Last Updated on April 28, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1080
Makepeace asked Ping to show her where she'd been living before they met, and Ping pointed out an old fire station on a map. Makepeace avoided the fire station, which was often full of travelers.
Near the fire station was an old manhole without a cover. Makepeace called down into the hole, then dropped down into it. It was a storm drain in which was a sort of nest, which must have been Ping's home. When she returned home, Makepeace felt very sorry for what Ping had suffered.
In June, Ping and her baby both died, which greatly affected Makepeace. She had to bury the pair, having already buried her parents and brother in the past. Feeling unable to stay in town, Makepeace rode off into the mountains and lived in an abandoned cabin until one day in August when she decided to drown herself.
She rowed out into the middle of the lake and then shipped the oars, letting the boat drift. After emptying the fishing nets, she took off her boots and jumped into the water, kicking the boat away. It was difficult not to fight, but eventually Makepeace began to feel death was close.
Then she heard a sound above her. It was an airplane, which then crashed in the distant trees.
Makepeace struggled out of her jacket and back to the boat. She eventually made it back to shore and began trekking to reach the wreck. It was a biplane, and the wood smelled strongly of gasoline when she drew close. Then the plane exploded, knocking Makepeace off her feet.
The Tungus have a story about a pilot, Levanevskii, who flew out in the early days of air travel to survey the North. Levanevskii ran into trouble and gambled on bringing the plane down in a lake. A boy witnessed it and lit a fire for the men on the plane, not realizing that the plane should not have broken up in the water as it did.
The Tungus tell this story because it shows how things even out. The white people flew over with their plane like a boast, but they were killed upon landing. This seemed to balance out some of what had been done to the Tungus, their holy men killed and their villages destroyed. But the story makes Makepeace think of humanity’s ingenuity.
When Makepeace woke after the explosion, she had a broken collarbone, and much of her hair had been singed off. Her ears rang. Only three days later did the fire stop burning so that she could go and investigate the plane. There were five or six skeletons in it, and Makepeace buried them. Although they were dead, she still felt oddly less alone: the plane indicated that there was something of the old world still left. She decided she must find it.
Makepeace thought the plane must have come from one of the other cities in the area, even though now there was little communication between them. Makepeace's father had left America because poor people everywhere had begun to seem alike. This made him feel the people had become severed from the land; he lived in a world of abundance, but one in which people's spirits were becoming impoverished. In those days, the earth was full of people and even the moon had a flag on it, so the Church sent Makepeace's father out to scout Siberia.
People expected Siberia to be a desert, but even in the most northerly regions, it was not; the Chukchi farmed the land and kept it verdant. The Russian government leased tracts of the Far North to European and American settlers who soon began to establish cities there, turning their backs on labor-saving devices and beginning to work the land again.
To settle here, people had to renounce their former citizenship. The Russians didn't view the 70,000 settlers as real Russians. Most were Quakers, or nature-worshippers, or simply sick of the "plastic" life that had developed elsewhere. Cities began to thrive. Over time, differences emerged and wars broke out, too, but Quakers like Makepeace's family refused to fight.
From the wreckage of the plane, Makepeace took a sliver of wing which she turned into a cross to wear around her neck. She wondered again where it had come from and whether another plane would be sent.
Now, Makepeace is writing her story in a book, and the world she lives in seems real and reasonable. But she was not reasonable in thinking about that plane and the world it had come from. She imagined all sorts of possibilities, which kept her going as she trekked back to town, closed up her house, and buried the keys. She determined to set out on the road in search of the source of the plane.
The roads here had been laid by slave-workers sent in by the Russians. Millions had died laying them, and the Russian guards built a prison factory at Buktygachak which contributed to the cursed feeling of the land. Not many people had ever settled here.
It was October, and Makepeace was traveling again down this highway. The road was good, and Makepeace dozed as her horses trod on.
Makepeace remembered one day in a grocery shop in town, when she had seen a wraith-like woman in rags who had wandered into the store and died. This was the first such person the town had seen, but many more came after her.
The death of Ping at the beginning of this section is abrupt and unexpected, altering the trajectory of the story. Ping's introduction in the earlier part of the novel leads the reader to expect a prolonged relationship between the two women, so her death is jarring. To a considerable extent, it emphasizes the nature of life in the Far North: death is always a threat, and Makepeace's way of life is one without modern medicine or any of the trappings of the life from which her family fled.
In these chapters, Theroux offers some backstory, explaining where exactly Makepeace lives and how she and her family came to live there. We can interpret from comments about the moon that Makepeace is living some hundreds of years in the future as far as the reader is concerned. Theroux explains how the Far North came to be settled and why. However, the reader remains in suspense as to what has caused the city to fall into such disrepair.
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