Canada Reads: Nostalgia

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The shortlist of this year’s Canada Reads contenders was announced on January 31st. This year, I’m trying to read all of them before the show airs. I managed to get tickets for two of the days and I am absolutely thrilled!

For those of you who aren’t Canadian, or who haven’t heard of Canada Reads, it’s a TV special that airs each year and takes the form of a debate. A different question is chosen every year, and each CanLit pick is defended by a Canadian to stay in the competition and become the yearly winner. Every episode whittles out one book.

This year’s question is: “What is the one book Canadians need now?”

Reading Nostalgia with that question as the lens I understand why it was chosen this year, even if I didn’t find it very enjoyable.

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The essence of the book is that humans have basically found a way to become immortal. Available mostly to the rich, you can be crafted with new parts to live your youth once again or extend your life. The catch is that the bulk of your memories must be wiped, as a way to retain the memories of more than one lifetime has yet to be discovered. New memories will be manufactured for you – of your childhood, family, and seminal experiences, and you’ll never know which ones are false. If you’re lucky, your past self will have left you a nest-egg to start your new life with.

Lucky refugees who manage to cross the Long Border are also ‘granted’ new lives by the government, with the assumption that their original memories and personalities will prevent them from assimilating into their new society.

Nostalgia centers around Doctor Frank Sina, a man who specializes in Nostalgia – patients whose old memories are beginning to leak into their new ones. He becomes intrigued and then obsessed with a new patient of his, Presley. The novel follows Dr. Sina as he deals with his dysfunctional relationship with a ‘BabyGen’, his budding friendship with a pro-death protester, and his (very slow) realization that he and his new patient may be more connected than he thought.

The concept of this book really appealed to me. Somehow though, it felt as if I was waiting the entire novel for things that never happened. It took more than half the book for the cause behind the extreme poverty and political situation surrounding Maskinia to be explained. The issue of refugees and poverty tourism were brought up, but never dived into with real depth.

The ‘long border’ and the state of affairs in Maskinia were talked about mostly through the context of Holly, a reporter who is missing and presumed dead. Everything said about Maskinia I took as speculation, until suddenly it wasn’t. That was pretty unsatisfying in my opinion.

While so many political and philosophical issues were touched on (this is also a post-racial society) they were never given any room or time to grow.

I would have enjoyed Nostalgia better had the author chosen to focus on one or two key topics rather than piled a whole bunch of stuff in there and stirred it together.

I think that this book does address topics that Canadians need to think about now. However, I also think that the quick overview it gives of many issues is not enough. It made me think, but my thoughts were focused more on how much Sina could be trusted as a narrator rather than any of the issues introduced in the narrative.

This book was okay, but I’m reserving judgement on it’s Canada Reads chances until I’ve finished the other contenders.

Have you read Nostalgia? Do you think this is the one book Canadians need now? Let me know in the comments below!

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