Tag Archives: memory

Book Review: The Book of Memory

Image result for the book of memory

The story that you have asked me to tell you does not begin with the pitiful ugliness of Lloyd’s death. It begins on a long-ago day in August when the sun seared my blistered face and I was nine years old and my father and mother sold me to a strange man.

Memory, the narrator of Petina Gappah’s The Book of Memory, is an albino woman languishing in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, after being sentenced for murder. As part of her appeal, her lawyer insists that she write down what happened as she remembers it. The death penalty is a mandatory sentence for murder, and Memory is, both literally and metaphorically, writing for her life. As her story unfolds, Memory reveals that she has been tried and convicted for the murder of Lloyd Hendricks, her adopted father. But who was Lloyd Hendricks? Why does Memory feel no remorse for his death? And did everything happen exactly as she remembers?

Moving between the townships of the poor and the suburbs of the rich, and between past and present, the 2009 Guardian First Book Award–winning writer Petina Gappah weaves a compelling tale of love, obsession, the relentlessness of fate, and the treachery of memory.

The book reminded me of the book, We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo particularly when she talks of the Harare township where Memory grew up. The characterisation of township life was totally believable and reminded me of my experience growing up. The book also does a good job of personifying the life behind bars and the dynamics of womanhood and female friendships.

Overall, Gappah is a lovely story teller, she builds it up slowly and steadily then lets it slow down later. I loved the pace. It totally sucked me in and I read it over a day or two. Then at the end I just hugged the book and smiled. The story continually switches between a flashback to the past and present time. Despite this, it was still easy to follow the broader tale.

Common themes raised in the book include: language, memory, family (siblings, mother-daughter, husband-wife), religion, colonialism(or race as a subset). Various questions I had though while reading the book include:

  • In light of the decolonised free education in our lifetime protests currently happening in South African universities, is the best education White/ Western and in a foreign (ex-colonialist) language? To what extent has this changed? Would you/ I feel comfortable to take our kid to a native school ala Spilt Milk? I am not sure. In terms of decolonising language, the best book I have read on this topic so far is Decolonising the Mind by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.
  • The book also touches on Africa’s complicated history with the White Man. Was Lloyd African? Why because he spoke the language and understood the culture / had allowed himself to be immersed in it fully? If we contrast Lloyd and Alexandra the sister, who is more African?
  • Colonialism and the White Mans’ burden also comes across when we look at the motives of Lloyd in adopting Memory.
  • That duality of existence that I find so intriguing about South Africans and now Zimbabwe. That deep belief in ancestry and mainstream religion or a more modern life. I grew up raised in a predominantly Bible-focused culture and so this duality is totally alien to me.
  • Do we trust our memories? Is it ever as we think or are there things we remember that as we have gotten older we have to come realise are not as they were. As the last child in my home, I have some clear memories of myself as a child but to be honest, I know that a lot of them are mainly based on what I have been told and not necessarily what I particularly remember. What are your earliest memories?

In closing, I am not sure why they did not translate the Shona bits which made me wonder who the real audience is here. It was quite frustrating for me a non-Shona speaker.

knick knack

Memory is a curious little device isn’t it? According to Wikipedia, it is defined as an organism’s ability to store,retain and subsequntly retrieve information. This is the psychological definition of it and at its root we can see is information. How far back can our memory take us- whats the earliest thing you can easily remember that you haven’t been influenced by anyone? Jodi Picoult’s book Vanishing Acts and its all about memory- bila spoiling the story much, its asking how do you know that your life as you know it is really as it is and NOT the machinations of some really mean person- in the world we live in today its not totally inconceivable that someone would take your life and erase memory (but for serious, does that happen/ is it possible?) and influence you in a zilion other ways too… so really, how do we know that we know what we know and what we know IS? As I have grown older i have accumulated a memory bank and at times a whiff of perfume can take me a few years back when a close friend left town, a list of songs that can easily take me back to a time of my life when I was sad, happy, trustful, eager, excited…. the works. The silliest of things can trigger a load full of memories for me but this song below is sure to bring me to tears each time and yaani…

Precious redeemer and friend
Who would have thought that a lamb could
Rescue the souls of men, Oh You rescue the souls of men

Counselor, comforter, keeper
Spirit we long to embrace
You offer hope when our hearts have
Hopelessly lost the way, Oh we hopelessly lost the way

You are the One that we praise
You are the One we adore
You give the healing and grace our
Hearts always hunger for, Oh our hearts always hunger for

Almighty infinite father
Faithfully loving Your own
Herein our weakness You find us
Falling before Your throne, Oh we’re falling before Your throne

The Lord is wonderful to me, He is merciful and He is our Saviour too. Together He is the wonderful merciful saviour.