Poetry, melancholy, Nordic mists and Chinese tea, in a dry, dystopian landscape
Finnish author Emmi Itäranta astonishingly wrote her first novel, a delicate, dystopian Sci-Fi outing, simultaneously in Finnish and English. Born in Finland the author is resident in the UK. Memory of Water won one Finnish literary prize and was nominated for another.
We are beyond ‘The Twilight century’ (our own) Mankind’s wasteful, indifferent attitudes to its own species and to the planet we share with other species, has resulted in the climate changes from which there is no real return. There has been the melting of the icecaps, the warming of the planet, and most of the landlocked freshwater has gone. Much of the land is given over to huge landfill containing the unrecycleable wastes of this century and the one before – plastics, electronics, consumer junk, which there is no longer the power to use.
Potable water comes, strictly quota controlled, from desalination plants. Hoarding, iillegally tapping into this water supply, and possessing more water than the agreed quota is a capital offence.
China has become the dominant world power, ‘New Qian’. World culture is now Chinese culture, and the world is a Chinese empire
Set in ‘the Scandinavian Union’, Memory of Water’s narrator and protagonist is 17 year old Noria. She is the daughter of a tea master, himself part of a long lineage of tea-masters:
Tea-masters are the watchers of water, but first and foremost we are its servants
In some sense, Noria’s lineage makes her a traditionalist, and an observer and adherent to older duties and customs than those imposed by political decree. The tradition is one of interior discipline and reflection
Noria and her childhood friend Sanja, a skilful inventor and repairer of those long ago obsolete pieces of junk found in landfill from ‘The Twilight Century’ become in some sense, unwittingly, unwillingly, the guardians of human, peer, connection, set against the hierarchical connections of dictatorship and its apparatchiks.
I was fascinated by way this story was told, the creation of the world, and the often quiet, lyrical language. Characterisation was excellent, and Noria and Sanja, their friendship and its challenges, beautifully handled
Past-world tea masters knew stories that have mostly been forgotten………………….The story tells that water has a consciousness, that it carries in its memory everything that’s ever happened in this world, from the time before humans until this moment, which draws itself in its memory even as it passes. Water understands the movements of the world, it knows when it is sought and where it is needed…………Not everything in the world belongs to people. Tea and water do not belong to tea masters, but tea masters belong to tea and water
Itäranta’s interest in sci-fi and dystopian literature is impeccably on the side of reflective, imaginative thinking, and geopolitical awareness, rather than blazing light-sabres and intergalactic derring-do. Writers and books she recommends as her inspirers or books to inspire others include Ursula K Le Guin, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and George Orwell’s 1984.
I received this as a review copy from Amazon Vine UK