In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova

In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova

Russian Literature

Original title -Памяти памяти

Translator – Sasha Dugdale

Source – Personal copy

This was a book that was mentioned before the prize and others questioned if it was a novel at all well it for me fits in that ground between fiction and non-fiction a personal quest the likes of we have seen in books from writers like  Sebald and one of my favorite books of recent year Dušan Šarotar book Panorama. This is a prose work from the Russian writer and Poet Maria Stepanova a graduate of Gorky literature Institute she has been a big presence online in Russian Literature having been behind the site’s open space a Russian daily cultural site and the Colta website project. She is married to a well-known Russian Critic and Journalist this is the first work of hers to be translated she has also a poetry collection that has also been translated by Sasha Dugdale that has also come out she has won a number of the big prizes. So we are off on the next stop on the Booker international list!!

Memory is handed down, history is written down; memory is concerned with justice, history with preciseness; memory moralizes, history tallies up and corrects; memory is personal, istory dreams of objectivity; memory is based not on knowledge, but on experience; compassion woth, sympathy for a desperate pain demanding immediate involvement. At the same time the landscape of memory is strewn with projections fantasiesand misrepresenations – the ghost of today, with their faces turned to the past. Hirsch writes

I love pasages like this that describe what a memory is to us as against history

How to capture this book as it isn’t a novel it is a sort of patchwork of pieces that are all come about from when she cleared her aunt apartment what she does is build a picture of her family as she says they are just ordinary Russian jew family she uses the similar idea to Sebald a sort of post-memory of these lives that haunt her past and the flat she is clearing as she looks at the flotsam and jetson we all leave behind us the photos and letters that are full of ghosts that maybe she is the last to know who and what they were. And in the time they lived in the Ginzburgs is a family that had not lost lives in the Stalin days and with the exception of one member of the family went through the second world war the son of the aunt died in Leningrad it is a touching section a letter from him is followed by the letters of his death.  There is also a piece about how Dickens kept there spirit up in the war when reading great expectations. Near the end of the book her thoughts taker her to the American artist Joseph Cornell(this is a strange series of connections I recently got a novella that is about this artist) he made boxes that are little worlds in themselves and the fact this is her box.

The cemetry as address book foor all humanity sets out everything we need to know with concision. in effect it comes down to names and dates- we don’t need to know any more. We read and remember at most two or three familiar names, for who could fix all its thousands of pages in mind? But supposing those who lie there have an interest in whether they are remembered? All they can hope for is a passerby to stop and read, a strangers, filled with an age- old curiosity about life beforehe appeared in the world, who will pick out their grave from all others, and stan and remark on it. This belief in the redemptive regard of a stranger

What are we this hits it on the head at least a grave that occasionally catches a passerby eye.

I am a fan of this sort of book it is like being on a trip with someone a quest for life it is like breath on the embers of a dying flame just to get them to reignite and spark off again that one last surge of heat. Sebald and Pamuk have influenced her she says that a few times in the book. Unlike those, this is a story of lives that have nothing other than they lived through some of the grimmest and hardest times in Russian history and managed to get through without making a real mark which is an achievement how to avoid death in the siege and then before that Stalin’s purges is a story in itself. what are we when we have gone that is the question without someone to remember us to pass that memory on like an Olympic torch? This is the patchwork quilt of her aunt’s world made up of pieces but in places, there are Maria’s own thoughts filling the spaces in their lives.  Russian Jews family caught in Amber.

Winstons score –  +A a book that just makes you know why you love reading that is something special.

April 2021
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