SH Flashback: “The Book of Things Which Must Not Be Remembered,” by C. Scavella Burrell

A new entry in my quasi-weekly Strange Horizons retrospective:

The Book of Things Which Must Not Be Remembered,” by C. Scavella Burrell
About a girl in Ancient Egypt learning to be a scribe; about writing, and remembrance, and whose stories get preserved. (Published in 2003.) (5,700 words.)

I told Neb, “All our family are scribes.”

“It's man's work,” Neb answered sharply.

I shrugged. “I'm not doing man's work. There are things men don't write about.”

(See also the full list of Flashback stories.)

(I'm still behind on posting Flashback stories. Working on catching up.)




This story involves some tropes and themes that I almost always love in stories:

  • The power of writing and words.
  • Girls doing things that their culture considers to be reserved for boys.
  • Hidden stories and secret histories.
  • The pain of seeing data and stories destroyed or erased.

And more. I also love the sense of time and place—the author was well-versed in the relevant history, and I learned a fair bit from discussion while editing. And there's some lovely prose here. And lines I love, like this:

This, Greatgrandfather explained, was a story of things which did not happen. It was as inconsequential as all the other stories he told me about the years of the invaders, those things that are not to be remembered.

But what I love most about this story is the final scene: the discovery of the ink and paper in the shrine of the god of (among other things) writing; the use of those materials to record the secret history that the authorities have forbidden, written by someone in the margins of society, someone who isn't allowed to write; the hope that her daughters' daughters will also one day be scribes; the dream that writing might one day lead to magic.

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