Back Together Again

I have always been rattled by the idea of time—its unforeseen comings and goings, its ability to mask and mar remembrance, its skill of casting shadows over our lives. Stopping to observe its passage in photographs leaves me even more unsettled. It is almost heartbreaking to look back through photo collections: my childhood years, old family portraits, former friends, visited places. Try as I might, I simply cannot separate photography from memory and, thus, from nostalgia.

This discomfort propelled me to create the images that you see above. Combining a photograph of the far past (a Buddha that used to rest in my grandparent’s home), the nearer past (the youth), and the present (myself), I attempted to try to understand how we age, how our stories are formed. What knowledge does the youth have that I do not? Why can I not return to being that child? What memory does each of those faces evoke in me? What are those past looks trying to tell me?

I think Matalon is plagued by these same vexations. Like me, she possesses an inherent need to piece time back together. She includes family photographs throughout the novel in an attempt to figure out her story (as the narrator, Ester). Through her photographs, she tries to map out her family’s past, figure out how the tale moved from point to point, and, more importantly, understand the people that compose that story. Matalon stresses remembrance, especially through the character of Nona Fortuna. Lacking her eyesight, she relies on her granddaughter to translate her past by looking at photographs. In essence, photographs link her to recollection (63).

This novel is very fragmented, mirroring how memory comes to us—in waves that don’t always correspond with chronology. We do not usually know in what order events occur, nor do we even know if the stories are actually true. But this is Matalon’s point. Time is not sympathetic to memory. It moves on without paying heed to recollection. While we cannot stop time, we can attempt to piece its fragments together into our own memories—and that is just what Matalon does in The One Facing Us.

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