Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta
Published: HarperCollins/Voyager (2014), Original Finnish Publication (2012)
Awards Nominated: Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, and Golden Tentacle Awards
“Climate change has dramatically altered the world, and water—or rather the lack of it—is at the center of everyone’s concerns. Noria Kaitio is the daughter and apprentice of a rural tea master, but even their small town must cope with water rationing and military oversight. When she is old enough, her father teaches her the family’s secret, an illegal hidden spring.
After her father’s death, the water shortages get worse and the military begins to execute perpetrators of water crimes. Noria’s secret could help her friends and neighbors, but the risk is high. As she learns more about the foundation of her world, Noria will have to choose the path that will define her life.” ~Allie
Memory of Water is Emmi Itäranta’s debut novel, and she is currently working on her second novel, City of Woven Streets. If I’m understanding correctly, she worked simultaneously on the Finnish and English manuscripts of Memory of Water, so the English version is also directly written by the author.
I would consider Memory of Water a dystopian young adult novel, but it’s also very different from the image (Hunger Games, Divergent, etc.) that this might bring to mind. It is a slow, meditative novel that is more about observing the world as it is than about bringing change. The story carries very strong messages, as well, about the need to protect the environment and the value of integrity. The environmental concerns were laid on pretty thick, especially in the early parts of the novel, where the main characters talk about the irresponsibility and short-sightedness of the global society that ruined the world. Considering the state of our world today, I think this is a good message to communicate. However, with the ruined world, all of the death around Noria, and the inability of the characters to do much about it, it made for a pretty depressing book.
Due to the nature of the story, there really aren’t any plot twists or unexpected turns. The book’s description more or less covers the plot, and anything else is heavily foreshadowed. I kept waiting for the pace to pick up, and only realized that was not going to happen as I approached the end. However, Noria was an interesting and eloquent narrator, and the descriptions of her study as a tea master, her daily life, her friendship with her neighbor Sanja, and her ideas about life were sometimes quite beautiful. Noria also carried a particular naïveté, in that she both believed deeply in the way of tea masters and her parents teachings, but—with the invincibility of the young—she also did not seriously believe that she could meet with failure. When the novel ended, I was frustrated by how little had changed, but perhaps readers should carry that frustration with them as they return to the current reality.
My Rating: 3/5
The Memory of Water is a very slow, thoughtful dystopian young adult science fiction novel, set in a water-poor world after an environmental collapse. It follows the life of an apprentice tea master apprentice, Noria, whose family also illegally holds knowledge of a secret spring. While the prose is often lovely, I felt like very little happened in the story. I would say the focus is more on Noria’s understanding of her life, her craft, and her world, as well as on the importance of protecting the environment. At the conclusion, I found the lack of change depressing, even though I felt the ending fit with the tone of the novel. I think this was a well-written novel, but it was not exactly what I was looking for.