A Memory Called Empire – Reading Blog (spoiler free)

January 8, 2021

I started this book soon after finishing a quick foray into the icy floes of the Arctic. I wasn’t sure what to expect – I don’t normally read “space operas” – in fact, I had to ask a friend what that even was. “Star Wars is a space opera,” he told me. Fair enough. I am familiar enough with Star Wars (at least the OG episodes) to understand. I have a deadline to finish this book – I am reading it for book club at the end of the month.

Page 100 – so far, so good. I can totally relate to this character’s innate flaw – the fact that she is trying to traverse and assimilate into the Teixcalaanli culture after years of study and even slight obsession. I make a connection in my mind to my slight obsession with Spanish and Latin American cultures, specifically Mexican. Fashioning the main character within a new world and language that is not her own is a great way to build suspense and conflict throughout – it will affect every interaction and event in the story.

There is a lot of talk about poetry and different structures the world employs to tell stories – history of the architecture, history of the world. It’s quite interesting, and definitely gives a sense that this world is steeped in culture, god-worship, and literature. Being a linguist myself (or at least, amateur), I so appreciated the line that says,

The Sunlit use of the first-person plural was unusual and slightly disconcerting. That last “we” ought to have grammatically been “I,” with the singular form of the possessing verb. Someone could write a linguistics paper, for girls on stations to gush over late on sleepshift–

page 98

Ok, friends. Have to get to work. I plan on reading quite a lot this weekend.


January 13, 2021

I stand corrected; I did not in fact read as much of this book as I wanted this past weekend. For some reason I imagine myself all coiled up on the couch with coffee for the entire weekend. Life has to happen, chorin’ has to happen. Another book caught my attention (Deep Work by Cal Newport) – and I finished that one instead. It was a good call because this week has been great at work.. so far.

Ok, I’m now at page 300.

For being a “brilliant space opera” (that is, not my first choice of genre), I am enjoying this book quite a bit. And I’m trying to figure out why. Maybe I should just accept that yes, I do like some science fiction, and let it be. But also I think part of a reading blog is to tease out the details of why I am enjoying said book. At least for me it is.

So much has happened to our main character, Ambassador Mahit Dzmare. It’s been less than a week into her assignment to Teixcalann from Lsel and she’s run into quite a bit of trouble. The synopsis will tell you that the former ambassador has died from unknown-to-our-protagonist causes, and that it’s up to her to figure out what’s going on before she gets killed.

We have a couple of allies helping our main character: Twelve Azalea and more notably, Three Seagrass, her cultural liaison. I don’t want to give much away because I want this to be a spoiler-free get-inside-my-head reading blog.

To that end, I will say that for someone who has not read hardly any science fiction in her life, the world building and immersion is supreme. Truly. Martine really has thought about all the aspects of a civilization and incorporated them into her created world. One of the most effective ways she creates this cohesion is by her use of epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter. These range anywhere from transcriptions of flights, excerpts from scripts of a show or performance, quotes from seminal literature… all of those things help to create a well-rounded experience for the reader.

Below I’m including a few of my favorite quotes so far. I will say that generally when I pull a quote from a book, it is philosophical in nature, something that ties me down to the world I’m currently in. Interesting how created worlds still have so much to teach us. I will check in again after I finish the book. Toodles!

Better to take action than to be paralyzed by the thousands of shifting possibilities.

page 203

It is by such small degrees that a culture is devoured.

page 240

So much of who we are is what we remember and retell.

page 290

January 14, 2021

Patriotism seemed to derive quite easily from extremity.

page 304

Hmm. Interesting quote considering recent events.

I just finished the book today. I read 90% of it and listened to about 10%. To be honest, the big reason I listened to any portion of it was to hear the names read out loud.

That aside, the political intrigue and palace antics don’t stop before the end of the book, and they actually bring the plot right to the end. Since this is a spoiler-free blog, I won’t mention events, but I will say that this could be a stand-alone book as most things seemed to be brought to a resolution. Yes, there is a bit of romance, but nothing that overtakes the plot.

Overall, I would give this book 4.25 stars. A book full of political intrigue is generally not my number one pick, but then again, I read this for a book club. For me, one of the points of joining a book club is to be introduced to new books, new authors, new ideas.. so A Memory Called Empire definitely fits the bill.

I did a bit of research on the author, Arkady Martine, and based on her background in history, it makes sense how she came across all the ideas to meld them into this story. I also think it says a lot about an author when they can weave in different genres of writing, such as the poetry, play excerpts, and transcriptions in epigraphs preceding the chapters.

Finally, I identified and empathized so much with the situation of the main character, Mahit Dzmare, and the fact that she was finally immersed in a culture she’d been obsessively studying since she was a child. The way the author expresses Mahit’s experience of being multilingual is so spot-on. I think this part was maybe my favorite aspect of the book.

The sequel, A Desolation Called Peace, is on my To Be Read for this year. A couple of quotes to leave us with something to think about…

The world functions as it ought to and if I keep behaving as if it will continue to, nothing will go wrong.

page 378

Poetry is for the desperate, and for people who have grown old enough to have something to say.

page 387