Thursday, May 27, 2010

Book Review: My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares

Synopsis from the Penguin website:

From the New York Times-bestselling author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and The Last Summer (of You and Me) comes an imaginative, inspired, magical book-a love story that lasts more than a lifetime.

My Name Is MemoryDaniel has spent centuries falling in love with the same girl. Life after life, crossing continents and dynasties, he and Sophia (despite her changing name and form) have been drawn together-and he remembers it all. Daniel has "the memory", the ability to recall past lives and recognize souls of those he's previously known. It is a gift and a curse. For all the times that he and Sophia have been drawn together throughout history, they have also been torn painfully, fatally, apart. A love always too short.

Interwoven through Sophia and Daniel's unfolding present day relationship are glimpses of their expansive history together. From 552 Asia Minor to 1918 England and 1972 Virginia, the two souls share a long and sometimes torturous path of seeking each other time and time again. But just when young Sophia (now "Lucy" in the present) finally begins to awaken to the secret of their shared past, to understand the true reason for the strength of their attraction, the mysterious force that has always torn them apart reappears. Ultimately, they must come to understand what stands in the way of their love if they are ever to spend a lifetime together.

A magical, suspenseful, heartbreaking story of true love, My Name is Memory proves the power and endurance of a union that was meant to be.

My thoughts:

I think this is one of my favorite books I've read so far this year. I've never read any of Ann Brashares books before, but this one was quite interesting. I think the author did a good job going from present to past and back again without causing a lot of confusion, although it was a lot to keep up with since the main characters had lived so many lives in so many different places and in different times. A few times I had to go back and refresh my memory to get the sequence of events correct in my mind. But this was a minor annoyance.

The story is a sweet romance. There is so much hope in how Daniel never ceases to look for Sophia/Lucy in every one of his lives. And he is always reminding her that they will be together again. Even when she doesn't recognize him, he declares his love for her.

After I read the first few chapters, I was a little worried that I wouldn't like the book because of the references to the idea of reincarnation. But I soon got into the story and was able to look past that and enjoy the book for what it is: fiction. A story. Fantasy, if you will.

However, there was one section that just made me sad to read. It goes against what I believe as a Christian, so I feel I must mention it here. It was a section where Daniel explains what it is like to die and what happens in the time between dying and living again. This is the paragraph that especially saddened me:

"I also know the feeling of dying into emptiness. We all die alone, but this is different. You apprehend nothing and nothingness. You have the sense of wandering, and it can go on for a very long time. You find yourself yearning, almost hungering, for the presence of another being." 

I could never imagine believing that that is how we die. I know that I will be with God when I die. I won't have to come back here and live again, and again, and again. I will be in a place of eternal joy.

On the other hand, there is a place in the book I found interesting. It is where Daniel describes how he can recognize someone he has known in a previous life. I found this part to be a good insight into the human experience:

"One thing I can tell you from my unusual perspective is how powerfully our souls reveal themselves in our faces and bodies. Just sit on a train sometime and look at the people around you. Choose a person's face and study it carefully. All the better if they are old and a stranger to you. Ask yourself what you know about that person, and if you open yourself to the information, you will find you know an overwhelming amount. We naturally guard ourselves from the obvious truths of strangers around us, so be warned. You can get overstimulated and uneasy if you really start to look. One of the skills of living is simplifying as you go, so when you let your guard down, the complexity is troubling. There are certain rare people you find - usually they are healers or poets or people who work with animals - who live their lives in this state, and I admire them and sympathize with them, but I am not like them anymore. I've done a lot of simplifying in my life.     

As you look at this stranger's face you will be able to guess pretty accurately at age, background, and social class. And as you look longer, if you let yourself see, the subtleties will clamor to show themselves. Doubts, compromises and disappointments little and big - those usually reside around the eyes, but there are no rules. The hopes usually lurk around the mouth, but so does bitterness and tenacity. A sense of humor is easy to spot around the eyebrows, and so is self-deception. Add to your observation the set of the head on the neck, the carriage of the shoulders, the posture of the back, and you know a lot more." 

My Name is Memory is fascinating and, at times, heartbreaking. I recommend it and give it a 4 out of 5 stars.

***Warning: there is some sexual content that may offend some readers.

My Name is Memory will be on sale June 1, 2010.

About the author:

Ann Brashares was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area with her three brothers. She attended the Sidwell Friends School and then studied philosophy at Barnard College, part of Columbia University in New York City.

After college she worked in editorial jobs until 2000, when she began her first novel, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, published in 2001. Over the next five years she wrote three sequels-The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, Girls in Pants, and Forever in Blue. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was made into a feature film and released by Warner Brothers in 2005. In June 2010 she will release her new novel, My Name is Memory.

(I received this book from Riverhead Books for review purposes. I received no monetary compensation for this review. All opinions expressed are completely my own.)

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