Monday, September 19, 2016

NOSTALGIA BY M.G. VASSANJI

Hello everyone!

I am back with another book review, today it is Nostalgia by M.G. Vassanji. Thank you to Penguin Random House for sending me a copy of this book for an honest review, as always, all opinions are my own.


This was such an odd little book. It was vaguely reminiscent of 1984 by George Orwell (which I'll admit, I only read 2/3 of) and just a good YA dystopian from the adult/scientist's perspective.

It follows, mainly, a character named Dr. Frank Sina and takes place in our world, later on. I'm not sure the exact timeline, the only date we are given is 2032, and it's after that year so I would say anywhere from 16-20 years in the future. And humans have finally achieved the ultimate goal; immortality.

In this world, people are still born like they are today, but every once-in-a-while, if they become too old, or dissatisfied with their life, they undergo a process called rejuvenation, performed by doctors like Frank. They can change their physical appearances, but more importantly, their previous memories are tucked away and sealed off a la Sam Winchester style (10 points if you get that reference). After they old memories are 'gone,' a new story is imagined by the doctors, in conference with the patient, and is implanted into the mind. By law, the info from the old life is not held onto after the four week grace period, in case of course the client decides that they want their old life back. It's a fascinating idea, but sometimes, it doesn't work 100%. Sometimes, the old life, the old memories leak through, aptly named Leaked Memory Syndrome, or as it's more commonly known, Nostalgia. And this can be fatal if not fixed up quickly.

While the story loosely follows Frank and his patient Presley Smith, who is experiencing Nostalgia, we also see a world outside this near-utopia, the vaguely dystopic land across the Long Border, to the south. Because this society likes sealing things off, they decided to build a wall just above the Mexican border (sound familiar?). I'm still not clear on the reasoning, the less developed nation couldn't afford such fancy procedures to prolong life and therefore wrecked havoc on those in the north? Regardless of the reason for the wall, it has caused many issues on either side. In the south, warlords have become more powerful than ever, factions pitted against each other, resources limited to whatever the north is willing to send over, people starving to the point of canabalism.

One of the side storylines is about a woman who travels to the south for a news story. Upon arrival, she is attacked and held hostage by one of the groups. Although terrified, she begins to see that they are fighting for a united world, "One World for Every One" or OWEO as they've dubbed it. Most of the north thinks she is dead, but Frank seems to think other wise, writing his own narrative as to what is happening to her.

The writing is very much no-nonsense. It gets straight to the point fairly quickly, and Frank's journalling has an eery feeling, you don't quite know if he is making things up or if he actually knows something nobody else does. The author is able to do a decent story with a twist or two in less than three hundred pages, which in itself is applaudable.

I did have a few issues with the book, which ultimately resulted in a 3/5 star rating.

Firstly, while I enjoyed the world the author has built, there were a few fuzzy details that I felt like could have been explained a bit more. Somethings were minor, like the robot/disembodied voice that was in the computer/study every night when Frank went to look something up. I'm not sure if it was internal or external, a voice in the computer or an actual robot. But really, in the grand scheme of things, that didn't matter. Things like why was the border wall built, and just more info in general about the south. There wasn't much info on who was in charge, how it got that way, etc. I have a hard time believing that those in the north would have so much hatred towards those in the south that they would sentence them, essentially, to death in such horrific conditions. Even with the Caesar Flickerman style talk show (another 10 points if you get that one), I have a hard time believing that a group of people could be rallied that want to kill the people in the south, despite the poll suggesting that "91.5% of the citizens of the north want to 'Let Them Die'." Maybe that's just me having too much faith in the future world.

I also found that the pacing of the story was a little off. Some moments were dragging, then others went so fast I'm not sure what was happening. The writing style was to the point, but sometimes I felt it was lacking something for the reader to latch on to, and I found myself having a hard time getting into the story at some points.

In the end, I did enjoy this book, but it wasn't my favourite.