Trying out the new review format! Let me know what you think.
Somehow I knew that in order to live, I had to let my old life die. But my sister could not let go of our home. It held her like a vine, stretching across the miles, comforting, strangling.
We were still in our crate when she looked at me without seeing, and I knew that the vine had finally snapped.
When I read the above quote from The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, it reminded me of a talk Nikki Giovanni gave at the local university. In her talk, Giovanni said that the only way man would successfully travel to (and possibly live on?–I don’t know; it was two years ago) Mars would be to understand how Africans brought over during the slave trade managed to survive the journey from Africa to the Americas without losing their minds. (Her argument was that the Africans pretty literally arrived in a new world with no connection to the old and absolutely no way to conceive of how to get back to where they came from. The first map on this page shows the many, many different routes Africans were possibly taken during captivity. The journey itself created a complete disconnect with their home.) How did they do that, she wondered, without losing their minds?
Before Ivan tells the story of his childhood, the little elephant Ruby who is also part of the circus, asks Ivan to tell her a story about when he was little. His response is “I don’t remember things.” After he tells Ruby some stories from when he was little, he’s unable to sleep and says, “For perhaps the first time ever, I’ve been remembering.”
Also, early in the story, Ivan and Stella (another elephant) have this exchange:
“You know I can’t remember much,” I say.
“There’s a difference,” Stella says gently, “between ‘can’t remember’ and ‘won’t remember.'”
“That’s true,” I admit. Not remembering can be difficult, but I’ve had a lot of time to work on it.
Remember means to have or keep an image or idea in your mind, to keep information, to not forget, to bring to mind or think of again (source).
To have or keep an image or to bring to mind or think of again are deliberate actions. Ivan doesn’t remember things. That’s very different than saying he forgets things.
(Forget: to be unable to think of, to fail to remember, to stop thinking or caring about.)
Ivan chooses not to think of his past as a means of survival. He chooses to let his old life die because memories can be “comforting,” but they can also be “strangling.” (Strangle: to kill by squeezing the throat, to stop from growing or developing)
But he doesn’t forget. He doesn’t fail to remember. The memories are always there. He also doesn’t stop caring about his past or his home. The story shows how much he loved and cared for his family in the jungle. He just knows that remembering things from before captivity, that recalling them is worse.
How could the African captives hold onto a place they might never see again if to do so would most certainly mean death or a loss of sanity as it does for Ivan’s sister?
Laurie Halse Anderson did an interview with EW to talk about her latest book, The Impossible Knife of Memory (which I have not yet read and which deals with PTSD), and this quote reminded me of both Ivan’s experience in the story and Giovanni’s question:
I had a great childhood, so when things fell apart for my family, it actually became incredibly painful to remember those great days. I can remember actively praying not to remember them. Because when I would think of how lovely it had been, it made the pain of that present moment almost unbearable.
Again, remembering becomes a deliberate act as does not remembering. To remember happier times for Anderson means the present situation would have been that much more unbearable–exactly what happens to Ivan. Applegate imagines Ivan must have deliberately not remembered to endure what he expected to be a lifetime of captivity.
Is that, perhaps, the same technique the African captives used?
As for the story, I thought it was just lovely.
Adventures through Awkwardness: 1/12