NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

4.5 out of 5 stars -- "Language comes from what we've seen, touched, loved, lost...We want to verify with others what we seem to perceive."

I thought this book was brilliant though I realize that it is not for everyone. I've noticed from reading other reviews that people seem to have loved it or hated it -- many rated it without actually finishing more than a couple of chapters. I loved it because I love words -- those that I hear, speak, or write. Vocabulary fascinates me and I always have a dictionary close - and it really got a workout while I was immersed in this imaginative tale involving an epidemic of "word flu" -- a condition wherein victims can no longer communicate appropriately in their native language; the "virus" is initially most severe in the USA. Speech is garbled and words are nonsense. People cannot be understood as made up words spontaneously erupt and other words simply disappear or suddenly have new meanings or definitions.

In the not-so-distant future, the entire world is dependent on handheld devices called Memes. These digital marvels can anticipate almost every need and citizens have become quite attached to them. In fact, most people don't have to remember anything, even everyday words, because the Word Exchange can give a word to use and a definition whenever necessary in a barrage of texting, messaging or beaming. Books, letters, photographs, maps -- printed material of all kinds -- have slowly disappeared. Even paper and the act of writing on it have become nearly obsolete.

There are only a few holdouts trying to prevent further obsolescence. Anana Johnson works with her father, Doug, who is the Chief Editor for the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL) in New York. One night, right before launch of the latest and last print edition, Doug disappears. Frantic to find him from strange clues he left behind, Ana embarks on a harrowing mission just as the language virus hits. Her search leads her to a secret society, puts her life in danger, and forces her to confront the nature of being human.

Set in the near future, this dystopian novel takes aim at our increasing dependence on technology and serves as a warning that we perhaps ought not to rely so much on our devices to meet our every need but should instead focus more on conversation, thinking and reading. Turn off the constant contact with meaningless data, learn multiple languages take a break from being "plugged in" -- a least for a couple of hours a day!

I really enjoyed this story concept and allowed myself to suspend disbelief when the science was shaky (re: the "virus") and just went along for the ride. It's fiction and an author is always allowed liberties! This would be an excellent choice for a book club as there are many great points to discuss and debate. I'd recommend it to all those who love linguistics and their dictionaries! 

A comment about format: When reading this book on a Kindle device you may have difficulty following the footnotes.

Lastly -- this book reminded me of a series written by Jasper Fforde -- the THURSDAY NEXT novels -- which I also enjoyed immensely.

The titles of the series are:
Thank you to NetGalley and Doubleday for the e-book ARC to review. 

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