“Booker International Prize 2023: Books that made my shortlist for this prize.
“Time Shelter”: In order of reading book number 1.
Becoming attached to people here is painful because you realise you are getting attached to someone who will soon leave you. I feel especially close to mr M, his is likely a case of retrograde amnesia , he has only just come to the clinic and the agent follows him like a shadow visiting him twice a week, clearly he too enjoys it or feels some need to do it because he comes all the way from the city every time and spends the whole afternoon here. In the beginning we sent a car for him but he turned it down and started coming with his own, people need to tell stories I think even people like him, before he couldn’t and now he can nobody cares. Suddenly he has found somebody who hangs on his every word one man who has turned into an ear for all those stories from back then, one man who was ready to hear everything, the man he followed who was losing his memory and has ended up being erased twice over.
This quite extraordinary book about memory, treats, in the first half of the book, amongst other subjects amnesia. In a first instance individual amnesia due to age and illness is addressed where the narrator and his friend Gaustin, create the first time shelters for troubled people. Gaustin is the ideas and concepts part of the pair and the narrator is the person that manages these ideas. The time shelters are rooms in a clinic where everything is from an era, for instance the fifties, so that people whose memories are being stripped away can find solace in a period they can still remember. There are two other ideas introduced here, firstly the fact that in Eastern Europe memories may be very different than in Western Europe, both Gaustin and the narrator are from Bulgaria and their clinics are initially set up in Switzerland and that not only loss of memory but also more complex ideas of, for instance guilt may be treated, take for example the opening quote with the patient Mr M and the state informant from communist times who is now the only person who knows about him.
Gaustin then predicts the needs of these shelters for the more generalised case of people wanting to return to the soft cocoon of a past period of their own will as he imagines the next step for his clinics:
One day when this business really takes off Gaustin continued we’ll create these clinics and sanatoriums in various countries, the past is also a local thing, there’ll be houses from various years everywhere, little neighbourhoods one day we’ll even have small cities, maybe even have a whole country for patients with failing memories, Alzheimer’s, dementia whatever you want to call it, for all of those who already are living solely in the present of their past, and for us he said finally After a short pause letting out a long stream of smoke this sudden groundswell of people who have lost their memories today is no coincidence they are here to tell us something and believe me one day very soon the majority of people will start returning to the past of their own accord, they’ll start losing their memories willingly the time is coming when more and more people will want to hide in the cave of the past, to turn back and not for happy reasons by the way, we need to be ready with the bomb shelter of the past.
Things then slowly step out control as the idea is taken forward by the European Union, after an important member of the Commission has used à center for a loved one losing their memory, each country in the Union should hold a referendum on which time in the past they wish to live in. The narrator, tells us of each country making different choices with the favourites, such as the Sixties, not necessarily being as loved as that.
The narrator becomes aware that Gaustin is his creation, but not that he is the writer’s creation. This book was a real pleasure, the first of my planned reads for this prize, how can the others compete?
Translated into English by Angela Rodel and published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson in 2023