Borrowed Memories

Image of Borrowed Memories
Release Date: 
March 5, 2024
8th House Publishing
Reviewed by: 

“captivating, powerful, and touching.”

Anyone who has ever been a caregiver to elderly parents, especially those with Alzheimer’s, understands the heartbreak and chaos that takes place watching loved ones decline while at the same time trying to hold on to the memories of happier times. In the remarkable novel Borrowed Memories by Mark Foss, the author introduces us to a family of three: Horace, a retired World War II pilot; Aida, who lives in her husband’s overbearing shadow and suffers from Alzheimer’s; and Ivan, the son who helps his parents navigate their changing world of declining health while sacrificing his own life and the possibility of a new love.

It is intriguing how Foss demonstrates various losses in his novel from Horace losing his license to Aida losing her independence to Ivan almost losing his chance at love. With poetic language and moving scenes, the reader can empathetically relate to the characters even to one as stubborn yet endearing as Horace.

Throughout the book, Foss paints a picture of heartbreak with underlying moments of hope by alternating between the present day at his parents’ cottage to email correspondence with the fascinating Mia Hakim. Foss creates a complex story of the demands and worries of being a caregiver while showing another storyline set during the Arab Spring. It is refreshing to gain the perspective of a male caregiver and one who is compassionate and calm for the most part. Not many stories have been told from the point of view of a male caregiver and with the extraordinary character development of the introverted and sensitive Ivan, this story will resonate with many adult readers.

The narrative’s strongest passages are those in which Ivan is interacting with his parents. The reader feels like they are right there with the characters. The writing is engaging and vivid during these scenes: “Outside the lawn mower roars back to life, and Horace pushes through the rows I had abandoned, taking care not to get entangled by the extension cord. I leave him to it, and sit down to spend time with Aida. But what could I ask her now that she could answer? I’m too late. When did silence become her language?”

However, when the story switches to the email correspondence with Mia, the powerful narrative teeters but regains its strength when Mia visits Ivan and stays at his parents’ cottage. Here the reader gets a glimpse at this interesting character, one that is very different from Ivan and his parents. The time given to Mia’s character and her story is unfortunately not long enough for the reader to gain a good sense of what type of person she is and how her tale ties in with Ivan’s life (or maybe this was the intention of Foss to show this fleeting moment and that all things are temporary). Maybe Mia’s presence is to remind Ivan that he can’t sacrifice his entire life to take care of his aging parents. “I hope you get some help. You can’t give up your life for them.”

The Arab Spring storyline isn’t developed enough for the reader to gain insight to the events taking place during that time. Bits of pieces are here and there in Mia’s email correspondence but nothing that leaves a lasting impression on the reader. Not enough time nor space is given to fully develop that storyline.

However, the story of Ivan and his parents makes up for this. The anguish felt by Horace and Ivan as they struggle with what needs to be done with Aida is described brilliantly. Ivan tries to find comfort in the fact that Aida is safer in a nursing home than with Horace who can’t take care of her. “Alone in her room Aida seems withdrawn and lost, but here, surrounded by so many people who need help, she finds purpose. I allow myself to believe she will be better off in the Manor than cutting out paper butterflies in her sunroom at home.” Aida is like her beautiful butterfly clippings and doesn’t understand what is happening to her. Foss tackles this uneasiness and Horace’s anger at his wife being placed in a nursing home with tenderness.

The story of this family of three and the natural progression of age is what makes the novel captivating, powerful, and touching.