Meme after meme after meme- often referring back to my own baby boomer childhood – suggest that everything was perfect in the past, with well-behaved children who played outdoors and housewives and dinner together and church. You know what I mean. These memes don’t mention Joseph McCarthy, the Korean or Vietnam wars, Jim Crow, the Cold War…. Gospodinov plays with memory and time including how what is in our minds manifests as reality yet often is particular to us and vastly different from how others would process the same event, moment, whatever. We believe the memes or believe our version and perception of our lives is the one true one, even as the memories shift.
The narrator, a published writer from Bulgaria meets Gaustine, an enigmatic man at a conference and their lives are sporadically intertwined forever. Early on, he unites with Gaustine in a project to establish multi-level properties with each floor completely fit out as a decade, the 40s, the 50s, the 60s… These are residential units for people with dementia/Alzheimers so they can live in a time that still resonates for them and experience more happiness. The concept is very successful and one of these has been set up in Bulgaria.
Meanwhile, all of Europe is having a love affair with the past, to such a degree that every country, EU or not, decides to have a referendum on what decade or year to adopt as the one they will live in. Factions compete with huge rallies representing their time period, sometimes from the 19th century, far too often veering towards the good old days of the Society Union, with cigarettes that are harsh and horrible clothing and the mummified body of a former leader, to the late thirties in Germany, and so forth. Ultimately the winning decades and times are scattered and countries with the same time periods will have to align to make sense of their worlds. But what happens to those who cannot conform or will not accept these drastic changes? And does time move forward again or do you stay frozen in your agreed upon period? Does technology disappear if it is not of the period? What happens to structures like the EU?
And ultimately, whose reality are we experiencing? This brilliant, wry, mind-blowing, easy to read, yet time-consuming novel is WELL worth your time. It is of our times and of other times. It is observant and cynical and funny and scary, the characters and events known through only a dreamy, well-educated but unreliable narrator. Highly recommend!