‘Who decides what is important and what is superfluous?
All I know is that the more details I give you the more it seems like I’m leaving out’
Everything I Don’t Remember is the fourth novel by Swedish author Jonas Hassen Khemiri. In 2015, it was awarded Swedan’s August Prize, one of the most celebrated and prestigious literary Prizes in Sweden. Named after the famous Swedish author August Strindberg, the award was established with the hope of increasing public interest in Swedish contemporary literature
Everything I Don’t Remember is translated from Swedish by Rachel William-Broyles and published in English very recently. I received my copy from Sophie Orme, editorial director of Scribner, in return for my honest review.
‘A young man named Samuel dies in a horrible car crash. Was it an accident or was it suicide? To answer that question, an unnamed writer with an agenda of his own sets out to map Samuel’s last day alive. Through conversations with friends, relatives, and neighbors, a portrait of Samuel emerges: the loving grandchild, the reluctant bureaucrat, the loyal friend, the contrived poseur. The young man who did everything for his girlfriend Laide and shared everything with his best friend Vandad. Until he lost touch with them both.
By piecing together an exhilarating narrative puzzle, we follow Samuel from the first day he encounters the towering Vandad to when they become roommates. We meet Panther, Samuel’s self-involved childhood friend whose move to Berlin indirectly cues the beginning of Samuel’s search for the meaning of love—which in turn leads Samuel to Laide. Soon, Samuel’s relationship with Laide leads to a chasm in his friendship with Vandad, and it isn’t long before the lines between loyalty and betrayal, protection, and peril get blurred irrevocably.
Everything I Don’t Remember is a gripping tale about love and memory. But it is also a story about a writer who, by filling out the contours of Samuel’s story, is actually trying to grasp a truth about himself. In the end, what remains of all our fleeting memories? And what is hidden behind everything we don’t remember? Told with Khemiri’s characteristic stylistic ingenuity, this is an emotional roller coaster ride of a book that challenges us to see ourselves—and our relationships to the closest people in our lives—in new and sometimes shocking ways.’ (Via Simon & Schuster)
Everything I Don’t Remember is a novel I knew would challenge me. There’s always that fear when a book has been translated, that some piece will get lost along the way.
Straight up I will say that this is not a book for everyone. It is written in a very unusual style that does require more concentration than the average book. Again this is no surprise, as it is written originally in a language and style not familiar to me.
Laid out in paragraph format, with each paragraph quite often switching to the perspective and story of a different character, it’s a book that needs to be read in very few sittings so as to maintain the readers attention and concentration.
Everything I Don’t Remember is ultimately a story about friendship. It is the story of a young man named Samuel and his relationship with the different people who meant something in his life.
Samuel, quite a complex character, is involved in a mysteriously fatal car crash. The story is picked up by an unknown writer and the novel is told from this unknown writer’s perspective. He interviews all the individuals that were closest to Samuel in the hope of piecing together his life and his final days.
One of the characters most featured is Samuel’s friend, Vandad. Vandad and Samuel had a very unusual relationship. As I looked back on the book for this review, I think that Vandad almost revered Samuel. Vandad was employed in quite a dangerous occupation, but on forming a friendship with Samuel, this seemed to change. Vandad attempted to stay on the straight and narrow. They developed a very close bond but Vandad was consumed with jealousy when Samuel was not available.
We get introduced to Panther, Samuel’s childhood friend. Quite an unusual character, Panther saw something in Samuel that other’s didn’t. He became her confidante. He became like her brother.
‘We became like brother and sister; when things were rough at home I could crash at his place, his mom became my second mom, she understood without needing to know too much, she never asked why I needed to run away, I was welcomed into his family and I will always be grateful for that. They saved me when I needed it most.’
I think Panther really ‘got’ Samuel completely. He was forever referring to his ‘Experience Bank’, always up to trying something different.
‘There was something desperate about the whole thing. Samuel actively tried to seek out new experiences, but he was completely incapable of enjoying anything. The more he talked about depositing things in his Experience Bank, the emptier he seemed. I remember feeling sorry for him. He seemed lonely.’
In recounting her relationship with Samuel and her discovery of his passing, Panther looks back over her years of knowing Samuel and gives the narrator a very good insight into a very unusual young man.
Laide became a sort of idolised individual in Samuel’s life. He fell hard for her. She was older, divorced. She was different from all the other girls he had ever known.
As the narrator chats with Laide, he discovers her feelings for Samuel was just as strong.
‘It was ten past midnight, it was the New Year, we had met each other, we had found someone who made us feel less halved, a person who wasn’t perfect but we didn’t want perfection, we were tired of perfection, my relationship had been a five-year hunt for perfection and not once has I felt as alive as when I stood there damply at a house party in Bagermossen.’
Their relationship became very intense, very fast. It was almost as if they knew it was never to going to last.
I finished Everything I Don’t Remember a few days ago and it is only now that I can process properly my opinion on this novel. It’s taken awhile to put my thoughts together.
I remember many years ago watching the 1986 French movie Betty Blue. After it’s completion I didn’t know what to think of it…….yet I have watched it many times since on DVD. The soundtrack also sits happily among my CD collection.
Everything I Don’t Remember is just like that. It’s quirky. It’s different. it’s most definitely unusual. It will challenge you…but isn’t that always a good thing with any novel??
It will be up to you, the reader, to have your own opinion on it.
I look forward to hearing what you think.
About the Author:
‘Jonas Hassen Khemiri, born in Swedan in 1978, is the internationally acclaimed author of four novels and six plays, whose work has been translated into more than twenty languages.
His first two novels, One Red Eye and Montecore, were awarded several prizes in Swedan, including best literary debut and the Swedish Radio Award for best novel.
In 2015, his fourth novel, Everything I Don’t Remember was awarded Swedan’s August Prize and was a top ten bestseller.
He lives in Stockholm with his family.’