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Teemestarin kirja by Emmi Itäranta
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Teemestarin kirja (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Emmi Itäranta

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654183,505 (3.86)1
Member:nanan
Title:Teemestarin kirja
Authors:Emmi Itäranta
Info:Helsinki : Teos, 2012
Collections:Your library, Favorites
Rating:****1/2
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Teemestarin kirja by Emmi Itäranta (2012)

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Memory of Water takes place in the future where water is very expensive and quite scarce presumably because of global warming and climate change. Our era is a distant past and very little of us is known to them. The book is lyrically written and flows very well. I would have liked to see a clearer picture on how the characters would live their day to day lives with so little water. If you really think about it, so much of what we do every day involves water. There were numerous other small things that seemed a little incongruous in the story. How did no one else notice how much water their family uses? Why didn't Noria leave faster when she knew someone posing as her mother was sending messages? These and many other questions grew frustrating and made the book not easy to enjoy. I loved the inclusion of the Japanese style tea ceremony even if it seemed quite impractical for the setting. ( )
  titania86 | Jul 28, 2014 |
There is nothing about Memory of Water that is far-fetched or difficult to fathom. China could in fact become a globally dominant country. The world could separate into distinct unions separated by geography and occupied by the major power sources. Yet, the true heart of the story is a slap in the face regarding the dire consequences of global warming. Not only does Itäranta show the lasting impact on weather patterns, economies, and inhabitable geography, it also details the damage our current garbage is doing to our environment. The descriptions of the piles and piles of plastic – those items that will never decompose and are still easily identifiable after all those years – are downright frightening.

Noria is an intriguing character. Unlike other dystopian heroines, she lives a life of privilege. She has ready access to water. Her position as the daughter of a Tea Master gives her more influence and also grants her access to more and better food. She is, in many ways, very spoiled. True, she shares her water when the secret is out, but she does not do so willingly. There is a sense of reluctance in the beginning and a feeling of coercion that she has to do so in order to avoid getting in trouble with the police state. For all her altruistic impulses, she remains more concerned about her family’s secrets and traditions than she does about fighting against the system.

Given the slow-moving nature of the story and the massive amounts of world-building to clearly establish this future version of Scandinavia, one cannot help but think that this focus on the damage done to the ecosystem and the resultant scramble for water/power is the point of the novel. The major dystopian elements of Noria’s world are avoidable, and Itäranta is trying to show readers just that. Yes, Noria’s story is interesting for its foreignness and her willingness to stand firm to her beliefs, but it is what is happening outside her sphere of influence that is truly intriguing. The scientific exploration Noria discovers on the CDs, the unique uses for the junk plastic, the structure of society, the huge Chinese influence half a world away – the sheer magnitude of the changes that are a direct result of global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps are more fascinating and chilling because of their implication of past society’s inability to properly conserve and protect the environment. Memory of Water is impressive in the warning it presents rather than the story it tells of a world gone dry.
  jmchshannon | Jun 18, 2014 |
“Memory of Water,” by debut author Emmi Itäranta, is an impressive and lovely literary work of speculative fiction. The overall mood is somber and meditative. The novel is set sometime in the distant future in the far north of Europe, probably in what was once Finland. The author does not make it clear how far it is in the future. What she does reveal is that after our era, there was a period of global oil wars together with abrupt climate change. Then a century followed during which mankind recovered and readjusted…and similar to the Middle Ages, many books were burned and much knowledge about the past was lost. In the new world order, time is now divided into three parts: the Past World, the Twilight Century, and New Qian Time.

Earth no longer has glacial or polar ice. Worldwide sea levels have risen, reclaiming much of the land and drowning most major coastal cities. Oil and oil-based technology has disappeared. What energy there is appears to be entirely solar.

In this new world, fresh water is scarce, highly valued, and in the complete control of the military. The government also controls what people can know about the present and the past. Everywhere it’s hot and dry. What was once Norway and Sweden are now Forbidden Lands unfit for human life because of some Past-World catastrophe. The present world is unstable and wracked by wars. Freedom to travel is severely curtailed. New Qian has taken over what was once Europe and many Asian customs have been absorbed into a new blended culture.

This novel is the story of seventeen-year-old Noria Kiatio, the daughter of a Japanese-style ritual tea master, a position that holds great respect, and responsibility. Noria is studying to follow her father’s career path. As the book opens, Noria is ready to learn the family secret. It is a secret that dates back through an unbroken line of tea masters over many generations. Exceptional tea needs exceptional water and the Kiatio family controls a secret underground spring. In this world of severe water shortage and water rationing, owning a private hidden spring is a crime punishable by death.

I found this novel slow to start. It wasn’t until I was at least halfway before the pace picked up and I was compelled to finish. But the early problem with pacing was more than balanced by an abundance of elegant, original, and thoughtful prose. Many of the passages were as exquisite as delicate haiku. For example: “Secrets carve us like water carves stone. If we let another person into the silent space a secret has made within us, we are no longer alone.”

This is a very subtle and elegiac book. It must be read carefully and closely. The reader needs to stop at times to contemplate the inner meaning suggested by the prose. This is necessary for enjoyment as well as comprehension.

