The Art of The Dedication

While combing through all three novels to look for quotes for a blog post I’m currently writing, I took a second to once again look at Jemisin’s dedications. These drew my attention because of how impersonal they are. Generally, book dedications will be for friends, family, or even a funny shout out to the fans. But Jemisin’s are distinctly different than most that I have encountered before. Upon first glance they can be slightly confusing, however, the more you read and the more knowledge of this world that you acquire, the more they begin to make sense.

The dedication for The Fifth Season reads, “For all those who have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question (Jemisin, The Fifth Season).” The first time that I read this I crafted many assumption as to what it could mean. Immediately I thought that she was probably talking about race, blackness is apart of the course title after all. I also thought it could be referencing women’s rights as well. Or it could even be both working in tandem, Jemisin is a powerful female African American writer, and could be trying to call attention to her struggle. While all this still could be true, my perception has changed. About halfway or so through the first book, around the time we put it together that Damaya, Syenite, and Essun were all the same person, I started to apply this dedication to Essun. This whole first book is her fighting for respect, whether it be at the Fulcrum, in Meov, or Castrima. However, race is still apart of it, Essun is an orogene, she has had to fight not only for respect but also for survival. For the basic right to breathe.

To me the dedication for The Obelisk Gate is a little more specific, “To those who have no choice but to prepare their children for the battlefield (Jemisin, The Obelisk Gate).” As soon as I read this I knew it had to be about Nassun. I had just finished The Fifth Season and one of my biggest hopes was that we would finally learn more about her. And in part this quote is about Nassun. All of the people she considers parents, yes I am including Schaffa because that is what he is to her, have been preparing her to have to fight to survive in their world. However, I think the most important part of this dedication are the words “who have no choice.” While it took me a little while to get there, I found that this dedication is directed not only to children, but their parents too. Essun had no choice in the way she raised Nassun. She had to make her strong like her or they would both be murdered. One of the hardest parts of this book to read was the scene where we learn that Essun had broken Nassun’s hand. Then Nassun has the heartbreaking thought, “The Fulcrum is why her mother never loved her (Jemisin, The Obelisk Gate, 268).” But we know that Essun loves her, and worse yet we know that Essun broke her hand because she loves her.

As I have yet to finish The Stone Sky I am hesitant to state any final ideas on its dedication. But I want to talk about it because it is my personal favorite. “To those who’ve survived: Breathe. That’s it. Once more. Good. You’re good. Even if you’re not, you’re alive. That is a victory (Jemisin, The Stone Sky).” I love because it was exactly what I needed to hear coming into this book. I wish that I could share it with all the characters too because I think they need to hear it. This dedication has an air of finality to it, we’re coming to the end of this story and we all know it. Having a reminder to keep breathing during this book really is the best thing I could have asked for.

Dedications as an art are a funny thing. They can be special shoutouts or, like these, add something to the story. Looking more closely at these have helped me see them as a largely under appreciated paratext that can help contextualize novels as they apply to both our world, and the world of the novel.

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