Memory of Water
By: Emmi Itäranta
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase
Global warming has changed the world’s geography and its politics. Wars are waged over water, and China rules Europe, including the Scandinavian Union, which is occupied by the power state of New Qian. In this far north place, seventeen-year-old Noria Kaitio is learning to become a tea master like her father, a position that holds great responsibility and great secrets. Tea masters alone know the location of hidden water sources, including the natural spring that Noria’s father tends, which once provided water for her whole village.
But secrets do not stay hidden forever, and after her father’s death the army starts watching their town-and Noria. And as water becomes even scarcer, Noria must choose between safety and striking out, between knowledge and kinship.
Imaginative and engaging, lyrical and poignant, Memory of Water is an indelible novel that portrays a future that is all too possible.
I had heard this book in passing maybe a year ago or so when I was looking up books translated to English from Finnish (or any recent Scandinavian literature, actually). The premise sounded interesting but it was only a few months ago that I got around to checking it out. It falls more on the dystopian side of literature, but still works for this month’s Sci-Fi event as it’s set in a future ravaged by climate change.
Memory of Water is a beautifully written novel by Emmi Itäranta. The narrative in which she writes in–first person from Noria’s perspective, with chapters that often talk about the malleability and nature of water–really sets the tone of the story. But perhaps what struck me the most about the book was the worldbuilding; this future in which Noria lives in is a greatly changed one from ours in which global warming has greatly changed the landscape, fresh water is a scarcity, and the geopolitical situation has greatly changed, with the government clamping down on rebellions and holding an iron grip over the control of water. The infusion of Finnish/Western cultural elements with Eastern elements was pretty cool, the infusion felt pretty flawless. The haunting elements from our time added to the story, whether it was Noria and Sanja’s contemplation on what those shiny discs were or about the years before the energy wars. And all of the traditions and etiquette around the tea ceremony was also very interesting, very intricate.
Admittedly this book is a slow read. Perhaps it was the mood I was in at the time I was reading it, but it did take a bit of effort to get through the novel and keep on reading. But on the flipside, the slow build up of the story and the growing tension of what’s happening in Noria’s village does add to the suspense; I found myself quite unnerved in the last third of the novel as the walls and her enemies started closing in on her. I guess it’s how you can tell you’re reading a good dystopian novel, when the danger really feels close at hand, especially when the danger’s unseen.
Nonetheless it was an interesting read with lots of interesting themes weaving in and out of the story–of family and deciding your fate, deciding what you want to do with your life, of friendship, of doing the right thing for the many. Noria and Sanja’s friendship was a highlight of this novel, as was Noria’s own coming of age as she follows her father’s footsteps and ultimately makes her own decisions about the hidden water sources.
Despite of the mood I was in when I was reading this book and what I was going through when I was reading this, Memory of Water was an interesting read. I look forward to reading whatever Emmi Itäranta writes next. I highly recommend this book if you’re into dystopian literature, looking for literature written by Finnish authors, and/or a reader of young adult fiction.