Rameau’s review archive: Teemestarin kirja by Emmi Itäranta

Rameau’s note: I’ve since learned that the author has rewritten the book in English instead of handing off the Finnish original to a translator. The English title is Memory of Water and it was published on June 10th.

A face of a white girl with abnormally blue eyes.


Global warming has changed the world’s geography and its politics. Wars are waged over water, and China rules Europe, including the Scandinavian Union, which is occupied by the power state of New Qian. In this far north place, seventeen-year-old Noria Kaitio is learning to become a tea master like her father, a position that holds great responsibility and great secrets. Tea masters alone know the location of hidden water sources, including the natural spring that Noria’s father tends, which once provided water for her whole village.

But secrets do not stay hidden forever, and after her father’s death the army starts watching their town-and Noria. And as water becomes even scarcer, Noria must choose between safety and striking out, between knowledge and kinship.

Imaginative and engaging, lyrical and poignant, Memory of Water is an indelible novel that portrays a future that is all too possible.

Teemestarin kirjaTeemestarin kirja by Emmi Itäranta

Imagine you’re listening to the radio. A song comes up you’ve never heard before. You don’t know the band, but you like the quiet, melancholic melody. You stop to listen and the more you do, the more you like it. Except, you’re waiting for the song to take flight. You’re waiting for something to happen, something to take the song to the next level and surprise you. It never happens.

That’s what happened to me with this book. I wanted to like it better than I did.

Itäranta writes beautifully, but her story also falters and stumbles on preachiness in the beginning. She uses repetition and a book ending for this small story that—unfortunately—remains small. I didn’t feel like Itäranta made the oppression and horrors of a dry future awful and dejected enough to justify the lie told in the epilogue. I didn’t feel like she’d earned it.

I mentioned the preachiness. It seems to be contagious. Every (other or third) Finnish book that I pick up seems to somehow describe the horrors of natural disasters and a future we as a human race have squandered. That’s fine message to be told, but I don’t appreciate being forced to swallow the utter condemnation of men while turning the pages. After all, these are authors living in today’s world relying on peddling their wares to the very people burying their childrens’ children in plastic tombs if these authors are to be believed.

I love the fact that Finnish and Scandinavian authors in general seem to trust their readers’ intelligence, but I wish they trusted us a bit more. A refrain repeated endlessly is never as effective as a slow realisation coming from within.

If you’ve read the book, you might think my review slightly contradictory, but it’s not. Part of it is criticising the what and a part of it is criticising the how. In both, I was expecting more than I got.

Still, this novel falls on the side of “OK” rather than “bad but didn’t hate it” of my two star rating.

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4 Responses to Rameau’s review archive: Teemestarin kirja by Emmi Itäranta

  1. I’ve been ogling this one for ages but the issues you mentioned in your review made me somehow reluctant. I also don’t like preaching. It is frustrating and it has no effect whatever apart from driving some readers nuts.

    • rameau says:

      I went to a bookshop on Sunday and almost bought the English rewrite. But then I saw the price and thought not to.

  2. rameau says:

    It’s been a while since I read this book and somehow it doesn’t feel as bad now. Maybe if I hadn’t expected it to be anything more than a whisper that dies out in the end I wouldn’t have been as disappointed.

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