Reviewed by Taylor Porcha
In Memory of Memory, written by Maria Stepanova, is a realism fiction novel with many elements of novel bending, that was published by the small press, New Directions, in 2020. Maria Stepanova is an established Russian author known primarily for her poetry; however her books are not to be dismissed as they have proven her to be a phenomenal writer in several literary genres, especially In Memory of Memory. The book, In Memory of Memory, is filled with several writing elements that simply captivate its reader. These elements include pathos, as the plot of sentiment reflects on an emotion in which we can all relate to: Grief. We also see historical context and references which invoke a sense of ethos, a somber yet pleasant tone, and plenty of vivid imagery that leave the reader without question. The title itself speaks clearly for each of these literary tactics, and if it didn’t convince you enough to buy the book, maybe this will.
The Protagonist is an ambiguously young girl who is unfamiliar of both grief and her Aunts specific life events but finds comfort in the historical memories and documentation that her late Aunt’s apartment provides. While she processes her grief and goes through her late Aunts belongings, preparing to box her items up, she comes across things, such as photos and journals that document history in Russia through her Aunts youthful eyes, specifically a Jewish family as they navigate the Holocaust. As the narrator sifts through her Aunts documents she looks tirelessly for specific information that would better reflect her aunt’s life. Through these personal documents she finds peace and comfort of the passing of her Aunt, perhaps it is because these memories and historic events did not die with her and will continue to live through both her documents and the protagonist. Likewise, Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer, explores similar thematic terrain in which he blurs the lines between fiction and creative nonfiction.
While the book is fiction, it does fall under the realism category so you can expect aspects of the book to reflect what could be real life situations and topics, and of course it will invoke very real emotion as it pulls at the heart strings in more than one aspect. But that’s what makes the book so different from postmodern literary traditions. Maria Stepanova has mastered the key of connecting with her readers on a personal level that makes the literary piece that much better. Not only is it compelling and believable, but it’s realistic and relatable and provides light and affirmation that there is beauty in death and healing from grief. Which in my opinion are two topics which are rarely addressed so gracefully in literature. Perhaps its grace is due to the fact that it is written as a memoir and provides the readers with some heavy emotion of her own. For instance:
“From time to time, always in the evening, and usually on a school holiday, or a day when I was recuperating from sickness, my mother would call me to look at the photo albums.” And “And then the photographs themselves, each with a story attached.” These two quotes are beautiful examples of the subtle ways her emotion shines through.
Maria Stepanova’s In Memory of Memory is a great book that I whole heartedly recommend. If you are looking for a realism romance that both invokes relatable emotion with real historical events and problems, then this book hits the jackpot. It has all of these elements and does each one of them justice in order to keep the reader engaged and on the edge of their seat for every single page. This book contributes topics and events that create conversation and add to literature regardless of location, age, and race. While I will be the first to admit, romance isn’t my first choice to read, I have permanently added this book to my shelf and will certainly read it again. It did not disappoint in any fashion.