Genre: Adult, Science Fiction, Dystopia Publication.Date June 10th 2014 Pages: 272 Published By: Harper Voyager Author Emmi Itaranta Memory of Water on Goodreads My review copy: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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An amazing, award-winning speculative fiction debut novel by a major new talent, in the vein of Ursula K. Le Guin
Global warming has changed the world's geography and its politics. Wars are waged over water, and China rules Europe, including the Scandinavian Union, which is occupied by the power state of New Qian. In this far north place, seventeen-year-old Noria Kaitio is learning to become a tea master like her father, a position that holds great responsibility and great secrets. Tea masters alone know the location of hidden water sources, including the natural spring that Noria's father tends, which once provided water for her whole village.
But secrets do not stay hidden forever, and after her father's death the army starts watching their town-and Noria. And as water becomes even scarcer, Noria must choose between safety and striking out, between knowledge and kinship.
Imaginative and engaging, lyrical and poignant, Memory of Water is an indelible novel that portrays a future that is all too possible.
“Water is the most versatile of all elements. It isn't afraid to burn in fire or fade into the sky, it doesn't hesitate to shatter against sharp rocks in rainfall or drown into the dark shroud of the earth. It exists beyond all eginnings and ends. On the surface nothing will shift, but deep in underground silence, water will hide and with soft fingers coax a new channel for itself, until stone gives in and slowly settles around the secret space.Death is water's close companion, and neither of them can be separated from us, for we are made of the versatilitiy of water and the closeness of death. Water doesn't belong to us, be we belong to water: when it has passed through our fingers and pores and bodies, nothing separates us from earth.”
“The world will not spin slower or faster when we have passed through the gate together. What remains is light on water, or a shifting shadow.”
“But water doesn't care for human sorrows. It flows without slowing or quickening its pace in the darkness of the earth, where only stones will hear.”
“I would like to think she turns around and goes home and does one thing differently that day because of what she has imagined, and again the day after that, and the day after that.”
Filled with philosophical themes, existentialism and moments of pure beauty, Memory of Water is a highly original, remarkably intelligent and infuriatingly teasing work of speculative fiction set in a dystopian world.
What we have here is a sad and hopeless world driven to the brink of extinction by its own inhabitants; humans. The global warming caused all the ice to melt, overflowing the oceans. The earth is scorched, the heat is almost unbearable, and the drinking water is almost impossible to get. Those who have access to it, hold all the power. The government is rationing the purified sea water, making sure people get only enough to survive, and executing those desperate enough to dig illegal wells and water pipes.
Memory of a Water tells the story of tea master's daughter, Noria, as she is charged with keeping a life-changing secret. A secret of a hidden fresh water spring, guarded by generations of tea masters.
The setting, the customs and the unique Scandinavian atmosphere make this story feel exotic and fresh. The characters - oddly calm and focused in times of such desperation and thirst - surprise the reader with their coldly calculated decisions and peaceful acceptance of their fates. The plot line flows lazily like a stream of arctic fresh water - it speeds up rarely, it offers very few twists and instead of smashing into a dam, it flows into the ocean, offering no definite ending or clear conclusion to the story. On top of all that, while this book is supposedly written with teen readers in mind, I would not dare categorize it as YA fiction. It's neighter YA nor adult story, it's simply its own thing. Frankly, I don't believe readers who are used to reading fast-paced, action-packed YA blockbusters will find this book to their taste. (Side note: It's been pointed out to me that this book is only marketed as a YA novel in English speaking countries, and it was originally published in Finland as adult novel.) It's on the slower, more contemplative side, with no clearly marked boundaries and completely unconventional construction. I don't think I have ever read anything quite like it, but I think fans of Japanese fiction (Haruki Murakami, Yukio Mishima, Abe Kobo) , or, say, Paolo Coelho and José Saramago, will have better luck with it. In other words, it's more of a book for those who appreciate non-commercial, lyrical, meditative part-contemporary, part-SciFi cautionary tales.
Reading Memory of Water was definitely an enriching experience for me. I was drawn to this bleak and yet somehow beautiful world. The gentle and evocative style of the prose and the fascinating tradition of the tea ceremony contrasted with the injustice, the cruelty and the suffering depicted in this story, made this a fascinating read. I am very upset that there will be no sequel, for there are so many questions demanding to be answered, it's almost maddening. And yet, in a way, I understand why Itaranta decided to leave an open ending and so many secrets left undiscovered. In the end, this story is like water itself, "it exists beyond all beginnings and ends".
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About the author:
Emmi Itaränta leads a double life, working mornings in an office at the University of Kent in the UK, and spending her with fictional characters in imaginary worlds.Twitter: @emmi_elina
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