“Remembery Day” by Sarah Pinsker
Reviewed by Douglas W. Texter
In “Remembery Day,” Sarah Pinsker gives a unique take on PTSD and war memories. In the world of the story, a South America of the future, soldiers vote every year to have their memories of their time in a horrific war wiped—by a technique called the “Veil”—for the entire following twelve months. The former troopers, some horribly maimed, only remember their time in combat on what the narrator, a little girl named Clara, calls “Remembery Day.” Clara’s mother, Kima, has spent her life since the war in a wheelchair and has a burn on her face. One of the memories wiped every year for Kima is that of the father of her child, who also served in the war. Pinsker presents us with an interesting premise, one that doesn’t quite work for me. As horrific as war memories would be for combat veterans, I can’t imagine that former soldiers would want these memories wiped since such recollections often form the basis of political dissent against the very powers that launched or prosecuted the conflict in the first place. The narrator claims that these soldiers desired their memories destroyed because the war was too brutal. Every war is too brutal. The remembrance of this brutality often informs the leadership is engaged in by those combat survivors who eventually hold political office. Such wiping of memories would destroy dearly won wisdom about the horrific nature of war and perhaps even the impetus to abolish or tame it.
David Bowles, in “Wildcat (from the Secret Diary of Donna Hooks),” tells the wonderful tale of Donna Hooks, a recent divorcee in early twentieth-century Texas. Having received a parcel of land from her father and having obtained a loan to develop the acreage as well as an office building for her dad, Donna works side-by-side with her Mexican crew. One day, she and her crew discover a wildcat, a jaguarundi, that has been shot through the chest. As the big cat dies, it transforms into a young Mexican woman. Witchcraft is at work here. Although the jaguarundi dies, its three cubs, two females and a male, survive. Roberto, the crew foreman, sends for Gabriela, a shaman. When Gabriela arrives, she can tell immediately that Donna possesses the teotl, the divine spark. Donna possesses this quality because she was educated in the magical by Auntie Hester, a Nigerian slave who belonged to her family before the Civil War. Told that the three cubs are trapped in their animal states but are really human, Donna, against the advice of the shaman, takes the animals home and works to make them people. I won’t give away Donna’s efforts or results, but I will say that this story is beautiful and touching. I highly recommend it.
In “A Sister’s Weight in Stone,” JY Yang weaves a dream out of the fabric of suppressed memories, tragedy, hope, and mythology. The year is 1892. We’re in Asia, but not the Asia of our time line. Here dragon worms, with razor-like teeth, swim the world’s oceans. Airships sail across the sky. Hovercraft skim the surface of the water. Two sisters, Little Phoenix and Jade, head to Singapore on the airship Kwantung Mariner, which gets caught in a storm. Apparently, Jade is taken by the prince of the South Sea, a giant worm that has dragged the young woman to the bottom of the ocean. After she reaches Singapore, Little Phoenix communicates with her sister through magic. Or does she? After vowing to free Jade from the clutches of the prince and after hearing about the legend of the Dragon’s Teeth Gate, Little Phoenix decides to engage in an exchange with the prince. The grieving woman will offer to the prince bits of rock, supposedly parts of granite gates blasted to smithereens by Europeans. According to legend, this act of destruction so enraged the prince that he unleashed dragon worms on humanity. Little Phoenix hopes that the bits of rock will induce the Prince to return her sister. But all is not as it seems in this very complicated and rich story that creates a personal fantasy within an already fantastic world.