The Story of Forgetting, by Stefan Merrill Block.
From the empty streets of its ancient, golden capital spreads the land of Isidora, a land without memory, where every need is met and every sadness is forgotten. -From The Story of Forgetting, page 13-
Stefan Merrill Block's debut novel -- The Story of Forgetting -- is a haunting story about shared grief, the connectivity of family bonds, the pain of memory, and the need to return to the past in order to understand the future. This beautifully written novel centers around two main characters, Abel and Seth, who are unknown to each other but who remember the same story about a magical, fantastic place called Isidora. They both are also working through their grief and loss surrounding Familial Early Onset Alzheimers Disease -- for Abel the disease has struck down his twin brother; for 15 year old Seth, it is his mother's descent into the illness which turns his world upside down.
Block interlocks the stories of both characters, moving back and forth between them in the narrative to reveal their pasts and their motivations. Intertwined in the story is another story -- that of Isidora, a fictional place where memory does not exist. As the character Seth unravels the mystery of Alzheimer's Disease, he discovers he is not alone, that in fact he is connected to generations of extended family through the wayward gene which began with an English nobleman named Mapplethorpe. This tenuous thread of discovery runs parallel to the stories of Isidora which his mother has passed down to him.
In this way, the stories of Isidora were recapitulated, alongside Mapplethorpe's gene, from one generation to the next. Two ideas spontaneously improvised, altering in slight ways with each passage, yet remaining, fundamentally, themselves. The past and the future were the same place, an impossible but inevitable destiny, to which they all together, were bound. -From The Story of Forgetting, page 176-
This novel touched my heart with its sensitive portrayal of the human suffering associated with Alzheimer's Disease. As a physical therapist, I work with many people who are living with neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's. I have always been struck by the impact of these illnesses on the families -- the sadness, the desire to discover "why," the search for a cure, and finally the struggle to keep on going, to find a way to redefine their lives with this new reality. The Story of Forgetting encompasses all these things. It is an entrancing novel, guiding the reader along Seth and Abel's journey and revealing what is human in all of us.
I am grateful to Jen from Observed in Books who sent me this book to read after I commented on her review of it. I also unexpectedly received my own copy of the book as an Advance Reader's Edition from Random House allowing me to forward Jen's book to another reader friend. I think it is appropriate that the novel circulate in this manner -- it is, after all, a story of human connections.
Recommended; rated four stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".
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