Albert Bonniers Förlag, 2015.
Reviewed by Nichola Smalley in SBR 2016:2
Review Section: Fiction - Adult
In this, his fourth novel, Jonas Hassen Khemiri traces the events leading up to the death of a young man named Samuel. The story is related through the accounts of acquaintances and friends of Samuel’s: from neighbours and colleagues to close friends and former lovers. Samuel and Vandad are flatmates and best friends. They laugh together, seek new experiences and share everything - until Samuel meets Laide and falls breathlessly in love. The love affair changes things, driving a wedge between the two previously inseparable men.
Samuel encounters Laide when she’s interpreting for a woman seeking a work permit from Sweden’s migration authority. He’s smitten and they start to meet, talking on the phone, seeing more and more of each other. Intensely principled, Laide encourages Samuel to become more politically engaged. When his grandmother vacates her large home, Laide sees a perfect opportunity to house two women in need of refuge, and Samuel enthusiastically agrees. But soon another woman needs a home, then another and another, until one day things get completely out of control. In the meantime, Samuel and Laide’s relationship has broken down, and Vandad and Samuel’s friendship seems beyond repair. Events conspire to isolate Samuel, until finally, he can’t take it any more.
Everything I Don’t Remember is about the impossibility of love and friendship, about people playing games and allowing insecurities about their own identities to undermine their connections with others. It’s about selfishness, self-delusion, and deluding others. The very structure of the narrative, in which Laide, Vandad and others give alternating accounts of Samuel’s last months, points to the variety of interpretations of a given situation. It also highlights the unreliability of people’s accounts of that situation when their own interests are at stake.
The novel deftly plays off competing narratives against one another, as various parties’ deceptions are laid bare. The gradual disclosure of information, with delays, overlaps, and mirrorings, means that much of the detail is merely implied. Often it is omitted altogether, and the reader must join the dots, just like many of the characters. It’s a device Khemiri has used before, for instance in his short story ‘Unchanged Unending’.
This is not the only way in which Everything I Don’t Remember draws on techniques familiar to Khemiri’s readers. Khemiri is known for his ironically self- referential approach to writing, with his first two novels, Ett öga rött and Montecore, both featuring writers named Jonas Hassen Khemiri. Everything I Don’t Remember is no different. As in Montecore, the meta-fictional Khemiri’s role within the novel is to provide a framing device. The author seeks to puzzle together the events that form the narrative, enabling conflicting versions of a story to be told, as well as providing (and at times withholding) pointers for the reader.
And there are further parallels between this book and Khemiri’s others.To varying degrees, all portray the struggle to negotiate the dualities and miscommunications of personal relationships. Several also feature characters whom society treats as the ‘other’. As someone who has spoken openly about his own experience of this (for instance in his open letter to Beatrice Ask), but has also prominently rejected readings of his work that assume a biographical component, Khemiri clearly enjoys the ambiguity of writing himself into his work in this way. By doing so, he forces the reader to interrogate their own stance, their own gullibility and complicity. Combined with a narrative voice as distinctive and confident as Khemiri’s, one that makes his novels such page-turners, so funny and enjoyable, his strategy of removing the reader’s certainty about the reliability of their reading can open them up to new ways of approaching a text.
In Everything I Don’t Remember, Khemiri effectively combines style, narrative and politics to produce a fascinating, moving and highly enjoyable novel that transcends its fictional form. It’s a revelation, very much deserving of the praise it has received from critics and the judges of the 2015 August Prize.