Novel Review: Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov


My wife gave this to me for my birthday. She always gives me interesting books, bless her. And they're always books she herself would never read - she picks them because she knows I like a challenge, apparently. I can't say that's wrong, really.

This book is definitely a challenge. The text is not difficult (in fact I fairly breezed through it) but conceptually there's a lot going on, and it's not all that straight forward. I could best describe it as a puzzle about our relationship with the past. It's about what memory, stories, histories, national myths, and nostalgia all mean to us. And to complicate matters further, we have an unreliable narrator, who might in fact be the author himself, or just a character. And the only other real character in the book is either an old friend, or a character the author invented, or the person who invented the narrator (who might be the author). I know that sounds confusing, but I'm not really sure it matters whether you know what's what - because I don't think there's supposed to be one right answer.

Plot-wise, well, this is not really a plot driven book. There is sequence of events that unfolds, a kind of future history, if you will, but this isn't a book about things that happen to characters and how they react to those things. Not really. So I don't think I'm spoiling anything sharing the outline here.

In Part 1, the narrator's sidekick develops a treatment for Alzheimer's that involves bringing the patients into carefully curated rooms of the past - for example, a quintessential living from the the '50s - and allowing that person to re-experience their own past for a little while.
In Part 2, the idea catches on more broadly, and soon people who aren't suffering from Alzheimer's are also seeking out these rooms for reason of nostalgia. This become so popular that nations all across Europe adopt the idea of re-imaging their nation as existing in a certain year or decade from their (not always) golden age.
Part 3 looks at the specific experience of Bulgaria.
Part 4 reveals what the rest of Europe did when each nation held a referendum on what decade they would like to live in.
Part 5 returns us to the narrator (who might be the author) and he gives us his reflections on the meaning of it all - as well as revealing some new truths/not-truths about himself.

So that's it. Highly conceptual. Super interesting. I'm still mulling it over.

Here's a Kirkus Review of the book:

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