Nostalgia was a book that I started out wondering just why it had been selected for Canada Reads 2017. The concept, at least at first, seems pretty basic. In the not-so-distant future (although there is a single reference to space colonies, so it’s a little further into the future than I initially thought), the rich, at least, have the option of rejuvenation. In theory, you could live forever. However, the human mind cannot go that long without problems. As a result, when a person undergoes rejuvenation, their memories are wiped and replaced by a new, fake life (referred to as fictions). But for some people, old memories start sneaking through; a condition called Leaked Memory Syndrome, but more commonly ‘Nostalgia’. Sounds harmless, but eventually it causes catastrophic failure, and potentially death.
The main character in the book is a doctor who treats patients for LMS. His latest patient has strange images popping up, but he doesn’t seem to want to be treated to remove these stray images. As well, a government agency is intensely interested in the man. Meanwhile, a reporter who travelled to the last remaining ‘third world’ area (probably Africa, although never fully identified), and was apparently killed there, only to turn up later as a member of a terrorist organization that takes a bus of tourists hostage. She comes across as very Patty Hearst.
For the first half of the book, everything seems pretty straightforward. Even the journal entries that the doctor writes, imagining what happened to the young reporter, with constantly evolving stories, don’t really seem all that deep.
But then things take a turn, and it really started me thinking. How well could these rewritten pasts work in the long term? After all, while the new person remembers a past, they don’t really have a family. They are all faked, so you can never meet them. It seems very isolating. And then there’s the resentment of the young. There are protests from G0s (never rejuvenated) who can’t find jobs and will never inherit money or homes. Then there’s the poor who could never afford the process. And what about religion when you don’t have to think about reincarnation or afterlives?
Combine those questions with the questionable behaviour of the first world towards the third world (seal them off, let them rot, but let tourists go ogle them), and the story started feeling more and more relevant as time went on.
By the end, I was seeing all sorts of parallels to contemporary life and the ‘real’ world. It became very intense, and while I never might have picked up the book on my own, I am glad that I read it.
My current rankings for Canada Reads:
1. The Right To Be Cold
3. Fifteen Dogs
I’m now reading Company Town, and while tomorrow is the start of the debates, I plan to read the last two books, even though I’m not finishing them before finding out which book wins.