Review of Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta


Well, this is an interesting one… I scooped it off the shelves, after hearing some mixed opinions about it. Would I enjoy it?

memoryofwaterWhen Noria Kaitio reaches her seventeenth birthday, she is entrusted with the secret of a freshwater spring hidden deep within the caves near her small rural village. Its preservation has been the responsibility of her family for generations. Apprenticed to her father, one of the last true tea masters, when Noria takes possession of the knowledge, she becomes much more than the guardian of ancestral treasure: soon, she will hold the fate of everyone she loves in her hands.

While there is a huge clue in the subject matter – the tea ceremony isn’t exactly crammed with fight scenes or car chases – I would like to emphasise that this is science fiction with a strong literary component, therefore the pace is on the leisurely side. For action fans, the compensation is beautiful prose and a ringside seat as a complex, all too flawed character flails around trying to do her best with an increasingly grim situation. Indeed, I spent the second half of the book wishing I could shake some sense into her. But it was all too feasible, as Noria is hopelessly ill equipped to deal with the forces ranging against her, given her training and inclination.

The worldbuilding is subtle and believable. Sadly. The fact that the military is desperate to gain control of all water sources is chillingly plausible – as is their tactic of steadily poisoning the population by squeezing their water ration until people are forced to drink almost anything liquid. It’s a devastatingly effective form of genocide, given how fast we die once water is withdrawn. So there is an inevitability to the outcome. Though I didn’t see the manner in which it unfolded… As for the Epilogue – well that’s a blinder! It completely changed my outlook on the book and its intent. I found myself reappraising Noria’s actions in the light of that final snippet of information and wondering if there was a way things could have ended differently. And concluded they probably couldn’t.

You’ll have gathered this book really got under my skin. I cannot recall feeling quite so churned up about an ending, which means that the book has succeeded – I read a fair amount and though I never bother finishing a book I don’t like, most don’t lodge like a burr at the back of my brain in the way Memory of Water has. I’d love to know what other folks think of this book – so if you have read it, please drop by and tell me your opinion of it, especially that ending!

5 responses »

  1. I am curious about this one but I keep forgetting about it. I have seen good things about it in a variety of places, which is usually a good sign. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. You’re welcome:). I would be delighted if you tracked it down and gave it a go – Himself didn’t get past the first few pages, but I knew it wouldn’t be his cup of tea – because I REALLY want to compare notes about that ending AND that epilogue…

  3. This book looked sooooo interesting, and then I read the sentence about shaking some sense into the main character and my enthusiasm cooled. I don’t get along well with characters who don’t use their wits enough even if it’s realistic for them to act so.

  4. I’m glad you enjoyed this! I think Itäranta represents new kind of era in Finnish literature.
    I liked this book, I think I reviewed it on my blog at some point too. Though what I didn’t like was the ending. It seemed a bit rushed.

    Thought you’d like to know that Itäranta has just published a new book, it’s called City of Woven Streets (not sure if they published it in English already or if it’s bein published this year…) I read it last month in Finnish and liked it even more than Memory of Water. She has a way with words and descriptions 🙂

  5. Thank you for dropping in, Anastasia – and for the recommendation. And I’d agree with the ending… It certainly had my jaw dropping, but did sort of finish the story in a heartbreaking way. I’ll certainly look out for the book – thank you!

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