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4.0 out of 5 starsPretty good book, great themes, ending alright
Reviewed in the United States on March 11, 2018
The book was very intriguing in terms of its construction and its fast-paced style. I love the constant switching of perspectives. I love the way dialogue comes out of the narration. I love how it switches from third person to first person without skipping a beat, feeling very natural in terms of how the dialogue is expressed without using quotes most of the time. I loved the theme of memory, and the techniques the main character Samuel uses to instill memories within others. As the story unfolded, it was suspenseful in terms of finding out how everything went wrong. The very, very end was a little bit anticlimactic. I thought something else could have been done to intertwine some of the different storylines and ideas that recur throughout the novel in a more dynamic way. Very much worth the read. It’s a novel novel, indeed.
4.0 out of 5 starsTopical, poignant and very innovative, a really interesting book
Reviewed in the United States on July 12, 2016
Everything I Don't Remember won the August prize for best Swedish fiction book of the year in 2015. Generally, the fact that it was awarded a prize would be a clear indicator that it won't be a book for me. Not so in this instance. I can actually for once understand why this book won an award. Everything I don't remember is about Samuel who died in a horrific car crash. Was it an accident? Was it suicide? An unnamed writer sets out to reconstruct Samuel's last day and learns a lot about the young man through conversations with his imposing friend and roommate, Vandad, his ex-girlfriend, Laide, his arty childhood friend, Panther, as well as Samuel's mother and grandmother who has dementia. If you prefer a traditional linear narrative and have all questions answered at the end, this may be difficult and ultimately unsatisfactory reading. It is ambiguous and in the end, some things are left to your own interpretation. It needs concentration as it feels like putting together a puzzle. It's very innovatively structured with small bits of dialogue without any introduction of the speaker, the perspectives change back and forth, and the timeline switches. Sounds very confusing, but I found it really easy to follow once I got past the first couple of pages. The characters are portrayed really convincingly and the atmosphere is captured extremely well. Laide is a Swedish - Arabic interpreter who is passionate about helping women and supporting asylum seekers. Samuel whose father is North African works for the migration board. Current and authentic, part of the book conveys the experience of immigrants in Sweden (though it could equally be set elsewhere). But the main focus is on how memories relate to reality. The memories of Samuel's friends show clearly that there is no objective truth and that all narrators are unreliable. It's also a very touching story about the definition of love, it's quite a painful story about grief and about making the most of the time you have. I really enjoyed reading this. It all felt very realistic and it was easy for me to become invested in the characters although their lives were basically downright depressing but I was keen on putting the puzzle together and it was worth it in the end. This won't be for everyone, I'm sure, but if you are open to a different reading experience with a story that is topical as well as poignant, this is worthwhile picking up. Many thanks to Atria Books for my ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.
The main character, Samuel, has a Swedish mother and a North African father. We know in the first few pages that Samuel will die in a car accident that could be an accident or a suicide. His best friend, a huge hulky guy, tells the story because he decides to interview family and friends and write a book about his dead friend. The dead man’s mother will only communicate with the would-be author by email but he interviews everyone else.
Samuel feels that he has memory problems (thus the book’s title), aggravated by his doting on his grandmother who lapses in and out of Alzheimer’s. Sometimes she’s completely lucid, at other times, she doesn’t know who people are. So he deliberately “collects things” for his Experience Bank. But his good friend thinks “There was something desperate about the whole thing. Samuel actively tried to seek out new experiences, but he was completely incapable of enjoying anything. The more he talked about depositing things in his Experience Bank, the emptier he seemed. I remember feeling sorry for him. He seemed lonely.”
Samuel does eventually fall in love with a somewhat older woman but she’s exactly the wrong type for him. She is so insecure that every text from him saying ‘I love you’ she interprets as meaning he is cheating on her. She wonders if the best-bud thing means he is gay or bi. The relationship worked better with hours spent on the phone rather than in-person. So that relationship doesn’t go anywhere. They eventually break up which may have contributed to his suicide, if that is what is was.
The evidence of his death is ambiguous. Why was he going into a curve at 90 miles an hour, where he hit a tree. Why was he not wearing his seatbelt? Yet there were skid marks, so he tried to break.
Samuel worked for a state immigration agency. When his grandmother finally has to leave her home to go into an institution, there is an extended subplot where, while the family decides what to so with the grandmother’s empty house, the two men let a spouse-abused immigrant woman and her two children live rent-free in the house. Within a few weeks when they go to the house for repairs they are stepping over wall-to-wall bodies of immigrants sleeping even on the floor in the kitchen.
A second subplot involves a good female friend of the two men who is an artist in Berlin. So they fly to Berlin or she comes to Stockholm and it gives us a view of the art/party/rave/hook-up/drug scene among young people in the two places. “The girls looked rich, or they must have been rich, because only rich girls can go to a party with so little make-up and such unshaved armpits and such dirty canvas bags without being ashamed.”
As a side note, it’s startling to see how much US TV and media culture influences these Swedish young people. Here’s a passage: “…she wasn’t just beautiful…she was foxier than the Fox River, she was Beyoncé times a hundred, we’re talking Janet Jackson before the plastic surgery, we’re talking that girl from 21 Jump Street, the big sister on Cosbsy, Hilary from Fresh Prince but with brains…”
I was tempted to call the story a bit depressing, given the main theme, but I think an appropriate word is melancholy. The book is structured in unconnected paragraphs of thoughts and people speaking about Samuel to the author, usually two or three paragraphs per page. These paragraphs seldom say who is speaking so takes a constant effort to figure that out from context and it can get tiring.
The author has written several novels, short stories and plays and is also famous for one of the most widely-read on-line articles ever posted in Sweden: “Sweden’s Closet Racists.” A version of the article was published in the New York Times in 2013.