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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

Everything I Don't Remember

ISBN: 9781501138027

Publisher: Atria

Publication Date: 7/12/2016

Format: Hardcover

My Rating: 4 Stars WINNER OF THE AUGUST PRIZE, SWEDEN’S MOST PRESTIGIOUS LITERARY HONOR One of Sweden’s most celebrated young writers and activists spins an exhilarating, innovative, and gripping murder mystery reminiscent of the hit podcast Serial. 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.

My Review

A special thank you to Atria and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

EVERYTHING I DON’T REMEMBER by Jonas Hassen Khemiri pushes all boundaries of literary fiction, similar to the hit podcast Serial a multi-ethnic cast of characters, the central plot point of a friend’s passing, and a journalist protagonist weaving together the different threads of a mystery. Immersive and mysterious, if you loved Mary Kubica’s The Good Girl, Celeste Ng’s Everything, I Never Told You, and Kristopher Jansma's Why We Came to the City, you will enjoy this richly drawn, powerful and memorable read, from one of Sweden’s literary superstars. Divided into Three Parts, enjoy the unreliable narrators. An enigma. A puzzle. Everything I Don’t Remember has been awarded the August prize in the category “Best Swedish Fiction Book of the Year”! The jury’s motivation for the nomination was as follows:

“How did Samuel die, and why? Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s portrayal of the deceitfulness of memory and testimony is as enthralling as a thriller. But the novel is also a love story and a tale of violence, unforgivable betrayals, and the power of economics. An unconventional narrative structure where several different voices paint the portrait of the protagonist. All written in a sophisticated, toned down prose, where the shadowy existence of undocumented immigrants and criminals collide with the sunny world of privilege in a ruthless and hectic Stockholm.”

Who is the unnamed writer? Piecing together the events leading up to the unexpected death of a young man named Samuel. From those who knew him best? Killed in a car crash before the novel starts readers are unsure if it was a car accident or a planned suicide. This man had many faces. Samuel was different. Puzzling. Contradictory. The neighbors. Friends. Relatives. Strangers. Flatmate/Best Friend, Ex-Girlfriend. Reconstructing Samuel’s last day. Appears someone is writing a book. A mom’s emails. A son. A Grandmother. Samuel listened without listening. Confusing in the beginning, who is driving the story, and who is telling the story? Alternating between flashbacks and flash-forwards, by Samuel, Vandad, and Laide. Samuel and Laide met through their work, with the Migration Board, dealing with residency permits, and she is an interpreter of Arabic and other languages. Laide is also an activist who participates in demonstrations against anti-immigration policies and who establishes, in a house vacated by Samuel’s grandmother, a shelter for women, many of them abused, who have fled the Middle East. Samuel’s grandmother, who suffers from dementia, has moved into a nursing home. Vandad, who, it appears, may be gay and attracted to Samuel, is a large man who works as an enforcer for a loan shark. He tries more legitimate employment as a mover without much success. When Laide breaks it the relationship, Vandad, attempts to persuade her to reconsider. The grandmother’s house is soon overrun with refugees, a fire starts, and Samuel’s despair mounts as his family questions why he allowed this to happen, and he himself wonders why he trusted Laide. From immigration-related issues, elder care, abuse, unemployment, dead-end jobs, drugs, and racial prejudice. Love and memories. What do people say? What is really true? Who is to blame? One person’s fault, or more? He was born, he lived, he died. Puzzling, Mysterious, Intriguing. An author asking questions. Is everyone lying? Decide for yourself. Betrayal. Extortion. Love. Guilt. Memories of the last day. A partial picture —lies, distortion, and deceit. Subjective Truth vs Objective Truth. Khemiri presents Samuel's story in an unconventional unique format. Pieces of interviews are layered sprinkled with short sentences and a few paragraphs at a time. The narration shifts constantly from person to person. Stories overlap, and the truth feels elusive. Impressions, like the narrators, are unreliable. Moving, emotional and witty. Focused on death yet mixed with humor and mystery. As a reader, you feel as though there is a literary ghost spying on everyone. Can words be trusted? The accident is in slow motion. Thoughts, feelings. In the end, their memories, both genuine and false, are all of him that remain. En·ig·mat·ic! Gripping, beautiful and heartbreaking. Readers will think of: Sarah Koenig’s Serial, Making a Murderer, In Cold Blood-Truman Capote, Fatal Vision-Joe McGinniss, The Journalist And The Murderer-Janet Malcolm, Columbine-Dave Cullen, The Stranger Beside Me-Ann Rule, The Good Nurse-Charles Graebere, and God’ll Cut You Down-John Safran. These books reveal the power of true-crime writing, pushing the boundaries of the journalist-subject relationship, examining the ethical conundrums inherent in the genre, crafting precise and insightful character studies, and even sometimes allowing for the ultimate reader let-down: an ambiguous conclusion. (which is quite popular today). Readers will be debating, speculating, and comparing theories. Like Serial, how much of our interest is in the truth and how much in a satisfying narrative? Interpretation. Crime always risks exploitation — of the victims, the accused, and families torn apart by the crime — Sometimes there is potential for discovery and redemption. "In 2013, Khemiri’s open letter to the Swedish Minister of Justice in response to a controversial police project rapidly became one of the most shared articles on social media in Swedish history."

Review Links:

Advance Praise

“This is a wonderful and mysterious book. Close to a journalistic or criminal investigation, every sentence trembles with Khemiri's electrifying prose. A very original tour de force that still vibrated in my mind long after I had read the last page.” (Herman Koch, New York Times bestselling author of The Dinner)

"Unforgettable. In this non-putdownable puzzle of a story, Khemiri manages to both thrill and break your heart.” (Gary Shteyngart, New York Times bestselling author of Super Sad True Love Story and Little Failure)

“Heartbreakingly sad and laugh-out-loud funny. Its chorus of young drifters, romantics and cynics stick in the memory, each competing to tell their own truth about Samuel and his tragic death.” – Hari Kunzru, bestselling author of Gods Without Men (Hari Kunzru, bestselling author of Gods Without Men)

“An enthralling jigsaw-puzzle of a book. Part love story, part reflection on loss, on memory, this smart, one-of-a-kind literary novel is both beautiful and heartbreaking. This is storytelling at its best.” (Jennifer McMahon, New York Times bestselling author of The Night Sister)

“With its energetic prose and innovative structure, Everything I Don’t Remember confirms that Jonas Hassen Khemiri is not only one of Sweden’s best authors, but a great talent of our time.” (Vendela Vida, author of The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty)

“A wonderful exploration of human motivation – why we love, hate, crave, and reject each other. Khemiri writes with an acute sense of perspective and his clean, conceptual prose is gripping from start to finish.” (Nikita Lalwani, author of Booker Prize-nominated Gifted)

“Compelling…In this painful novel about youthful optimism gone hopelessly wrong, Khemiri dramatizes such immigration-related issues as failures in elder care, unemployment and dead-end jobs, drug abuse, and racial prejudice.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“A ‘must’ for those interested in narrative voice.” (Library Journal)

Jonas Hassen Khemiri

About the Author

Jonas Hassen Khemiri is a soon 37 year old writer who has released four and a half books and six plays. Based in Stockholm. Father of two kids. Read More

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