Book Review: Not on Fire, But Burning

Not on Fire, but Burning
Greg Hrbek

In an America of the possible near future, a series of events leads to the meeting of two young boys. Inclined to be enemies, they could be friends. The question is: What will circumstance permit, and what will the inexorable forces of time and emotion prevent?

One young man is an orphaned Islamic youth who, in an America hardened by another devastating 9-11-style attack, is living in a modern-day internment camp in the Dakotas, where most Muslims were rounded up and isolated. The other is the youngest son of a family who relocated after the attacks, living a somewhat privileged life under the ever-present threat of another attack. Drawing them together is an older man who is an unlikely candidate to be an adoptive father but who decides to adopt one boy, and thus begins a series of encounters that illustrate what happens in our interactions with others throughout our lives. What are our preconceived notions about others based on their race or religion? How do we know that what we have been told all our lives is true or even accurate?

Looming in the background is another story, possibly of what was or maybe of what could have been. We are not sure what are memories and what are mere delusions—Did a family member die in the attack or not? Did she even exist or was she aborted? What would be changed if a life was cut off before it even started? Are there other possibilities, other universes where society is just a little bit different due to one decision, in one life? The possibilities are endless—or are they?

Readers of Cloud Atlas will enjoy this book, and others who perhaps wonder of what tiny alterations in time and place and our roles and decisions play in our and everyone else’s future. A book to ponder and ask “What if…?”

Jonathan Newman
Avondale Regional Branch Library