I Who Have Never Known Men: A Novel
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I Who Have Never Known Men: A Novel

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  244 ratings  ·  39 reviews
A work of fantasy, I Who Have Never Known Men is the haunting and unforgettable account of a near future on a barren earth where women are kept in underground cages guarded by uniformed groups of men. It is narrated by the youngest of the women, the only one with no memory of what the world was like before the cages, who must teach herself, without books or sexual contact,...more
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published April 8th 1997 by Seven Stories Press (first published 1995)
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Kim Z
Sep 20, 2007 Kim Z rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: thinkers/philosophers/learners
Shelves: goodstuff, sci-fi, novels
The library categorizes this as sci-fi. The situation puts it in that genre, but the story is much simpler. A woman has grown up imprisoned with a group of other women. She has no memory of a world outside their mysterious bunker. The book is the story of a woman learning to think and live without exposure to what most would consider a normal society.

Many reviews say how this book explores "what it means to be human." It does that in a way, but that description makes it sound far more pretentio...more
Dan
4 stars because I've never shaken it.
Probably because I found myself thinking the other day about Oryx and Crake and then realized their "Last Person on Earth" genre similarities made them genial companions.
It's a haunting book where women are imprisoned by men for no real reason in a hidden bunker--and then one day, the men leave, the women are freed--but everyone else is dead and gone.
It's a slow and dreary wind-down to the conclusion. I wanted to hate it, I should hate it--and yet I don't. In...more
Susan
This is a thought-provoking read. It was listed under the post-apocalypse-futuristic-dystopia genre, but in my mind, it's much more of a psychological-sociological thriller. (That won't make it sound appealing to many, since I may be one of a very small group who would consider sociology to be thrilling. But for that very small group--this is a gem!)

A group of women and one child are kept locked up in an underground cave following an unspecified apocalypse. The unnamed child is the only one who...more
Laura Teague
I read the edition with the alternative title 'Mistress of Silence' which I think sounds a lot better than the other one.
It's a strange story set maybe in the future or on another planet about a young girl who suddenly becomes aware of her surroundings. She (she's never given a name)lives in an underground bunker with a group of women, who are all much older than her. The women have memories of their former lives but no understanding of how they came to be in the bunker.

They live a very basic li...more
Zola
I wish I could have read this in its original language. Translated from the French, "I Who Have Never Known Men" is like the sound of a broken bell. It is jarring, disquieting, and profoundly saddening. The story carries you along through the mind of a female creature, I would hardly put her down as human, and yet it is a story about the loss of one's humanity.

I would love to research the origins of this book, and Jacqueline Harpman's personal history.
Sandi
I read this book about seven years ago and still think about it to this day. It is like nothing I've ever read before or since. The concept is simple yet profound. The writing (I believe it was translated from the french original but I could be wrong) is stark and simple, fitting the story perfectly. I can't recommend this book enough.
Caitlin
This one is weird and very depressing, we never get answers to the questions asked. But some how this book pulls it off. But it leaves you thinking and wondering and I'm not sure if I will ever get it out of my head.
unnarrator
The second-most depressing book in the world.
Sooz
i've wanted to read this book for years. because i am a fan of sci fi and post apocalyptic. because the title is intriguing. and because it had a pretty good rating here on Goodreads.

i don't think it is particularly well known - or easily found in the usual bookstores - new or used - but it is readily available on Amazon.

so .... given i've wanted to read it for years? was it worth it? yeah. i'd say it was.

it is short and rather sparse which perfectly mirrors the sparse plain landscape, as well a...more
Laura
I only discovered this book last year, but it instantly earned a spot on my top ten books of all time.

A young girl, nameless even to herself, grows to womanhood imprisoned with a group of women. None of them know why they are there or what has happened in the outside world. For a time they are silently guarded by a small group of uniformed men, but they are forbidden from asking questions. When sirens break the monotony, the men disappear, and the women are forced to escape to avoid starvation....more
Annette
If I had to pigeonhole this, I guess I'd put it in SciFi. This book haunted me well after I put it down.

Who are we as a society without our history? What makes us human?

A girl wakes up, imprisoned in a cage with 39 other women. She has no memory of who she is or how she got there. The other women reveal and conceal much about what has happend - pandemic, nuclear disaster, it's never clear.

