The essence of Bryan Washington’s debut novel, Memorial, is the invisible barriers that dictate what we can be, who we can be with and where we will end up. Benson, a Black man and Mike, a Japanese-American man are a young couple living in Boston. They are separated when Mike leaves for Osaka to be with his estranged father dying of cancer, leaving Benson in Texas with his mother Mitsuko. Washington writes spectacularly from the inner perspectives of Benson and Mike, who struggle with the relationships in their lives. Personal history and how it informs identity are a key motif in Washington’s novel. Although it’s not immediately apparent to the protagonists, Benson and Mike go through a transformative awakening of their own desires, capturing the complexities in multiracial and intercultural same-sex relationships.
Unwitting departures, domino effects, revelations, self-discovery, estrangement, and family dynamics are important themes throughout this intricate love story—the exact kind of story that speaks to our current epoch.
Only when a story is extremely specific does it become universal; a concept Washington understands well. Benson is a self-aware Black man who stands out in his cultural setting as an introvert among a cult of personalities. In contrast, Mike is the son of immigrant parents who desperately seek to reinvent themselves in order to integrate into a new home, a new country, and a new way of life.
Washington’s ability to develop characters who are three dimensional provides a humanising portrayal of culturally diverse voices and identities at a moment when the entire world is wondering, ‘Are we going to be okay?’ Memorial is the book of our times, reassuring us from the very first page, ‘We’ll be fine. Thank you for asking.’