If you read some of the reviews available online, you will find that some people were disappointed that the book did not reveal the details of the world-changing truth that Noria and her friend Sanja discover in an ancient past-world garbage dump. They are mistaken. The book does reveal all that is necessary about this discovery; however, it does this very indirectly, mostly through emotion, and only with the faintest hint at basic facts. What is given, is entirely enough…and exquisite in its brevity, clarity, and emotional shock. To have given more would be to spoil the overall Zen-like quality of the revelation. I was shocked and the more I thought about it, the more my eyes started to brim with tears. In my estimation, the ending was perfect…full of the horror of comprehension and fierce persistence of hope.

The author wrote this book simultaneously in Finnish and English. It has won three Scandinavian literary awards.

In retrospect, I am surprised by what a strong affect this book had on me. I was moved far more than I thought I could be by this theme of oil wars, global collapse, abrupt climate change, and accumulated knowledge lost.

I did not realize what a strong reservoir of responsibility I maintain for what is happening to our world. This book tapped directly into that deep hidden vein of guilt. I am glad it provided some release.

I look forward eagerly to future novels by this deft, sensitive, and skilled storyteller. ( )
  msbaba | Apr 22, 2014 |
Noria is the daughter of a tea master and his apprentice, living in an unnamed village in what is now Finland, and what Noria calls the Scandinavian Union – under New Qian occupation – at an unspecified point in the distant future. Very soon it becomes clear that the world we know today has changed beyond recognition by global warming and the relentless plunder of Earth’s resources: the region where Noria and her family live is surrounded by desert; water is so scarce that it is rationed, and such a precious commodity that it is even used as currency, while the military controls the entire supply; there are no more winters, and the images of snow and ice can only be found in books; the world has run out of its oil reserves, so Noria’s village represents a curious mixture of a low- and high-tech society; wars were fought over oil and water in the past, while there is an ongoing war somewhere on the continent. Before Noria’s graduation ceremony that will see her become a tea master in her own right, her father takes her into the fells and shows her a secret spring that generations of tea masters – as watchers of water – have had the duty to protect, and makes her promise that she honour the secret too. But events have already been set in motion that will make Noria realise that sometimes it is the duty of a tea master to break with tradition …

One of the joys of discovering a new author is that you don’t always know where – or for that matter when – you’ll end up; this is exactly the case here. Memory of Water is a thought-provoking coming-of-age tale written in the most beautiful, almost lyrical, prose, but there’s no getting away from the fact that the portrayed events are very bleak and that from the opening lines of the prologue the novel is moving towards its inevitable conclusion. One of the things that struck me was that Noria’s society appears to be dominated by women; there are men around, but they are usually of Noria’s father’s age and traders or merchants, and there is a distinct lack of young men, and I could only assume they were away fighting in the war; the men that do appear in the village are often not local and in the military, and as such to be feared. There is a tangential thread to the story about a past-world expedition that took up too much room in the novel and left too many questions unanswered, and one of these highly unlikely coincidences that are difficult to get away with, even when they’re written with the best intentions; yet for all that, there is some memorable imagery to be found within its pages: for example, the so-called plastic grave, where Noria and her friend Sanja like to dig for artefacts from the past-world; secrets acting like water; the painting of a blue circle on the door of someone’s house where the military decides a water crime has been committed; a poignant version of a cremation, where the dead person’s water is used to nourish the earth; and the ancient Greek notion that one has to cross the river to the underworld after death takes on an added significance.

There were also powerful scenes that spoke to me as a mother, especially when they cannot provide water for their thirsty and sick children; coincidentally, my son had a high temperature this week and it felt like a complete luxury to simply open the tap and give him all the cold, clean water he needed straight away after reading about how the rations given out to the villagers are never enough. No second guesses where the author’s sympathies lie in the current environmental debates, and I believe we can all do with acting more responsibly, but for all that her novel does not come across as preachy. I can only guess that the epilogue contains a glimmer of hope, but I personally can’t see it and the novel is simply too bleak to be picked up again.

I will end this review with the most powerful sentiment the novel has to offer in my opinion, spoken by Noria’s friend Sanja: when talking about the people in the past-world, she tells Noria that it is not them but their relics she’s thinking of, because they didn’t think about them, i.e. future generations, either.

(This review was originally written as part of Amazon's Vine programme.) ( )
  passion4reading | Mar 7, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Emmi Itärantaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Aleshyn, AndreiCover photosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Itäranta, EmmiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnson, AdamCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dystopian tale
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"The award-winning speculative debut novel, now in English for the first time! In the far north of the Scandinavian Union, now occupied by the power state of New Qian, seventeen-year-old Noria Kaitio studies to become a tea master like her father. It is a position that holds great responsibility and a dangerous secret. Tea masters alone know the location of hidden water sources, including the natural spring that once provided water for her whole village. When Noria's father dies, the secret of the spring reaches the new military commander. and the power of the army is vast indeed. But the precious water reserve is not the only forbidden knowledge Noria possesses, and resistance is a fine line. Threatened with imprisonment, and with her life at stake, Noria must make an excruciating, dangerous choice between knowledge and freedom"-- "An amazing, award-winning dystopian debut novel by a major new talent"--… (more)

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