Sabrina Vourvoulias’ Ink was mentioned in a previous post by Phoebe Wagner, which gathered a few other works that reflect our time to an eerie tee. I picked up the novel because it was a part of my course material in a university class. Vourvouslias’ novel evokes all the feelings of horror that dystopian works tend to successfully do for readers. But, what makes this horror a little different is the world of Ink isn’t like the world of 1984 or The Hunger Games. The world of Ink is here and has been here for quite some time.
The novel is split between four characters: Finn, Mari, Del, and Abbie. All the characters are working towards equality for the “inks,” who are immigrants with different levels of privilege in society. The inks’ privilege is dictated by the color of their tattoo, which lets others know if they are temporary workers, permanent residents, or citizens. The characters’ narratives orbit around and entangle with one another. The main storyline focuses on the effort to free the inks from their forced branding. Finn and Mari are coupled at the beginning of the novel. Finn’s a “legal” citizen and enjoys all the privileges that come with it. Mari is an inked citizen, confined to certain buses and curfews. Their interracial relationship explores the reality of what it is like to fall in love in a world that believes certain people aren’t worthy of being treated as human. Finn begins the novel with no knowledge about how oppressive his nonchalant attitude is when it comes to referring to Mari as an ink. It’s an interesting thing to explore considering that in our own world, more and more relationships are interracial and most often involve one person having more privilege than the other. Finn’s character was always considered an ally to me as I read the novel, but he understandably had limitations because of his non-inked skin.
Del and Mari bring some magical realism to the story. Del is half Native-American, lives on a farm with his wife, who desperately wants to move to the city. Del’s love for his land is deeper than just the fact that it’s his home. He’s connected to it in a spiritual way that allows him to know when someone has stepped foot on the land without being welcomed on it. Mari is “twinned” with a jaguar. It is described as a companion that she was born with in order to protect her. It makes multiple appearances throughout her narrative, exploring an unseen world and shielding her from the evils that lurk there. The addition of these magical elements gave me an extended look at who Del and Mari were as characters. Their powers acted as a window into their histories, reminding me that they represented more than themselves in this novel. They stood for their culture and their people.
For me, Abbie’s character grew the most through the course of the novel. The fact that she was the youngest might have something to do with my feeling. She starts the story off as seventeen, working with her mother at a facility that takes inks to chip and imprison them. Once she gets involved with helping a few of them escape and helps create patches to cover their tattoos she’s forever changed. She becomes an activist and that leads her down a path with some serious consequences.
Multiple narratives can be a tricky thing to pull off but without it, this novel things wouldn’t feel as honest. The subject of immigration touches the lives of many, so seeing one side of the story wouldn’t have been satisfactory. Ink reminds readers of the past with callbacks to internment camps, offers commentary on the present with the hierarchical system inks are forced into, and warns about a potential future where inked skin (which could just as easily be a wall) could permanently exclude a whole group of people. Ink is definitely a must-read, created for a time where history is once again repeating itself.