Tuesday, November 22, 2011

When I Forgot - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 47

This past week I read When I Forgot by Elina Hirvonen as part of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge. The reviews on the  book as well as the description on the back cover sounded intriguing, so I thought it may be a good book to read. 

However, what this was far from the "poignant debut" (Metro) and "potent, fragile, and tender" (New York Times) reviews on the book's front and back covers.

Briefly, When I Forgot, focuses on families who are dealing with mental illness while the world deals with the effects of 9/11.  Unfortunately, the mental breakdown experienced by several people in different families is reflected in the writing which seems fractured and confusing.

Further perplexing was how memories, flashbacks, and shared stories climaxed concurrently in a Helsinki demonstration protesting America's involvement in Iraq.

Although I didn't find this book particularly engaging, there are parts that were more interesting than others. It did offer a glimpse into a sad - and intense - world of mental illness. 
About midway into the book, Ian - who is Anna's boyfriend (Anna is the main character) - was talking about his father who was a Viet Nam veteran.  Ian had visited his father in a psychiatric ward of the veterans' home. Although the visit went well and was pleasant, Ian's father did not recognize him. It was, as if, Ian was a stranger to his father.

He said, "It feels like that was the first time I realized that Dad would never get better. That until that moment I'd somehow imagined that..."

"That you'd be able to save him?"

"Yeah. And then. Then I realized that I wouldn't. That he would never remember me."


Another scene described how Anna had to call the police on her brother (Joona) who was mentally ill and had escaped from the psychiatric unit of the hospital.  When the police arrived, she met them outside her home and stayed there while they went inside to get Joona and bring him back to the hospital.

"Dear Joona, forgive me," I repeated over and over .... Don't let anyone hurt him. Give him something good. Let him forgive me .... Dear Joona. Forgive me."

But when I heard Joona shout, when I heard the cops' tight voices and the slam of the car door, I knew that I would never, ever be forgiven.


Towards the end of the book, Joona writes a letter to Anna and describes his journey in life: "I can't conquer suffering. I can't avoid life. I try to think of time as a landscape. You have to walk through it. When you get to the edge it's over. At the edge there's Light. My life is a journey toward the Heavenly Light."


The few parts that I did find interesting seemed to somehow tie into the challenges I've been recently dealing with as I've been watching my father's health continue to decline due to Alzheimer's Disease.

As Alzheimer's Disease has affected my dad's mind, ability to reason, and comprehend the world around himself (among many other effects), I could see some of these experiences by Ian, Anna, and Joona being a close reflection of what has been happening in my dad's own life. 

Despite these similarities, the author's use of a stream-of-consciousness writing style is one that I simply couldn't "get into." Although it was a translated book (originally written in Finnish), I don't believe that had any impact on my reason for not enjoying it.

1 comment:

Rita said...

Doesn't sound very good at all. Like one of those books you run across and wonder how they ever were published in the first place. Oh, well. All 52 can't be winners. ;)