The Museum of Lost Love by Gary Barker – a powerful book of of love, loss and memory
Emotional, powerful and sometimes violent, this is a book of broken relationships. The Museum of Lost Love is based in Zagreb, and forms a tragic but deeply meaningful exhibition of letters and objects recounting the tales of broken relationships. The words of the letters are powerful, and the objects relevant to the stories they tell, imparting extra power. Behind the stories are hints of survival and change, but always there is an ending. There are two stories which also flow through the book, alternating with the short testimonies, which are linked by a character. They reveal a more nuanced view of disaster and challenge, tragedy and yet a little hope, as the characters, Tyler, Katia and Goran seek to cope with their situations. Setting out an international series of the human problems that can threaten and change relationships, this book explores some of the things that can go wrong, with a hint of hope for survival, change and growth. There are the obvious problems of war, of civil danger, of the deep hurts that can affect men and women in so many places. A book of rare humanity, its undoubted honesty and determination to show the sometimes harsh realities of life and love is a deeply felt piece of flowing writing. Yet there is resilience, the theme of the human spirit, which lies beneath all the stories. It has been an eye opening experience reading and reviewing this book.
The book opens with a young man, Tyler, who is reluctantly telling his story of military service for the American forces in Afghanistan to his therapist Katia. This is not the story of open warfare, rather the ongoing fear of what may be lurking around each corner. He manages to convey the blindness of relationships, entering the unknown. He has to cope with the unknown on a daily basis, as he finds himself a single father to Sammy, a little boy who arrived unexpectedly. His job as a policeman who incidentally keeps an informal eye on sheltered housing for women who have suffered abuse from their partners will also mean more challenges that create painful memories of things he has seen.
His therapist, Katia, has her own traumatic challenges to deal with, which develop throughout the novel. She knows she is adopted, a small baby brought from Brazil, whose adoptive parents suffered their own tragedy. She wants to find out more about where she comes from, risking much in her relationships. Her partner, Goran, is a survivor of the Yugoslav wars, in which he escaped as a teenager. Suffering from guilt by association, he discovers a momento of a young woman, also a refugee, who was left behind in a place of civil war and appalling threat. The ongoing story of his coming to terms with his questions is a part of the account woven through the book, shaping and defining his relationship with Katia.
This book is not an easy read, but undoubtedly powerful and enthralling. The shifts of focus between the main narratives and the short testimonies maintains the interest, with tension and suspense as what is happening. This is an important book, which says much about relationships, identity and the challenges of life. National and international issues are described well, which increases the books significance. The troubled history of Serbia, Bosnia and the disappearance of Yugoslavia is commemorated through the memories of some of the characters in this book, illuminating the harsh realities. A strong book, this is an impressive achievement and deserves a wide audience.