Nostalgia by M.G. Vassanji

Nostalgia takes place in a future where mankind has seemingly discovered immortality.  As humans live longer and longer, they take on more and more mental baggage.  Rather than live for decades with painful memories, humans have parts of their minds erased and replaced with fictional, more pleasant histories.  Doctor Frank Sina specializes in Leaked Memory Syndrome (also known as Nostalgia), an unfortunate side effect where repressed memories bleed into newly crafted ones thus confusing the subject.

When Presley Smith begins suffering from LMS, he seeks help from Frank.  Shortly after his initial meetings with Frank, Presley disappears.  As Frank begins to dig deeper into Presley’s past, he uncovers a link between Presley and the nuclear-ravaged world south of the equator.  The seriousness of the situation increases when representatives from the Department of Internal Security take an interest in Presley’s case citing him as “one of their own”.  Undeterred, Frank continues his independent investigation putting both himself, and Presley, in grave danger.

This was a hell of an interesting plot with an excellent setting.  Unfortunately, I found it suffered from poor execution.  The narrative jumped around more than I cared for leaving me without focus, generally apathetic and genuinely bored.  Vassanji’s protagonist isn’t all that likeable either.  I’m not saying that every main character needs to gel with me or my worldview, but I found him egotistical and uninteresting.  Frank was a huge reason I found the novel to be a big let-down in what I felt was a very strong premise.

I think purely for its subject matter, Nostalgia belongs with the current crop of Canada Reads finalists, but I would certainly put this behind more timely reads like The Break and The Right to be Cold.

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