Emmi Itaranta’s 2014 novel Memory of Water is not a standard science fiction story. There are no spaceships, aliens, time travel, robots, magic or monsters. Only water. In a dystopian future. And it works.

The story focuses on Noria, a tea master-apprentice who hopes to follow in her father’s footsteps and become the tea master of her village. But, when he shows her a place that doesn’t exist, a freshwater spring, Noria learns she needs to betray those closest to her to keep it safe.

Water Flows

The concept of water as a consciousness is what makes the novel so compelling and original. Global warming has changed not only the world’s geography but also its politics. China now rules Europe and the Scandinavian Union, which is where Noria’s village, New Qian resides. There are quotes from tea masters from the 5th century which ground the story in its own ancient world.

And the characters feel so real. Noria is fascinatingly complicated, she has fierce loyalty towards her father and the traditions of the tea master yet is not afraid to challenge her father’s loyalty. Her friendship with best friend, Sanja is also an incredibly rich and complex relationship. Even Noria admits to the reader as they grow older, their friendship is changing and Noria sometimes finds it difficult to talk to Sanja. Yet other times, Sanja is the only one she can talk too and there are hints their feelings for one another go beyond friendship. It’s beautifully depicted, Itaranta’a language is both lyrical and focused. It’s hard not to be swept up in the words of the tea ceremony, the motions of water and how it is a part of us not just biologically but spiritually too.

Where We Are

The Eastern influences are prominent and educate us on the ancient ways of the tea ceremony, making us appreciate the dedication and skill needed to enhance the tea experience.

Noria’s duty to keep the freshwater spring secret propels her into conflict with the military and it’s what happens when her house is marked with a blue circle is where the novel really excels at. We are emotionally challenged and forced into a situation which makes us uncomfortable. It feels right that we are made to feel uneasy seeing as this world is created by past generations who didn’t do enough to combat global warming.

Memory of Water may have been published almost four years ago, but the concepts and struggles faced by the characters are entirely relevant to our situation today. If you love compelling characters, learning about our complex relationship with nature’s elements and heartbreaking but hopeful endings, this novel is the one for you.