In Memory of Memory: A Romance
by Maria Stepanova
Translated by Sasha Dugdale
2019 / 2021 (Eng US) – 324 pages
Read by Inga Tudor 14h 46m
Rating: 9.5 / 21st historical fiction
Short List for Booker International 2021
(Both read and listened)
This book, Stepanova’s 5th, was published in Russia and in Europe back in 2019 but it took awhile for it to get to US and English markets. It was on the 2021 Booker Prize Short List and was chosen for the October 2022 read by the Booker Prize reading group. I bought it a few months ago when I found both audible and Kindle versions on sale.
At first I was really disappointed. What the ???? – but I kept going. I rarely quit a book if I’ve bought it although I occasionally return them. Is this fiction or what? It feels more like a nonfiction essay. And so it goes for quite a long time although there is a rather clever set-up. Our protagonist is in her aunt’s apartment to clean it out after her death. There she finds piles and stacks of photos and postcards and letters and diary entries and newspaper clippings covering almost the bulk of her aunt’s life – almost 100 years, Unsorted, unorganized, un”arranged.”
She starts in to sort them, but gets interested and remembers quite lot. This is a large family of Jews living in Russia with the story beginning before WWII. They are workmen and grandmas and artists and poets and professors and doctors and so on. The times are of revolution and Nazism and pogroms and war. There is a huge cultural change with Stalin but also with new poets and novels as well as science and music. “What is to be done?” This is a book of social, intellectual and cultural history as lived by one family and a multitude of changes.
I suppose I was about 1/3 through when the took off on me and left me enthralled – and loving it. This will likely make my Best of Year list in historical fiction – this and The Books of Jacob ~ by Olga Tokarczuk.
It’s about memory – remembering memory and how we remember.- and what and why. The subtitle is “a Romance” so it’s not all sad.