*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Author: M.G. Vassanji
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Publication Date: September 20, 2016
Synopsis from Goodreads:
In the indeterminate future in an unnamed western city, physical impediments to immortality have been overcome. As society approaches the prospect of eternal life, a new problem must be confronted: with the threat of the brain’s storage capacity being overwhelmed, people want to move forward into the future free from redundant, unwanted and interfering memories. Rejuvenated bodies require rejuvenated identities–all traces of a person’s past are erased and new, complete fictions are implanted in their stead. On occasion, though, cracks emerge, and reminders of discarded lives seep through. Those afflicted suffer from Leaked Memory Syndrome, or Nostalgia, whereby thoughts from a previous existence burrow in the conscious mind threatening to pull sufferers into an internal abyss. Doctor Frank Sina specializes in sealing these memory leaks. But one day, Presley Smith arrives in Frank’s office. Persistent thoughts are torturing Presley, recurring images of another time and place. As he tries to save Presley from the onslaught of memory, Frank finds clues that suggest Presley’s past may be located in war-torn, nuclear-ravaged Maskinia, a territory located in the southern hemisphere, isolated from the north by fiercely guarded borders and policy barriers. Who was Presley before the Department remade him, what secrets are buried in the memories that are encroaching upon him?
This was my first foray into the books of M.G. Vassanji, and I’m definitely ready to read more. Nostalgia introduces the reader to a future society in a mysterious sci-fi world in a concise but moving story. In this world, identity is something that no longer belongs to the individual and death is no longer an imminent threat. Humanity has lost not only personhood, but also any sense of mortality as well. People are divided by religion, by their desire to live forever or die naturally, and even by their own sense of consciousness and reality. Vassanji has weaved together a complicated story that could have easily been expanded to double the length, or even into a series. I think my main criticism would be the length of this story. So many interesting ideas and complicated topics are introduced, and there was not enough space for the author to really delve into the nitty-gritty details and to fully flesh out these ideas. I’d love to see a follow up novel to this series where more of these themes are explored.
Frank, the protagonist, is struggling to understand the world around him. He’s questioning his own beliefs and the world that he knows. His patient, Presley Smith, is having strange dreams that spark deep confusion and thought in Frank. As Frank seeks answers, he begins to learn that perhaps everything he’s known is not as it seems. Perhaps there are other answers out there.
The book has an overall sinister feel, and does not have a warm and fuzzy happy ending. It’s not a feel good book, but instead is a story to provoke thought and to cause the reader to question the transformation of technology in our own world. Vassanji posits a potential future reality for us that could be something our world one day sees.
I thought this book was very interesting and well-written considering it’s length. It made me happy to see it on 2017’s Canada Reads list and although it was not the winner, it’s a book that definitely deserved to be a contender. Although I was unsatisfied with the ending, I found the characters to be unique and compelling. Vassanji’s way of writing is slow and thoughtful, thorough and pensive. I didn’t feel rushed or hurried. I wanted to savour each page. The reader is given tidbits of information which helps build the mystery and intrigue.
I hope you’ll give this one a try, because it’s definitely worth it, especially for sci-fi fans!