Eventually, the women escape their cage and begin to roam the landscape. Only to find themselves still al...more
Phil
I'm giving this three stars because it was so well written but it is quite sad.Some horror has enslaved the heroine and her people underground and killed most of those above ground. The heroine and her small tribe of women escape to the above ground and do their best to make a limited life for themselves. Don't expect any happy endings.
Sheree
I loved this book. It is simply written and not broken up into chapters. It seems to just be separated into two parts. The character makes you think about life, living, the point of survival and purpose. Even though it is rather bleak and heartbreaking, I couldn't help but love the book.
The Lost Lola
I bought this book 13 years ago and just now sat down to read it. Harpman writes a hauntingly realistic science fiction story set in a post apocalyptic world where a group of 40 women are imprisoned for unknown reasons. They live out their lives behind bars guarded by masked men who will not speak to them or let them know why they are imprisoned. The story is told from the point of view of the youngest resident, a girl on the cusp of puberty who has no name and no recollection of a world before...more
Her Royal Orangeness
The Mistress of Silence by Belgian author Jacqueline Harpman is a sci-fi/dystopia/post-apocalypse novella about a group of women who have been imprisoned underground for many years and how they survive when they manage to escape. The premise is interesting and Harpman creates a vivid and believable scenario. The pacing is suspenseful and the characters believable (especially considering the very strange circumstances in which they find themselves). I think I missed most of the philosophical impo...more
Talya
What does it mean to be a woman, a person, or an animal. A young woman is imprisoned with 39 other women. They are guarded by men who never talk to them or give them any idea of what is going on or why they are there. The other women have memories of their lives outside but the young woman, who doesn't have a name, doesn't remember living anywhere else. They escape after mysterious circumstances. I don't want to give anything away so I won't continue. I enjoyed the book, but found it depressing,...more
Stephanie
If you like your books depressive, thought-provoking, and with a post-apocalyptic feel then this is the book for you.
Adam
Oct 13, 2007 Adam rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of absurdity and heartbreak
Her first novel translated into English (and only to my knowledge), and on the basis of this one I can’t wait for more. An unnamed Proustian narrator builds the story piece by piece as she recounts the harrowing and absurd account of being one of forty women imprisoned by three men and eventually abandoned to effect a kind of escape. Their attempts to recreate the elements of society are both heartbreaking and oddly affecting. Their questions about their world and their eventual fate are room fo...more
Shirari Industries
Mar 09, 2010 Shirari Industries rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: men, women, psychologists, capitalists
Shelves: scifi, gender
This book was unexpectedly a new favorite! It got me thinking about life and gender and sexuality and truth and capitalism and even the nature of our species, and was so very mysterious and compelling I then read it through a second time, immediately, to see if I could find more clues and better answers. It's a dystopia, a very personal one, and it really keeps you guessing.

After I read it (the second time) I was so wowed I looked for other folks' thoughts on it online and found that it has a bi...more
Maurina
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Astrila
Jun 19, 2008 Astrila rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: French writing lovers, introverted mysterious people
Recommended to Astrila by: Fred Meyer
I love this little sci-fi novel! Classic French short-and-sweet, not-answering-all-the-questions type piece. I've read this several times. You certainly can not judge this book by its cover or title.

It's about a group of women who live out half their lives on another planet, kind of... It's very strange and doesn't tell you anything, you have to figure out the story for yourself, but even so, it doesn't finish up, but leaves you wondering...in a good way.
Tad
This is an exceptionally moving dystopian novel. A group of women, locked in a cage, guarded by men, and allowed no physical contact even with each other. The narrator has no memory of life before this, although her fellow captives do. The book is an emotional and psychological examination of what it means to be human. It is at once haunting and beautiful. It will hold you in its grip while you read it and linger in your memory long after.
Christen
This book is so strange but so haunting. It haunted me so much that though I couldn't remember the title I have relentlessly hunted for this book since I read it in 2000. It is difficult to accept this book because so little is explained, but I think that just opens the door for some really intense discussion. I have no idea why that picture is on the cover. It has nothing to do with anything in the book. Publishers....hmpf.
John
Fascinating, but little known in America. Richly based in the French existential tradition, this is the autobiography of a woman isolated and forgotten as collateral damage in some unknown interplanetary war. She invents herself and tries to find meaning in a world that has totally forgotten her.
Carla
I was a little frustrated reading this book because I was waiting for something to be discovered or answers to come as to why these people were held captive in caves under ground. I wasn't satisfied with the ending at all after all the time spent reading about this journey of sorts.
Kelly-Ann
Not my favorite book, however the characters were very real feeling .. to a point. I was amazed with how believable the main character was, until one event that I thought would never happen. That aside it was still a good read, although the ending was a little disappointing.
Loni
A little bleak, the way the main character just accepts her reality, the world just is the way it is. Dare I say a little French? or perhaps it is the way anyone would be raised in a bunker after the end of the world. Lonely, haunting and a little bleak, yeah, I liked it.
Melinda
This book was very disturbing to me. I was left depressed and unsettled after reading it. This book was translated from the French, so maybe I'm just too American to really appreciate it's finer qualities. (You know, we do like at least a somewhat happy ending).
Sue Davis
What is the purpose of life? This novel reminded me of NO EXIT, NEVER LET ME GO, and the legend of Sisyphus.


Found this review:
http://www.readreactreview.com/2011/1...
Holly
Tragic and inspirational all at the same time. It raises question after question in its absurdity and leaves you with the realization that none of it matters in the face of this girl's struggle. A brilliant read.
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Jacqueline Harpman was born in Etterbeek, Belgium, in 1929. Being half Jewish, the family moved to Casablanca when the Nazis invaded, and returned home after the war. After studying French literature she started training to be a doctor, but could not complete her medical studies when she contracted tuberculosis. She turned to writing in 1954 and her first work was published in 1958. In 1980 she qu...more
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