war and memory

each war is different, each war is the same (kevin dooley via flickr)

Memorial Day is for most just a jolly time to relax and be Amurikans by partying and beaching and drinking beer and eating all the things you’re supposed to eat on this red white and blue day/weekend, but lest we forget it’s not about the buns and the burgers, the sparklers and the marching bands… It’s about death, really, and sacrifice and the horrors of war.

memorialize |məˈmôrēəˌlīz|
verb [ with obj. ]
preserve the memory of; commemorate

Lately I’ve been thinking about wars, particularly what they do to those who survive them, or the survivors of those who don’t—of adaptation and existence, and the scattering of memories via diaspora and exile. Most of us know little to nothing of war or what it is like to lose everything held dear, everything familiar. We are fortunate in our ignorance.

Armen, one of the main character’s in Bohjalian’s The Sandcastle Girls, struggles with what to do with his memories of the past and of loved ones lost,

“He recalls bowls of figs and tries to remember the blue-black silkiness of his wife’s hair, and then the scent of his infant daughter’s breath when she would sleep on his shoulder.”

Do we have a choice of what to do with our memories? Armen’s younger brother suggests he call on them to “fuel his desire for vengeance.” As brothers often do, his older brother disagrees, suggesting instead that he,

“…excise those recollections as if they were a gangrenous limb; they would only cause him more pain.”

Our memories can bring solace and pleasure, can serve as a source of comfort, yet can also scratch away at old wounds making them once again ooze with raw anger and the bitterness of pain. They hold us in their grasp and if we don’t find a way to tame them can gnaw away at us until they destroy us with longing or hatred. Sometimes, it seems, we have to forget a little in order to remember.

I am reading Hadiya Hussein’s newly translated second novel, Beyond Love, the story of exiled Iraqis who, after having fled their homeland find the equally difficult task of adapting to the bitterness of exile.

Two friends, now exiled in Jordan, catch up on what has happened to each since the difficult days they shared in Baghdad.

“Do you know, Huda,” one friend says to the other, “what hurts us in being away from our country is not just the exile, but our bleeding memory.”


2 thoughts on “war and memory

    1. Thank you, Becky.
      I reread the passage I closed the post with, and thought I should add more…

      “Even though that memory was once beautiful, it digs deeply now and
      reshapes the past like an enemy laying an ambush. The few happy
      moments that we witnessed have buried themselves in deep domes within
      our memory, and we can’t find them without suffering still more
      wounds—as though we’re eager to torture ourselves and whip our souls
      for reasons we don’t understand. Tragedy wears us like clothing.”

      I also neglected to mention the translator’s name, Ikram Masmoudi, who
      deserves praise for her eloquent translation.

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