Nancy Kress

Beggars in Spain

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  • Features 26 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
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Beggars in Spain Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 58-page guide for “Beggars in Spain” by Nancy Kress includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 26 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like What the Strong Owe the Weak and Individual Freedom Versus Social Equality.

Beggars in Spain is a science fiction novel published in 1993 by Nancy Kress. It is a continuation of Kress’s 1991 novella of the same name. Set in a future in which genetic modification allows parents to give birth to children with pre-selected traits, the book’s plot revolves around the emergence of highly intelligent, highly accomplished “Sleepless” individuals who are bred so that they do not require sleep.

Plot Summary

The novel is divided into four parts, with the original novella making up the first part. In Book 1, the year is 2008. Chicago entrepreneur Roger Camden and his wife Elizabeth approach Dr. Susan Melling about a new form of genetic modification she developed that removes the need for sleep. Elizabeth becomes pregnant with twins and gives birth to a genetically-modified Sleepless baby named Leisha and her “normal” twin sister, Alice. Susan later finds that Sleepless do not age past young adulthood and will have extended lives.

As a teenager, Leisha socializes with other Sleepless teenagers including Tony Indivino and the ultra-wealthy orphan, Jennifer Sharifi. As the Sleepless teenagers come of age resentment between unmodified Sleepers and the Sleepless grows. Tony and Jennifer build a refuge for Sleepless called Sanctuary, which Jennifer later moves to a space station. Tony arranges for the escape of an abused Sleepless boy and is arrested for kidnapping. While Tony is awaiting trial in prison, fellow inmates murder him.

Leisha’s relationship with her Sleeper sister, Alice is complex. Tony called Sleepers, “beggars in Spain,” and Leisha tended to agree. When Alice and another Sleeper rescue an abused seven-year-old Sleepless girl, Leisha realizes that Tony’s characterization of Sleepers as envious parasites is deeply misguided.

In Book 2, the year is 2051, and Leisha runs a law practice in Chicago. She meets with Calvin Hawke, an industry leader in the We-Sleep Movement, a Populist consumer revolution in which Sleepers only buy sleeper-made products. Leisha attempts to act as a bridge between the Sleepers and Sleepless communities. Meanwhile, new Sleepless are born naturally to other Sleepless living in Sanctuary, led by Jennifer.

Geneticist Dr. Walcott claims to be able to transform a Sleeper into a Sleepless, but suggests that Jennifer stole his research. Later, Walcott’s assistant is killed in a car accident caused by sabotage, and Leisha points to Jennifer as the murderer. Susan informs Leisha that Walcott’s research is a fabrication, designed to lure Jennifer into stealing it. Hawke is the mastermind behind the scheme, motivated by his hatred of Sleepless and the boost in profits he received after Jennifer’s arrest. Jennifer is acquitted. Leisha retires from her law practice and goes to live in exile at Susan’s home in New Mexico.

In Book 3, the year is 2075, and Leisha still lives in New Mexico. With most of the labor in the world economy now automated, 80% of Americans live entirely on government assistance. They are known as “Livers.”

Meanwhile, Sanctuary breeds a new “Supersleepless” baby named Miri, whose brain is three to four times faster than that of a normal Sleepless. Miri is also Jennifer’s granddaughter. Due to their increased brain-speed, Miri and the other Supers twitch, stutter, and struggle to keep their oversized heads upright.

Back on Earth, Leisha mentors a 10-year-old Liver boy named Drew Arlen. During a physical altercation with Leisha’s nephew, Eric, Drew loses the use of his legs. After an experimental surgery, Drew goes on to invent hypnosis that mimics lucid dreaming. Miri takes part in Drew’s art and learns to fix the Supers’ abnormalities.

On Sanctuary, Jennifer orders the death of a Sleeper baby born there and a Sleepless woman who became disabled after an accident. Soon after, she has Miri’s brother killed after he falls down an elevator shaft. Led by 16-year-old Miri, the Supers start a resistance group known as “The Beggars,” who thwart Jennifer’s plan to release bioweapons in major American cities. Jennifer is arrested for treason, and Leisha represents her at her trial. Leisha provides a haven for Miri and the Supers.

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