We all like to think we know who we are. But do we really?
Are you where you were born? Are you your family, your friends, the place you were born, the place you lived?
But imagine if your memory lasted no longer than thirty seconds.
In March of 1985, Clive Wearing, an eminent English musician and musicologist in his mid-forties, was struck by a brain infection that left him with the most devastating case of amnesia ever recorded. New events and experiences are erased almost instantly.
He now spends every day ‘waking up’ every 20-30 seconds and has no memory no longer than this. He remembers little of his life before 1985; he knows, for example, that he has children from an earlier marriage, but cannot remember their names.
His love for his second wife Deborah, whom he married the year prior to his illness, is undiminished. And he can still play the piano and conduct a choir – all this despite having no recollection of having received an extensive musical education.
If you’d like to read more of his tragic story, read this piece from The New Yorker or watch this video.
When I look at Clive I ask questions. For instance: he loves his wife, he retains a passionate and intuitive connection to music, ; but how? It could be, as scientists suggest, that musical memory is stored in a separate part of the brain.
I wonder, in my less rational moments: are we looking at a naked soul?
For Clive retains nothing of what we could call his identity. He cannot be a patriot, he cannot hold political or philosophical opinion, he has no family or friends that he remembers.
But his vital essence remains; his love and his talent.
So I ask this question; if every memory was stripped from you, what might be left – and would that be the essential you?
It was a case such as Clive’s that inspired my novel Anastasia. I began with this question – what if a royal princess loses her entire memory, as Clive did, through a combination of emotional and physical trauma.
She is royal, a celebrity – but only if the world remembers her, and only if she remembers herself.
Because without memory, what is left?
Anastasia is a love story and it’s a mystery played out again the Shanghai, Berlin and New York of the twenties. I never allow the story to refer directly to this philosophical question, because there is no answer to it anyway. We each form our own conclusion anyway.
Who are you really?
Are you what you remember … are you want others tell you that you are … are you what they want you to be?
When your memories are taken away – what is left?
You’ll find Anastasia at Amazon US
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