“You look so familiar! I must have known you in a past life.”
“Heaven must be missing an angel.”
These are a few of the pick up lines people use thinking they’re being smooth when, laughably, they are actually the fodder of every comedy movie out there.
But there might be truth in one of those lines.
You may be familiar with Ann Brashares from her Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. Her latest novel, My Name is Memory, is a departure. It deals with not only the idea of reincarnation but reincarnation as fact. It’s a story about a man who has been “alive” for 1200 years. He’s not literally immortal, but he remembers each life from one to the next. If reincarnation exists, many of us know well that déjà vu feeling of “Oh man, I have done this before, I know it!”
Memories of past lives follow Daniel for over 1,000 years. And along with those memories, he recognizes and often crosses paths with a woman he’s been in love with since his very first life:
All I could think to do was love her. That’s all a person can do.
The book follows both characters as one struggles with the idea of reincarnation, while the other tries to prove it exists. And there’s a twist: a man who was Daniel’s brother 1,000 years ago also carries the long memories with him and is hunting down Daniel’s love.
The novel introduces the idea that there are people born remembering their past lives. They can recall lives that intersect with their loved ones and enemies not only hundreds of years but back to a time when names were unfamiliar to the human tongue.
My favorite part of the book is when Daniel recalls a woman who had lived before but hadn’t realized it. It’s also a little telling of the loneliness of being born remembering when no one else around you does:
He remembered a woman from his old neighborhood in St. Louis driving fifteen miles to the cemetery every day to mourn her long-dead husband at a cold gray stone, while the husband was busy selling milk at the 7-Eleven just half a mile down the road from her house.
This is a fast-paced read, especially if your mind is cracked open just a smidge to welcome an old idea like reincarnation. I was a little wary of the romance aspect at first, thinking it might be mushy and have me rolling my eyes. But along with the idea of chasing the one you love over centuries is the idea that we’re also always near to the ones we loved (and hated) most throughout the years: brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends. I found that a comforting (and maybe a little unsettling) thought.