Red Pill

Knopf. Sept. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9780451493712. $27.95. F
This latest from Kunzru (White Tears, Gods Without Men) meditates on the thin line between myth and reality, taking inspiration from the blue and red pill in The Matrix. (The red pill offers a wake-up call from ignorance but has also come to signify a rightward shift in thinking.) The narrator is a struggling American writer and academic who applies for a fellowship at the Deuter Center in Berlin to reignite his productivity. However, upon arrival he finds the center’s policies, people, and historical ties to the Nazism unnerving. Isolating himself in his room, he becomes obsessed with German Romanticist Heinrich von Kleist and a television program titled Blue Lives. He abandons his writing project as he discovers apocalyptic messages in Blue Lives and comes to believe that the show’s creator, Anton, is the catalyst of an increasingly anarchic world. Soon, his mind begins to unravel as he sees connections between the show’s narrative and multiple conspiracy theories. The book ultimately culminates in the 2016 U.S. election, leaving readers to sit in the unresolved tension between fact and fiction.
VERDICT Kunzru sardonically reminds us that the reconciliation of facts and truth is equally opaque in both fiction and nonfiction.
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