Book of the Month

I Who Have Never Known Men

February 2024

Of the many excellent books I read in February, one stands out as particularly special. I stumbled upon this book in an online bookstore in Vietnam. I bought it because I was intrigued by the title and liked the cover design. Also, I had never heard of the author, and I’m always keen to discover new writers.

On the face of it, Jacqueline Harpman’s I Who Have Never Known Men is a bleak and disquieting tale. It’s difficult to describe why it’s such a page-turner without introducing spoilers. Part of its appeal, at least for me, were the numerous questions posed in the opening chapters: Where are they?, how did they get there?, and why do they have no memory of how they got there? What is particularly disconcerting is that one wonders whether finding answers to these fundamental questions will make any appreciable difference to their lives.

A young woman is kept in a cage underground with thirty-nine other females, guarded by armed men who never speak; her crimes unremembered… if indeed there were crimes.

The youngest of forty—a child with no name and no past—she survives for some purpose long forgotten in a world ravaged and wasted. In this reality where intimacy is forbidden—in the unrelenting sameness of the artificial days and nights—she knows nothing of books and time, of needs and feelings.

Then everything changes… and nothing changes.

cover blurb from I Who Have Never Known Men

I really don’t want to say any more about the storyline, and I suggest you avoid reviews that might give it away. But I strongly recommend you read this gem of a novel. The writing is economical, the character studies are rich, and the plot and world-building are compelling and brilliantly realised. I’m only two months into this year, but of the books I’ve read thus far, this is my favorite. Already a contender for book of the year.

Books by Jacqueline Harpman

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