Author: Ann Brashares
Publisher: Riverhead Books (Penguin)
Released: June 2010
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Daniel has a rare gift - he can remember his past lives. But an act in his first life turns this into a curse, as in life after life, he tries to reconnect to the girl he wronged so terribly. But time after time, their circumstances don't allow them to be together. Whether it's age differences, class differences, or life events, Sophia, as Daniel thinks of her, always slips out of his reach. Now, Daniel finds her - she is the right age and nothing stands in their way. The only problem is that since Lucy, as she is called in this life, doesn't remember her past lives, she thinks Daniel is crazy when he tries to explain. The imprint on her soul of past lives is strong, however, and she begins to believe that Daniel is telling the truth. But someone is out to prevent their ever getting together again. After trying for centuries to be together, Daniel and Lucy must fight to keep their love.
I love love love this book!!
It's such a heart-wrenching book, but in a way it's heart-wrenchingly beautiful. The issues it raises, about the nature of the soul, about the arc of a life, about the arc of life, of humankind, are so well portrayed. Above all are the concepts of atoning for a wrong and the enduring quality of love. The story is thought-provoking, and it sucked me in completely. A book that has a premise like this one, of souls being reborn and only a few remembering their past lives, allows the author to explore many aspects of life, and Ann Brashares definitely does that! Almost every word seems to be something that she has contemplated and theorized about. The way she deals with these, and other, concepts is really great. In fact, as I was reading, some ideas struck me as so beautifully put that I stopped and wrote them down. Here are some:
An observation about the progress of mankind, as seen from someone who's actually seen the progress over more than a millenium: "It was the rhythm of human enterprise to invent and worship some new approach, to fully reject it a generation later, to realize the need for it again a generation or two after that and then hastily reinvent it as new, usually without its original elegance."
About the arc of human history: "People didn't seem to realize what a slender edge they stood on in human history and that every person before them stood on that same edge, thinking it was the world. If they were to look back they would see quite a landscape spreading out behind them, but mostly they didn't."
And one that I like because it coincides with my belief that you can see people's personalities in their faces, that as they change, they get new looks to their faces: "Although very young children were kind of homogenous, people pressed their souls into their faces and bodies fairly quickly in a life, and more and more deeply as they aged. A loving soul was always more beautiful over the long haul..."
But more than the thought involved in the book is the emotion. First of all, the characters jump right off the page and into real life. And their feelings are so well described! One of the ways I judge a book is how much and how often my heart physically aches while reading - in this book, there was hardly a page that went by without a twinge of some sort. The continued dashed hopes of Daniel, the pain of "Sophia" not remembering, of pushing him away - as I said, heart-wrenching. I was totally involved in the story, completely as one with the characters.
This is a love story to trump all love stories. It's more touching than Romeo and Juliet (come to think of it, it has some similarities to Romeo and Juliet), and it has so many facets as the book follows it over time - lots of time! The romance in each life is real, in each situation it's unique, until the culmination in today's connection, where "Sophia" is Lucy. Even though Lucy's soul draws her to Daniel without her knowledge of who he is, the attraction is authentic, and the arc of this individual romance makes sense, in addition to the arc of the romance over centuries.
I also like the way the stories of Daniel's past lives are interwoven with the "modern" story. It sort of gives the reader a feel for how he lives, with all these memories bottled up in his mind, with all the different people and places. And it built the story up gradually, gaining momentum equally in the ancient world and in the modern world.
One piece of advice I'll give - don't start reading My Name Is Memory until you have a few hours in which you can read uninterrupted. I read this book on the train and between classes, and by the time I was halfway through, I was wishing I had been able to read it through all at once. It's the sort of book you sink into and get wrapped up in, and it was very hard to come up for air!
P.S. I rushed to post this review because when I love a book so much, I have to gush about it right away. What I didn't mention was the ending, because I wasn't sure how I felt about it. I won't say anything to give it away, but it's a bit open-ended. I figured that makes sense, since they've been living so long - I guess if they found each other and can be with each other, they can die, but who wants that? Anyway, I read a few other reviews and stuff about My Name Is Memory, and it appears it's actually only the first of a trilogy (though I haven't found Ann herself actually corroborating this). I am all for that! Oh, and it's been optioned for a movie - wouldn't that be cool?