Climate Fiction Book Club: Memories of Water by Emmi Itäranta

Climate change, environmental problems, justice, food security, human relations to nature, water scarcity, political differences, and power relations. These are just a few examples of concepts that we, as researchers within environmental studies, face in our everyday working life. We write articles and read articles, we write books and read books, we present our work at conferences and listen to other researchers’ works at conferences. This is, of course, stimulating and exciting, but it is also only a few ways among others to deal with and talk about climate, or environment-related questions. In the search for other forums to talk about these questions, a few colleagues of ours came up with a great idea: a climate fiction book club! A few days ago, we had the first meeting of this year and it was a blast!

Since the two of us took over the responsibility to organize the cli-fi book club, the list of potential books has grown longer and longer. Books within the genre of cli-fi can, very briefly, be described to be fiction that deals with the impacts of climate change and global warming. That the genre is becoming increasingly popular can easily be confirmed by the great number of available cli-fi books. Previously in the cli-fi book club, we have read two books. The first book was The Carhullan Army, a book about women creating an alternative life on a self-supporting farm as an escape from an oppressive, patriarchal regime. The second book was Cities of Salt, by Abdul Rahman Munif. It concerned the discovery of oil reserves on the Arabian Peninsula sometime in the 1930s and was written from the perspective of the local inhabitants.

This time, we have read Memory of Water, written by Emmi Itäranta. In the book, we got to know Noria, a girl living in a small village somewhere near where Finland is located today. She lives with her father, who is a tea master, and her mother, who is a researcher. The military regime is constantly controlling their lives and Noria’s parents have different opinions about her future in the village. When she reaches a certain age, she gets to choose if she wants to stay in the village and become a tea master, or if she wants to move with her mother to another city. She chooses the first option and starts studying her father’s tea master skills, while her mother moves and starts working as a researcher. The water supply in the village is only getting scarcer and the regime is constantly accusing the villagers of water crimes. Noria faces many difficult situations during the book and we got to follow her on her journey.

A few days ago, we met at a restaurant for a prolonged lunch to discuss the book. Nine excited book readers turned up and shared their thoughts. There were no questions to answer, nor a form to follow. Instead, we wanted the discussion to be informal and light-hearted. While we enjoyed raggmunk, (a Swedish dish that resembles pancakes but is made almost entirely of potatoes), the discussions in small groups started to take shape. We discussed how we felt about reading the book, how we experienced characters and the story, and how climate or environmental change was portrayed, but we also raised other questions that had come to mind while reading.

Since there could be interested book readers reading this blog post, we will not write more about the story itself or different happenings. However, what we can say is that we would like to encourage more researchers within environmental studies to create cli-fi book clubs. We concluded that it is very interesting and valuable for us to see how questions that we deal with every day are described and narrated in fictional contexts. We would also like to encourage curious readers to read Memories of Water. It is an enthusing book that deals with water, something that we all handle in our daily lives, but which may be threatened under climate change – both because of scarcity and potential resource conflicts.

Emelie Fälton and Maria Jernnäs


Emelie Fälton: Seed Box Ph.D. Student at The Department of Thematic Studies: Environmental Change, Linköping University

Maria Jernäs:  Ph.D. Student at The Department of Thematic Studies: Environmental Change, Linköping University. Funded by Formas – A Global Potluck. Affiliated to MISTRA Geopolitics Research Programme.