Book Review: Nostalgia by M. G. Vassanji

Title: Nostalgia
Author: M. G. Vassanji

My Rating: ♥♥♥

NostalgiaNostalgia was the fifth book I read out of the eight that I have chosen to look at from the CBC Canada Reads 2017 Longlist. It’s interesting sometimes when I look back at the list to see why I picked something. I wrote that I thought it sounded interesting because “It deals with the problems of memory that we might face should we overcome the impediments to immortality.”

Well, the book didn’t really turn out to be about that. The main character, Dr Frank Sina, lives in a world in the future (the specific time was never really defined), where people can choose to abandon their lives and be given a new physical and psychological persona – a process called rejuvenation. It seemed to be something more for the privileged few, and in fact it has cause something of a rift between two distinct sectors of the world population – those who can and those who can’t.

The first two-thirds of the book really drew me in. Frank is approached by a new, intriguing patient, Presley Smith. Presley is suffering from “nostalgia,” a condition that happens to those who have been rejuvenated where memories from their past lives come leaking through. Frank feels mysteriously drawn to Presley and his case, and the leaking memories that Presley has seem to be linked to Frank in some intriguing way. This is where the dystopian thing comes in, and Frank is warned by the big-brother government agency to stay away. Of course, he doesn’t and it feels like he is in grave danger.

I was really drawn in to that whole story, but unfortunately I felt my attention really start to waver in the last one-third of the book. I couldn’t help but wonder about what happens to people’s loved ones when they abandon their old lives to start fresh. And don’t people whose loved ones have rejuvenated go around seeing their faces in every stranger? And what about the fake pasts that people are given when they rejuvenate? Don’t they ever wonder what their past was really like? I don’t know…this whole rejuvenation thing just didn’t seem to add up with the way normal people would react and feel about things.

I think this book would be good for an advanced English class in high school, or even a philosophy course at university. But do I think it’s a book that all of Canada needs to read right now? No. The speculative ideas about the dystopian world and the divide between those on each side of the Long Border were interesting, and resembled the divide between the western world and other countries. But I just think the whole concept was a little too “out there” for me to believe it needs to be read by everyone.


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