Review and Response to “The Future of Nostalgia” by Svetlana Boym

Pastor Matthew Best
12 min readMay 20

This is not a new book. It was published in 2001. And in 2015 the author passed away. But I found this book to be timely none the less. After all, the author was dealing with a topic that is timeless — nostalgia.

Boym’s main focus is to look at nostalgia through the lens of the post Cold War world, looking at specific cities and how they transitioned into the post-Cold War era and their use and dealing with nostalgia — sometimes helpful and sometimes not.

While the looks at individual cities and cultures was very interesting and a window into those places at an interesting time in history, I want to focus m attention on the overall idea of nostalgia, which I think is more helpful and timely. I’m thinking about how the idea of nostalgia applies to the church and society — both of which seem to have bouts of nostalgia among a significant percentage of their members. It’s with this in mind that we dive in.

Boys gets to the heart of the matter on the subject right on the first page of the Introduction writing, “Nostalgia (from nostos — return home, and algae — longing) is a longing for a home that no longer exists or has never existed. Nostalgia is a sentiment of loss and displacement, but it is also a romance with one’s own fantasy.” (pg. xiii). This definition is wonderful and captures the essence of nostalgia and recognizes the variety that comes with nostalgia. The core of it is that it is a yearning of a person for something that doesn’t exist, but they have convinced themselves that it did or continues to exist somewhere. It is a selective form of memory — intentionally remembering something the way a person wants to remember it, while conveniently ignoring, forgetting, or wiping away the unpleasant parts of reality.

In order for nostalgia to work, Boym tells us that “The alluring object of nostalgia is notoriously elusive.” (Pg. xiv). That’s because nostalgia deals with fantasy and creativity, not reality. Contact with reality destroys the imagined fantasy. In this way, nostalgia thrives on never actually arriving at its destination so that the dream world can continue to exist.

One of the main points that Boym makes is about why nostalgia exists with some people. It has to do with change and how people deal with it. She writes, “Somehow progress didn’t cure nostalgia but exacerbated it. Similarly, globalization encouraged stronger local attachments. In counterpoint to our…

Pastor Matthew Best

My name is Matthew Best. I’m an ELCA (Lutheran) pastor who attempts to translate church and churchy stuff into everyday language.