Saturday, March 11, 2017


I don't normally jump heavily onto the Canada Reads bandwagon, but this year the short list really interested me.  Fifteen Dogs by Andrei Alexis is on the short list, which in my opinion means that the competition had better be pretty amazing to remotely compete.  Plus two of the short listed books are science fiction, which intrigued me as well.  I currently have three of the other four books on the short list (I don't currently have The Break by Katherena Vermette), and I will make a valiant effort to read the three of them before the debates at the end of the month.  So first up is Nostalgia by M.G. Vassanji, which I will freely admit was the most intriguing of the remaining four books to me.

Nostalgia takes place in the future.  Humans have found a way to prolong their bodies pretty much indefinitely.  But along with a new body, you have to get a new life.  Your old memories are buried and a new, fictitious life is built for you, complete with brand new memories.  But sometimes memories of your old life resurface.  Left unchecked, they will destroy your mind.  But that's where the nostalgia doctors come in.  These doctors specialize in sealing those memories away. 

Dr. Frank Sina is one such doctor.  But when he is visited by a strange-looking patient named Presley Smith who has begun to have these memories surface, Dr. Sina finds himself obsessed with this patient.  Who was Presley Smith, and why does he have such an effect on the doctor?

Nostalgia was a bit hard to get into, even with this very intriguing concept.  The beginning of the book didn't really speak to me the way I really felt it should have.  But I'm thinking it had a bit of a slow start to it.  The back of the book promised irreparable cracks in Dr. Sina's own fiction emerging as a result of his interactions with Presley Smith.  But that doesn't really happen until the latter half of the book. But once it happens, wow does Nostalgia start to shine.  It takes what appeared to be very differing narratives, including the fictions Dr. Sina writes about a kidnapped journalist and his own suppositions on what Presley Smith must have been like before, and weaves it into a very compelling narrative that examines what happens when the elderly continue to live indefinitely (and take their resources and jobs with them while simultaneously completely leaving their families behind) and how the post-Colonial world is built in many ways upon the less fortunate people who just happen to have the bad luck of being born elsewhere in the world.  Nostalgia leaves you with a lot of food for thought, and I am very glad to have read it.

That being said though, my vote for what should win Canada Reads this year still goes to Fifteen Dogs.

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