meaning of literally anything, and one thing my therapist has been helping me work on is not reducing the occurrence of these bouts of loss. You can’t. Ever. And the more a person tries to avoid grief or feeling sad over a loss, the less you’re able to actually face what happened and move on. Instead, I’m learning to deal with these thoughts and emotions when they actually happen. 

Here, Essun thinks of Uche as she tries to figure out who the HELL Hoa actually is, which is a whole thing I’m gonna SCREAM about in a second. Her mind drifts immediately to a reference she understands: how her own son behaved. And it’s a very short journey from that to her veering away from the thought of Uche and his orogeny. I told my therapist in one of our early sessions that I felt like after Baize passed, my life turned into nothing landmines. I kept stumbling upon these memories, possessions, thoughts… each of them this massive trigger bomb that exploded once it floated into my mind. And I drifted. Constantly. I was constantly not ready to think about things because I was certain that if I did, it would destroy me. 

I’m not judging myself from a point months later. I get why I felt that way. And the truth is there’s a lot I’m not ever going to share publicly, but I’ll say this: I experienced a lot of trauma around my ex’s death in a very short period of time. In a three week period—from his death to the flight home from the funeral—I feel like I experienced a lifetime of trauma. The sudden death of a loved one can do that. So as I was reading this chapter, I could recognize those pieces of myself, specifically in how memories can be shards. There’s another scene that Jemisin includes as part of Essun’s struggle with grief that communicated this well:

And you hold up the shirt for him to slip his arms and head into. He does this a bit clumsily, as if he’s not used to being dressed by someone else. Still, it’s easier than getting Uche dressed; at least this boy doesn’t wiggle—

You stop.

You go away for a bit. 

When you return to yourself, the sky is bright and Hoa has stretched out on the nearby low grass. At least an hour has passed. Maybe more.

Sometimes, you forget. It’s a temporary thing. But your mind and your heart are used to the presence of someone, and so it’s understandable—yet deeply harmful—that you think of them as if they are still here. You forget to use the past tense. You forget to adjust to the new reality, the one that hurts all the time. 

Yesterday (I’m writing this on June 15th), I went to my first protest in years. Back on January 21, 2017, I went to the Women’s March in Los Angeles with Baize and our dearest friends. Prior to that, I had not been to a protest since the Black Lives Matter protests. (For context, I have severe PTSD around protests and the police due to a deeply traumatic experience in my past.) I know my own mind, and I know that there are other ways to help rather than be marching. So while I’d focused my time on volunteering to do jail support in Brooklyn and Manhattan as these protests have broken out across the world, this specific Brooklyn liberation march centered on Black Trans Lives. I needed to be there. I needed to show up. And so, I met up with a friend who knew about my PTSD, and I attended. 

Another friend showed up and joined me right as the actual march started. And I did something that has no real meaning out of a specific context, that is about as banal and boring as one could imagine: there was a speck of dirt on his shirt, and I picked it off. And there, in the smallest, most meaningless act I could do, I stumbled on a memory that had simply not woken since I lost him: being at that march in 2017 and picking a piece of confetti off of Baize’s shirt.

I went away for a bit.

I couldn’t talk for maybe fifteen minutes. I knew if I opened my mouth and said anything, the tears would come, too. But I wasn’t holding back what I felt, and that’s something my therapist is helping me grapple with. My mind didn’t betray me; that’s how I would have characterized this moment six months ago. Why would my brain remind me of something that hurts me so badly? I have shifted my perspective on this, though. Because the truth is that everything hurts. I miss him being in the background of videos or kissing me before he goes to work. I miss his laugh. I miss his terrible fucking jokes. And instead of fighting that pain, I accept something else:

My brain is reminding me of the joy he left me with. 

Because yes, it hurt to remember that moment from three years prior. But I wasn’t thinking of what came after: he smiled at me, and he grabbed my hand, and he said he was proud of me for having the courage to march again. 

That hurts to type. I’ve been crying while writing this review, just like I did while I was reading this chapter. I felt seen by this. I felt acknowledged. Because sometimes, those of us who are grieving have to go away for a bit. 

But then we get back on the road, don’t we? Like Essun, I’ve had a million of these moments where the very idea of moving one more minute into the future seems impossible. Yet she gets up. She gets back on the road. She keeps moving.

That feels good to type.

So, let’s talk about Hoa. I recall that the being that “hatched” from the geode had something like red and white in their arms after eating all those crystals? And was otherwise not really described? Look, I try to be careful about saying that I definitively know something because I have walked myself into so many terrible corners, but I feel like this is definitely who Hoa is! It explains so much of their odd behavior, which Essun struggles with across this chapter. He acts kind of like a human, and yet there are parts of him that just don’t make sense at all. Like not recognizing what to do with soap, for instance. 

I do wonder about the Three Peoples, referenced in the quote at the end of the chapter, and how much that is part of what we’re seeing now. I’m also thinking about the detail about “admixture” and how much colonization and chattel slavery informed what Jemisin is writing about here. It is significant that Hoa has only one “Sanzed” quality to him—“the texture of his hair”—and then we learn that otherwise, it appears that Hoa’s people have been exempted from Sanzed beauty standards this whole time. And while his skin is literally white, everything else—his broad cheekbones, his angular jaw and eyes, his full lips, his height—presents to Essun as “wholly alien” to her. I love that Jemisin subverts expectations based on his skin, as it complicates the story in a really fascinating way. Like… what’s up with his eyes?

I also just want to know what Hoa IS. Human-esque, sure but HOW THE FUCK CAN HE SENSE OROGENES? Is he not an orogene himself? Like Essun says, she would be able to tell, but she can’t. So he seems like a regular person to her in that sense, but… what if he’s not human OR orogene? What if there is a third type of person??? Look, I’m still grappling with the incredible way that Jemisin revealed that Hoa knew exactly where Nassun was. NASSUN IS ALIVE. And I’m also wondering if this journey will take Essun to a place where she’ll intersect with Damaya’s story. Is she headed toward the Fulcrum? Away? What about Syenite??? How will she affect this story???


  • my brain immediately sung CAUGHT IN A MUDSLIDE in stevie nicks’s voice 
  • Everything about this boy is suspect, but he is definitely the one that crawled to life in the prologue
  • (now my brain is re-imagining that scene with WAKE ME UP wake me up inside CAN’T WAKE UP)
  • “has a manner too old for his body” noooooo NOPE
  • his EYES???? who ALLOWED that????
  • love how this chapter makes me feel unending dread. LOVE
  • of course he landed in the mud. OF COURSE.
  • Also i can’t ignore that she lost her child and then the universe just like… gave her another child to take care of? basically?
  • “Seasonal Law” WHAT IS THAT.
  • oh, so he’s WHITE white
  • “admixture” oh my god are we talking generational effects of colonization here????
  • oh no, dressing Hoa triggered Essun MY HEART
  • something you’ve “always” been able to do??? how much time are we talking about???
  • nassun is still alive, oh my god. 
  • “But if he can find your daughter, he can be the Evil Earth incarnate and you won’t give a damn.
  • even Hoa not eating is SUSPECT
  • Hi, Life had a mother??? What the hell?
  • Who are the Three Peoples?

Mark Links Stuff

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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