Review: Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta

TEOS, 2012

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.

Confession: I’ve never been an active reader of science fiction. It is one of those genres that I’ve never really tried to get into, mostly because I thought that scifi was all about space, and space just isn’t my cup of tea. However, I’ve slowly come to realise that science fiction does include much more than just “space stories”, and that one of my favourite book series, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is actually labelled as science fiction. So I decided to embark on a quest to broaden my horizons, and the first book that I picked up in the library is Memory of Water.

Memory of Water tells of a future reality in which water has scarce, the war over oil has polluted most of the free water sources, and the government has been taken over by the army. Our protagonist, Noria, is the daughter of a tea master in New Qian, old Scandinavia. Because of her father’s profession, their family has always had a slightly larger water quota, but there is also a deeply hidden secret that could put them all into danger. Noria’s best friend Sanja comes from a poor family and has to support the family by fixing old gadgets and other electricity trash found in the plastic dumps. As nearly no books were saved from the old days, Noria finds interest in going through the dumps and trying to understand how the people lived in the past. And one day, she makes a discovery that will change her life.

Itäranta writes beautiful and thoughtful prose, merging the element of water into the narration. At times there is the calm stillness of water, but a small ripple can quickly change everything. Overall the narration is an interesting mix of action and meditative thinking. What is interesting about this book is the fact that Itäranta wrote it simultaneously in both Finnish and English. I’ve only read the Finnish one, but I’ve heard that the English version of the book also features quite prosaic writing. For example, check out Anastasia’s review.

The world of the book is a sad and terrifying one, making the reader ponder questions such as “what if this was our planet?”. At times, the underlying message comes across a bit too strong and there were few instances where it seemed separate from the story arc. Memory of Water is a solid debut novel, but like the water, it was at times hard to grasp. The relationship to the protagonist remained slightly distant, and I would have liked a bit more closure at the end. I’d recommend this book to people who are interested in reading about messed up societies after ecological catastrophe, or to readers of science fiction.


Death is water’s close companion, and neither of them can be separated from us, for we are made of the versatility of water and the closeness of death. Water doesn’t belong to us, be we belong to water: when it has passed through our fingers and pores and bodies, nothing separates us from earth.


4 thoughts on “Review: Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta

  1. Nice that you read it in Finnish 🙂
    You wrote this review in a very beautiful language

    Yes, I thought absolutely the same ofthe characters and the ending. But maybe Itäranta will write more.

  2. The plot seems really interesting, but what I’m most curious about is the world-building. Like you, I don’t enjoy science-fiction, at least “space science-fiction”. A friend of mine told me that in science-fiction, there is a sub-genre for everyone… Anyway, back to the book: I don’t think it hasn’t been translated into French, but if I come across it in English, I will definitely check it out :).

    • I think that the world-building in this book was quite successful and logical. I don’t think it has been translated into French yet, but it might be work-in-process.

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