Interview: Emmi Itaranta Explores the Macro and Micro Effects of Climate Change in Memory of Water

Emmi Itaranta

It’s clear to most scientists that human activity fuels climate change. What’s less clear is global warming’s long-term impact on geography, ecosystems and human society. If global warming continues at its current pace, what will life be like 50 years from now? A hundred? Five hundred? The further in the future we go, the more we must rely on science fiction writers to help us fill in the details.

In her debut novel Memory of Water, Emmi Itaranta takes us to a future where the defining consequence of global warming is water scarcity. But more than a portrait of an environmental apocalypse, Memory of Water is about secrets and their consequences: an authoritarian government’s secrets about the past, a family’s secrets about a hidden source of water.

The book is also about language. Ms. Itaranta, who was born and raised in Finland and now lives in England, wrote Memory of Water simultaneously in Finnish and English. As she told me, this forced her to engage in a heightened deliberation about her choice of each word—a slow and exacting process but one that produced diamond-sharp prose. “It forced me to throw away anything that was unnecessary. It forced me to look at each word and each sentence very closely on an almost microscopic level,” she says.

Ms. Itaranta also talks about her interest in the Japanese tea ceremony and how it provided the kernel around which the book grew, her advice for writers tackling their first novel, her books reception among Finnish-speaking versus the English-speaking audiences, and her aspiration to create a new kind of heroine.

You can learn more about Ms. Itaranta here.

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