In an apricot-colored building in Zurich, surrounded by curiously planted forget-me-nots, Gaustine has opened the first "clinic for the past," an institution that offers an inspired treatment for Alzheimer's sufferers: each floor reproduces a past decade in minute detail, allowing patients to transport themselves back in time to unlock what is left of their fading memories. Serving as Gaustine's assistant, the narrator is tasked with collecting the flotsam and jetsam of the past, from 1960s furniture and 1940s shirt buttons to nostalgic scents and even wisps of afternoon light. But as the charade becomes more convincing, an increasing number of healthy people seek out the clinic to escape from the dead-end of their daily lives—a development that results in an unexpected conundrum when the past begins to invade the present.
Mr. Gospodinov...is a nostalgia artist ... His books are preoccupied with memory, its ambiguous pleasures and its wistful, melancholy attraction. He is most drawn to minor and personalized details ... The book flows between the remembered and the purely imagined as easily as it wanders through time ... The novel rambles among elaborations of its fantastical conceit, flashbacks to the narrator’s youth, and meditations on the current condition of Europe with no apparent cohesive structure. Caveat lector: This makes for an extremely diffuse and piecemeal book. But the absence of a stabilizing center of gravity is symptomatic of a continent still recovering from the hammer-blows of World War II and the Cold War ... Mr. Gospodinov also grasps the dangers of escapism ... This difficult but rewarding novel concludes with an image of Europe brought to the brink of renewed conflict—an abstraction that recent events have imbued with the terrible force of reality.
The morality of artificially returning people to the past, and the broader question of whether this truly brings solace — whether indulgence in nostalgia is curative or pernicious — is the central question of Georgi Gospodinov’s newly translated novel ... He is sympathetic to the poignancy of things from before...but rebuffs the scapegoats of globalism, immigration and modernization that supposedly killed them off; we are all complicit in the destruction of history, and going backward can only mean intolerance and the exaltation of traditionalist kitsch ... Gospodinov is too delicate to resort to crude political satire. He is certain the flight into the past will not undo the conflicts of the present ... Old resentments fester until a misbegotten re-enactment of Franz Ferdinand’s assassination brings the continent to the brink of a 'second First World War' ... Gospodinov strays a bit after this, with a sequence of journal entries that exposes his narrator’s own cognitive decline. There’s a tacked-on feeling to the dreams and trivia at the end of this touching and intelligent book.
Georgi Gospodinov has terrific fun in Time Shelter creating the world’s first 'clinic for the past' ... The bald premise here isn’t as fanciful as it might sound ... This is not a realist novel. It is very much a genre-busting novel of ideas. This is a book about memory, how it fades and how it is restored, even reinvented, in the imaginations of addled individuals and the civic discourse of nations ... Gospodinov’s notes on national character and historical determinism threaten to swallow the book ... Gospodinov chillingly describes the process of mental ageing ... His story is strong enough — the tale of an innocent caught up in a harebrained scheme. But Gospodinov is one of those writers who thinks novels can, and perhaps should, contain more than just a story. Notes, for example. Political observations ... Can novels really hold so much? ... The risk with a project like this is that it slips fiction’s tracks and becomes nothing more than an overlong London Review of Books article ... In its garish light, Gospodinov’s fanciful and rambling meditation on midlife crisis, crumbling memory and historical re-enactment acquires a more pointed, political meaning ... Intimate and personal.