Sunday, August 22, 2010

"Memory Wall", short stories from Anthony Doerr

What are memories when you're the only one that has them. What are you when memory fades. "Memory Wall" is a book of stories, each interesting on its own, that are tied together into a cohesive whole, bound by a familiar and universal theme.

The settings are diffuse: South Africa, China, Lithuania, wartime Germany, wartime Korea, Ohio, Wyoming, and Idaho. The portraits of human struggle, cruelty, charity, and frailty are written with the care of a poet. That's my take based on what my fingers just did on the keyboard and no special knowledge.

Forms of memory are explored related to:

Seeds, "What is a seed if not the purest form of memory, a link to every generation that has gone before it.";

Places, "Every stone, every stair, is a key to a memory.";

Possessions, "Everything, all of it, our junk, our dregs, our memories.";

Fossils, "Nothing lasts, for a fossil to happen is a miracle... It's the rarest thing that does not get erased, broken down, tranformed.";

Personal history, "Memory builds itself without any clean or objective logic: a dot here, another dot here, and plenty of dark spaces in between. What we know is always evolving, always subdividing.";

Aging, "with the lamp extinguished beside her, streams of unbidden memories rise---decades old, deeply buried.";

Dying, "First we die," the woman says, "Then our bodies are buried. So we die two deaths. Then, in another world, folded inside the living world we wait. We wait until everyone who knew us when we were children has died. And when the last of them has died, we finally die our third death."

These topics and quotes are examples of what flows through each unique tale and, standing alone, they in no way begin to capture the beauty of this book that may be, just maybe, found in the eyes of a reader. "Memory Wall" is pleasantly mesmerizing. Some introspection is required. It comes naturally.

The payoff is personal, I would guess, as it conjures up thoughts and ideas. For me it was a determination to make lists, do those crosswords, organize old photos, and buy some gingko.


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