The Millions

A Year in Reading: Mamta Chaudhry

Coronavirus has changed our lives in many ways and it has surely transformed our notion of time, as hours and days blend into each other like the melting timepieces in Dalí’s famous painting, intriguingly titled The Persistence of Memory. Both time and memory are central to my novel, Haunting Paris, where the ghost narrator measures time by a spectral clock, an unearthly calendar, and since we tend to read through the prism of our own preoccupations (okay, obsessions), that inevitably colored much of my reading and re-reading this year.

Naturally I turned once more to iconic work on time and memory, and though I usually pick up the first volume,, this time I began with the last, . It’s interesting how the two different translations of the title— and —emphasize time in the first instance, and memory in the second. I’ll confess I prefer the second: though not strictly literal, it is sublimely literary, a phrase from a sonnet that I love. And also it signals the ways in which we restore what is lost to time’s depredations, through the associative nature of memory, whether a madeleine dipped in tea, or stumbling on uneven paving stones. At a time when I’m housebound and only my imagination is free to roam, it is head-spinning to read the phrase, “if our life is vagabond our memory is sedentary” and wonder if in our ceaseless rush forward, these are days, too, that will be indelibly etched in our minds.

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