Who are we without our memories? From South Africa to China, Wyoming to Lithuania, the disparate stories in Anthony Doerr’s Memory Wall are linked by their ability to capture the pathos of the human condition in stunning prose. In “Village 113,” a rural Chinese village is marked as one of hundreds to be destroyed in a man-made flood of the Yangtze River. The seed-keeper of the village must make the painful choice either to move to the city where her son, a government official instrumental in the village’s destruction, lives disconnected from his past, or stay in the only home she’s ever known and drown. The fifteen-year-old orphaned evangelical narrator of “The River Nemunas” is sent to live with her grandfather in Lithuania, where she struggles to hold onto memories of her mother by tracing the river paths her mother took as a young child. In the collection’s beautiful title story, the lives of three South Africans are irrevocably linked by the legacies of apartheid and the greater arc that draws us together: our humanity borne through our memories.
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