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Booker International Longlist 2021 – In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova

125. Maria Stepanova - In Memory of Memory 2

Book 12 read and rated by panellists Tracy & BookWorm

In Memory of Memory
Translated by Sasha Dugdale from Russian
Published by Fitzcarraldo Editions

Details from the official Booker Site: In Memory of Memory tells the story of how a seemingly ordinary Jewish family somehow managed to survive the myriad persecutions and repressions of the last century. Following the death of her aunt, Maria Stepanova builds the story out of faded photographs, old postcards, letters, diaries, and heaps of souvenirs left behind: a withered repository of a century of life in Russia.

In dialogue with writers like Roland Barthes, W. G. Sebald, Susan Sontag and Osip Mandelstam, In Memory of Memory is imbued with rare intellectual curiosity and a wonderfully soft-spoken, poetic voice. Dipping into various forms – essay, fiction, memoir, travelogue and historical documents – Stepanova assembles a vast panorama of ideas and personalities and offers an entirely new and bold exploration of cultural and personal memory.

About the Author

Maria Stepanova is a poet, essayist, journalist and the author of ten poetry collections and three books of essays. She has received several Russian and international literary awards (including the prestigious Andrey Bely Prize and Joseph Brodsky Fellowship). In Memory of Memory won Russia’s Bolshaya Kniga Award in 2018. Her collection of poems, War and the Beasts and the Animals, is published by Bloodaxe in Sasha Dugdale’s translation in 2021, and is a Poetry Book Society Translation Choice. Stepanova is the founder and editor-in-chief of the online independent crowd-sourced journal, which covers the cultural, social and political reality of contemporary Russia.

Tracy’s Thoughts: The writing in this book was exquisite. Evocative descriptions of time and place, people who jumped out from the page. If only it was really fiction.

This was based on Stepanova’s family history- I think there was enough speculation on her part to qualify it as fiction if you’re a stickler for the rules. That speculation does fill in gaps, and the idea to write a history of the family, though not original, was handled in a unique way by the author.

If I had read this just as a book, and not for a fiction prize, I think I would have absolutely loved it. As it stands, that perception that it’s supposed to be made up colored my reading experience and I didn’t love it as much as I could have. Perhaps I’ll revisit it someday.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 3.5/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 15.5/20

BookWorm’s Thoughts: Unlike Tracy I didn’t love this book and I put this down to the fact that short stories and non-fiction are just not my thing. This book is split into different sections (short stories) that explore the history of the authors family and other historical figures (non-fiction) . While some sections really grabbed me other sections were so dry it was a real struggle for me to carry on reading.

I like the idea of the book and think it was an original way to tackle a family history I just didn’t enjoy the execution

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 1/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 11/20

When We Cease to Understand the World 19/20
At Night all Blood is Black 18/20
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed 18/20
Summer Brother 17.5/20
I Live in the Slums 17.25/20
The Pear Field 17/20
The Employees 16/20
The Perfect Nine 16/20
Wretchedness 13.5/20
In Memory of Memory 13.25/20
An Inventory of Losses 12.7/20
The War of the Poor 11.25/20

Have you read this one? What did you think?

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