BOOK REVIEW | Canada Reads #3 – Nostalgia by M.G. Vassanji

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3/5 stars

From the publisher:
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. He is satisfied in his profession, more or less secure in the life he shares with his much younger lover, content with his own fiction–a happy childhood in the Yukon, an adulthood marked by the influence of a mathematician father and poet mother. 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. Frank’s suspicions are only intensified when the Department of Internal Security takes an interest in Presley. They describe him as one of their own, meaning his new life was one they created for him, and they want him back. Who was Presley before the Department remade him, what secrets are buried in the memories that are encroaching upon him?

As Frank tries to save Presley from both internal and external threats, cracks emerge in his own fiction, and the thoughts that sneak through suggest a connection with the mysterious Presley that goes well beyond a doctor and his patient.

My thoughts:
Another Canada Reads selection complete! 2 more to go!

M.G. Vassanji’s Nostalgia takes place in a future that doesn’t feel too far off. In his world, human bodies don’t die but, rather, are rejuvenated. Old memories are wiped away and replaced with new, exclusively happy, ones, and the body is refreshed. When life gets difficult and the baggage is too much, you can simply request that your new life begin.

Dr. Frank Sina specializes in Leaked Memory Syndrome (LMS), commonly known as Nostalgia. Sufferers of LMS will describe the emergence of past memories, fragments of their old lives seeping into their new ones; Dr. Sina helps to seal these memory leaks. When Presley Smith seeks Dr. Sina’s care for his LMS, Frank is unusually drawn to him, but is unsure why he feels so strongly about helping Presley recover.

Naturally, not everyone is happy about these advances in human technology. There are a group of protestors who take a stand daily, with the threat of self-emolation, saying that people are meant to die. Further, people on their first lives, BabyGens, are frustrated by the people who have lived many lives, the GNs. How can the BabyGens find jobs and live fully when no one ever dies? Is a future like this really sustainable?

Meanwhile, in a place called Maskinia, residents are suffering through war and nuclear destruction. The border is protected, and immigrants often turn to dangerous methods to try to get across to safety. As Dr. Sina works to seal Presley’s memory leaks, he starts to discover that he may have a connection to Maskinia from his earlier life. What is that connection, and why is Dr. Sina so invested in Presley’s history?

There’s a lot going on with this book, and it does get a bit convoluted at times. However, many of the questions it asks are extremely relevant, making it a thought provoking and compelling read.

Read my review of Fifteen Dogs
Read my review of Company Town

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BOOK REVIEW | You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman

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3/5 stars

From the publisher:
A woman known only by the letter A lives in an unnamed American city with her roommate, B, and boyfriend, C, who wants her to join him on a reality show called That’s My Partner! A eats (or doesn’t) the right things, watches endless amounts of television, often just for the commercials—particularly the recurring cartoon escapades of Kandy Kat, the mascot for an entirely chemical dessert—and models herself on a standard of beauty that only exists in such advertising. She fixates on the fifteen minutes of fame a news-celebrity named Michael has earned after buying up his local Wally Supermarket’s entire, and increasingly ample, supply of veal.

Meanwhile B is attempting to make herself a twin of A, who hungers for something to give meaning to her life, something aside from C’s pornography addiction, and becomes indoctrinated by a new religion spread throughout a web of corporate franchises, which moves her closer to the decoys that populate her television world, but no closer to her true nature.

My thoughts:
What occurred to me then…was that living wasn’t a matter of right or wrong or ethics or self-expression. There was no better way to live, or worse. It was all terrible, and you had to do it constantly.

Bleak? Maybe. Relatable? Definitely.

Alexandra Keleeman’s satire is a bold statement on modern life. She tackles consumerism, conformity, and the importance of the individual in an over-marketed world.

The premise is tricky to describe, but here’s my best shot. Our central character, A, has a roommate named B and a boyfriend named C. A eats popsicles and oranges, and is infatuated with Kandy Kakes – an artificial treat that she lusts after while obsessively watching their colourful commercials. A notices strange behaviour from her neighbours, that B is starting to assume physical similarities to herself, and C suddenly disappears. What follows is an examination of the self, or lack of self, in an overly consumptive society.

I enjoyed taking a peek into Keleeman’s world as this book is full of provocative and insightful moments. I’m the same age as the author, and can relate to her take on the obsessions endured by women today. This is a a bizarre, dystopian satire and will not appeal to everyone’s tastes. If you’re a fan of postmodern literature, this is definitely one to read.

BOOK REVIEW | Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury | Banned Books Week

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.

My thoughts:
We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren’t happy. Something’s missing. 

I’m not sure how I’ve made it this far without having read Ray Bradbury, but I am so glad that I have finally remedied this. I picked up Fahrenheit 451 without thinking about Banned Books Week, but the timing could not have been better. I mean, wow! A world in which books are not allowed- horror at its best for bibliophiles.

Fahrenheit 451 was written by Bradbury in 1953, and what a life it has lived since then. Having finally read this, I can see it’s influence in nearly every dystopian / post-apocalyptic book that I have read. Joe Hill’s The Fireman was clearly influenced by this book, I found elements in Josh Malerman’s Bird Box, and the silencing of Clarise due to her hunger for knowledge brought to mind Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

She didn’t want to know how a thing was done, but why. That can be embarrassing. You ask Why to a lot of things and you wind up very unhappy indeed, if you keep at it. 

I cannot add anything of value to the legacy of this book, I can only say that I really enjoyed it. Bradbury has keen insights into humanity, and I found myself highlighting many quotes as I read:

We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?

When I was a boy my grandfather died, and he was a sculptor…he made toys for us and did a million tings in his lifetime; he was always busy with his hands. And when he died, I suddenly realized I wasn’t crying for him at all, but for the things he did. I cried because he would never do them again. 

What are your favourite Ray Bradbury books? The Halloween Tree and The Illustrated Man will be up shortly for me!