The Cleaners – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★★ (5 / 5 stars)

Imagine if you could detect memories in everyday objects. That is the case with two sisters, Clara and Beatrice, who have a hypersensitivity to memories greater than most others. Clara wants to forget, and thus ventures to visit Gui, a young man who runs a “cleaning shop” that wipes away memory residue. But upon meeting Gui, and learning he can hardly remember anything, as well as an encounter with her sister that sparks memories deep in her past, Clara wonders if she is doing the right thing. Perhaps not everything should be forgotten after all.

I have always been fond of stories that have to do with memories and how they attach themselves to items and people. It’s a part of the human condition, I suppose, to be interested in these types of things. What if that memento caries the memories of your dead grandmother? Are stories really forgotten? 

Just those mere questions lure me into stories like this. In a world where recalling memories from objects is commonplace, and someone like Gui (who’s memory is similar to most people in the real world) is unusual, it brings about questions of personal humanity. Are we really human if we forget our past? What happens when everything becomes a dream?

Whether the author meant this or not, Gui’s plight in this world could be synonymous to dementia or Alzheimer’s. He doesn’t remember. He is reliant on videos…but they might as well be actors on a screen playing on scenes of his life. In seeing Gui like this, Clara realizes the own importance of her memory. As much as she would love to forget the betrayal and heartache from a lost lover, it is that story that makes her who she is. 

Some things are best forgotten. Some aren’t. 

Overall, I think, this short story was extremely well done…and I think I won’t forget it for quite some time. 

What’s it about?

Touch the past or wash it away? Two sisters have a choice in this unforgettable short story of everyday magic and the power of memory by the Hugo and Nebula Award–winning author Ken Liu.

Gui is a professional cleaner at A Fresh Start, scrubbing away the unpleasant layers of memory that build up on the personal objects of his customers. Memory-blind himself, he can’t feel those wounds. Clara can, and she prefers them irretrievable. Until her sister, Beatrice, ultrasensitive to memory, raises one that could change Clara’s mind. For Gui, the past is gone. For Clara and Beatrice, deciding what to remember reaches to the heart of their shared history.

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