The Book of Memory Gaps is a compassionate (and even sometimes subtly humorous) look at what happens when memory (unreliable at the best of times) plays tricks on us—many of the people in the book suffer from some neurological condition or the other, but in some cases their struggle is psychological, or deals with pain associated with forgetfulness or nostalgia. Through its many mini-stories, each not more than three-four lines long, Cecelia Ruiz’s small book builds empathy for its protagonists. Every page describes a memory issue without naming it, and what the person in that story goes through every day, right through the day, as a result of their problem. The stories are heartbreaking—there is Valentin, who can’t distinguish between one object and another; Veronica, who has no memory for faces but learns to tell one loved one from another anyway; Nadya, who recalls vividly, swimming in the ocean that she has actually never seen; Viktor, who thinks he’s been away from home for months when he only just left that morning; Natasha, who never quite remembers the words she needs when she’s looking for them.These are just some of the poignant portraits in the book. The illustrations are beautiful and capture well, through their bleak colours, the lonely existence of the people in the stories. There are blank pages between one story and the other and plenty of white space even on printed pages, all very symbolic. In the front and back of the book are drawings that are numbered fig 1 to fig 15 that are what? Neurons? Cells? It doesn’t say in the book.
When I was growing up, people who deviated from the ‘norm’, those who struggled with a variety of ailments not outwardly obvious to us, were simply called ‘mad’. In my family, for example, there was this oft repeated story of a distant uncle who would leave home to go out on an errand only to return in a few minutes or hours, having completely forgotten what he set out to do. This was a source of much merriment to everybody, and we children too laughed along whenever this story was recounted. He had a ‘screw loose’. Luckily, we now have books like Ruiz’s that make us think a bit about how we take our own faulty memories for granted.