Review: Nostalgia by M. G. Vassanji

2017: 9
Rating 4 of 5 stars
Published September 2016

In the future, perhaps by the end of this century, people who can afford it will be able to live practically forever. You can have new body and even new memories,  a whole new past for you. But the brain is not as easy to change. Even though new memories can be installed, sometimes old memories leak through. This is called Leaking Memory Syndrome, aka Nostagia. It can kill you so you go to a specialist doctor like Dr. Frank Sina who will plug the memory leak.

Presley Smith came to Dr. Sina for help. He was troubled by a few random thoughts. “The Lion comes out at midnight”. He assumed they were from his former life. In the end, he didn’t want Frank’s help and was determined to suppress the old memories himself. Frank becomes somewhat obsessed with helping Presley though he doesn’t really know why this patient has affected him more than others. He’s not even put off when it turns out the government is also interested in Presley’s whereabouts and ordering Frank to leave it alone. Why is Frank determined to help Presley? Who is Presley? Who is Frank?

This world is also divided, with a long border manned to keep a section of the world that was decimated by a nuclear accident isolated. The government (s?) would have you believe that anyone that lives behind the wall is a terrorist or has the potential to be one. It is not safe, the people are poor yet it’s also a tourist destination for the curious. A young female reporter, Holly, goes in to a village compound to bring the sights to the outside world and is abducted. She ends up understanding and supporting the dogma of the society.

In society, the people that live with the memories over and over are taking jobs and making the younger generations hungry and unemployed and there’s a vast movement afoot to urge the regenerated people to let themselves die out. There are religious factions that also protest the immortality. Frank becomes aquainted with a Buddhist woman who believes in reincarnation.

Holly, Frank and Presley are all tied together somehow but neither we nor Frank know how. Frank only knows he feels invested in Holly’s predicament and Presley’s mental health.

The story is intriguing though not full of action. It’s all kind of subliminal and low key. The theme of whether people should live forever and the ethics of it, the complications and the divide between those that can afford to do it and those that can’t are explored.

Nostalgia is one of the books on the shortlist for Canada Reads 2017. Whether it’s voted as the one book all Canadians should read or not remains to be seen. It’s an interesting concept and it might be a good book to teach in high school.

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