Having survived the collapse of civilization as a child, Kirsten has an ambivalent relationship to the time before the pandemic and to memory itself, and has lost many memories due to tragedy. For example, she forgets the entire first year of her life after civilization collapsed and she lost her parents. She tells Diallo that she believes that the less one remembers, the better equipped they are to survive in the world after the collapse. However, she also spends much of her time outside of the symphony searching for clues about the past and for ways to understand her life before, especially through her hunt for tabloids and books about Arthur. Arthur is part of the last experience she remembers about civilization, and so she searches the rubble of a lost world for clues as to who she was.
Throughout the novel, Kirsten struggles to do more than survive as the new world’s brutality wars with the beauty of art and of the everyday. She marks her body with dagger tattoos which represent the people she’s killed. This demonstrates that the new world’s brutal realities never leave her. The violence required to exist in this world weighs heavily on Kirsten, and she is haunted not only by those she’s lost but by those she’s killed, too. Her other tattoo, which says “Survival is insufficient,” illustrates Kirsten’s commitment to finding art and beauty in the world. The primary characteristic of both Kirsten as a child and Kirsten in the post-pandemic world is her love of acting. As a child, after Arthur dies, Kirsten tells Jeevan that the thing she loves most in the world is acting. When Kirstin is an adult, Mandel echoes these sentiments by revealing that Kirsten never feels more alive or less afraid than when she’s acting in the symphony. It is through acting and through bringing art to the new, brutal world that Kirsten finds meaning in life, and discovers that she can do more than merely survive.