For most of my life, I knew of just one photograph from my parents’ wedding. It wasn’t even from the actual day. A few weeks after they’d gone to Cambridge, Massachusetts, City Hall, a friend hosted a small celebratory dinner party, which included a cake decorated with edible nasturtium flowers. They are pictured there, my mother, seated, laughing in white, a crown of flowers in her dark hair. My father stands behind her, smiling in a dress shirt, vest, and tie, and wearing tinted glasses, his curly hair combed out like a face-framing halo in a fourteenth-century fresco. Their clasped hands hover in the space between them like a third presence.
The photograph is washed out from over-exposure and many years of handling. That it was the sole memento of the occasion was, to me, a source of pride—the preciousness imbued by its singularity, the lack of egotism it implied. They must have been so happy they forgot to take pictures! Also, they are gorgeous, like late-Seventies movie stars. I imagined the snapshot born of a briefly remembered duty to document the event before they returned to celebrating.
“Unhappy individuals who hope never have the same pain as those who remember,” wote Soren Kierkegaard — the Danish philosopher of whom Chidi is so fond — wrote in Either/Or. In The Good Place, there is no memory — or, rather, memory is limited to whatever Michael chooses for you, as he can reboot the characters at any time, entirely erasing their memories. There is a kind of pain that they get to escape by having no memories — and one of the great questions of Judeo-Christian theology is how, exactly, God remembers. God is a God of remembrance — He remembers His people, their trials, their actions, their sins. Memory brings pain. There is no getting around the fact that an omniscient God knows and recalls all that we do, which is a terrifying prospect.
What are we to make of that? Does The Good Place get it right? It might, although in the book of Isaiah it is God, not people, who forgets in heaven: “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” In this way, God’s forgetting — His choice not to remember — is the very thing that saves people from their sins and allows them into heaven.
One question I’ve often been asked since I started learning Korean is: do the two halves of the peninsula speak the same language? The answer is yes and not quite. Yes, because division happened only in the previous century, which isn’t enough time for mutual unintelligibility to develop. Not quite, because it is enough time for those countries’ vastly different trajectories to impact on the language they use, most noticeably in the case of English loanwords – a veritable flood in the South, carefully dammed in the North. The biggest differences, though, are those of dialect, which have pronounced regional differences both between and within North and South. Unlike in the UK, a dialect doesn’t just mean a handful of region-specific words; conjunctions and sentence endings, for example, are pronounced and thus written differently. That’s a headache until you crack the code.
At the heart of Winterfolk is the hope that Rain, through seeing the greater world, will gain the ability to make her own choices and move forward with her life. In this sense, it is not dissimilar from the fairy tales that Rain reads again and again. Her journey leaves her changed, and more aware of who she truly is. It's rare to find a book that is so gentle and so brutal at once, but Rain will take your hand and show you the way through.