- Indelible Storyworld
464 Pages; Print, $19.95
Sabrina Vourvoulias' Ink holds a mirror to the United States' record of exploiting and harming Mexican and Central American immigrants by documenting the events that occur within a slightly altered version of the nation, one that has graduated to using an "inking" system to track immigrants' whereabouts. In the storyworld of Ink, immigrants and their children are required to be explicit about their immigration status by bearing a tattoo on their wrists—a biometric barcode that can be scanned and monitored by government personnel at random to determine where they are allowed to go, where they may reside, and the kinds of surveillance that they will be subjected to. In her writing, Vourvoulias troubles the normalization of state-sanctioned violence and exploitation in the United States by taking familiar entities that exist in the reader's own world—in particular, border patrol, private prisons, migrant detention centers, and the foster care system—and representing them candidly in her novel as part of a network that perpetuates these acts against immigrants. The familiarity of these entities, along with the initial responses of detachment from "non-ink" characters towards the sufferings of their "ink" counterparts, emphasize the commonalities between the United States of the storyworld and that of the reader's own world to underscore how this fictionalized violence is heavily steeped in reality.
Ink is focalized through four characters—one ink and three non-inks—who each have distinct knowledge of and experience with the violence and suffering caused by these policies. The novel's structure alternates between major sections that are each labeled with the name of the character whose focalization drives the chapters contained within that section. By alternating between focalizations throughout the novel instead of remaining with only one character for the duration of the plot, Vourvoulias effectively shows how each character's unique experiences and positionality offers varied understandings of the different forms of precarity and privilege in this version of the United States. Additionally, these changes in focalization also allow for passages of time to occur and to be acknowledged within the context of a character's present challenges. The non-ink focalizers are Finn, a journalist whose abilities to continue investigating claims related to the treatment of inks are impacted by a personal relationship; Del, a carpenter who works alongside many undocumented inks and who finds himself helping activists protect the rights of inks, both documented and undocumented; and Abbie, the daughter of an inkatorium supervisor, who joins organizing efforts to liberate the inks from internment. Mari, the only ink focalizer and one of the first inks that the reader meets in the novel, shows the lasting impacts of some of the story's most violent and horrific elements, including rape, internment, and separation from loved ones, while also showing the protections afforded to her by her nahual, her spiritual twin.
The biometric tattoos and the treatment of inks offer explicit references to real-world US and global systems. Non-inks are discouraged from partnering with and/or having children with inks for reasons that reflect the ideologies of the "one-drop rule" and anti-miscegenation laws. Biracial and multiracial individuals who carry "ink blood" (i.e. Latinx, Latin American, Mexican, Caribbean, and/or indigenous Central American ancestry) from only one parent or one grandparent will still be forced to abide by ink codes of conduct and must be tattooed. Inks must abide by curfew, ride segregated buses, have GPS chips implanted in their bodies, are interrogated at "identity roadblocks" on highways, and are mandated to speak English.
Additionally, utensils that they use at restaurants are destroyed to prevent any cross-contamination with non-inks. These restrictions placed on inks allude to historical horrors like the forced placement of Native children in assimilation boarding schools in the late nineteenth century, the Holocaust, Japanese internment camps, Jim Crow segregation, and colonization of the Americas.
The biometric tattoos that are mandatory for inks literalize the data collection that government entities in the reader's own world utilize to track citizens and residents in the United...