Book Review: The Book Of Memory Gaps

The Book Of Memory Gaps, by Cecilia Ruiz

From time to time I enjoy picking up quirky books at the library, and this debut book from the author/artist is certainly quirky.  That said, this is the sort of book whose true home is likely on someone’s table to be read quickly by appreciative guests who share the author’s strong interest in memory and its problems [1].  Although this is a short book, it is a vivid one and both its drawings and text provoke the reader to ponder the many ways that memory can go wrong and the resourcefulness that is required to counteract for the memory issues we sometimes face as people.  As a result, this book is frequently poignant and touching, and one gets a great deal of sympathy or empathy (as the case may be) for the people being portrayed because one can see them as true to life and perhaps even not so unlike ourselves.  I know I found in this book at least one character who is not so different from me, be that as it may.  Other readers are likely to identify or at least understand the problems faced by the well-drawn characters here.

This short book of less than 100 pages (the pages are not numbered) begins with the moving line:  “We are the things we don’t remember, the blank spaces, the forgotten words,” and then the author/artist proceeds to draw a set of very beautiful drawings that showcase people who suffer from a variety of memory problems:  Valentin who forgets what objects look like and who has a bouquet of silverware, Polina whose inability to create new memories leads her to perform as if it were opening night even to an empty theater, Pavel, whose playing of he same melody over and over again on his violin drives out all the neighbors, Veronika whose forgetfulness of faces leads her to create perfumes for those whom she loves so that she can recognize them by scent, Simon whose painful memory of the sins confessed to him leaves him burdened with borrowed guilt, Koka, who tortures herself with writing lists of how she would have spent obsolete currency, Pyotr who whistles the tunes of birds he has only heard once to comfort himself on lonely days, Ivan, who moved to a quiet place on a mountain that reminds him of riding on the shoulders of his grandfather when he was a child, Nadya, who is haunted by the vastness of an ocean she falsely remembers swimming in, Alexander, who like Ringo Starr is frustrated by unknowingly composing songs that have been written over and over again, and so on and so forth.

In looking at this collection of drawings and the names and stories accompanying them, this book as a whole has the feel of a melancholy look at the life of memory deprived people in Eastern Europe.  One wonders why the author was inspired to think of Russia and other former Soviet or ex-Communist countries as being those who would be the most haunted by memory or by historical sins.  As a reader of this book, I kept on feeling that the author was drawn to places where the ghost of historical memory has cursed a place with a great deal of regret and loss, where there are cities that are broken down and where memory of wrongs committed and wrongs suffered makes memory a particularly treacherous matter.  What inspired the author to think of this subject, and what stories does she have to share of memory for herself?  This is a short book with lovely drawings, but one that invites far more questions than it gives answers.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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