Incurable illness casts long, unwelcome shadows over Anthony Doerr's collection of short fiction. Alzheimer's disease curses Memory Wall, the book's titular story. Alma Konachek lives alone in a Cape Town suburb, her brain eroding in the years following the death of her husband. Desperate to stem this "slow leak", she contracts the services of Dr Amnesty, the developer of a futuristic memory stimulator.
Amnesty's device uses memory cartridges on which Alma's past is recorded - and it is on one of these that the story hangs. Her late husband Harold, an amateur fossil hunter in his retirement years, made an astonishing discovery in a remote location minutes before suffering a fatal heart attack. The whole episode is recorded on one of the thousands of cartridges that litter Alma's cluttered home, which in turn leads several unscrupulous figures to come calling in search of the hidden treasure's location.
The remainder of Doerr's stories move out of Africa and into China, Korea and Lithuania. But, if travel opens up a world of possibilities, then these characters are universally tethered to where they have come from.