The Book Of Memory by Petina Gappah
The story you have asked me to tell begins not with the ignominious ugliness of Lloyd’s death but on a long-ago day in April when the sun seared my blistered face and I was nine years old and my father and mother sold me to a strange man. I say my father and my mother, but really it was just my mother.
Memory, the narrator of The Book of Memory, is an albino woman languishing in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, where she has been convicted of 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?
I have just devoured this novel, in 2hrs on a lazy Sunday morning! I keep day dreaming with thoughts on the themes and mostly my ability to assume the worst within the narrative. I rarely jump to conclusions in novels, I simply let the author tell the story. But with this novel I made false assumptions time and time again!
Which meant when I finally turned the last page, I was left stunned with so much to contemplate.
The novel opens with the protagonist Memory, narrating her life in Chikurubi jail. We hear the life stories of her fellow prisoners and the day to day struggle of like in prison. When we finally get to memory’s life story, it is one that will leave you shocked and saddened. Memory was sold by her parents to a wealthy white man, at just 9yrs old. After a childhood marred by evil spirits, curses and the family shame of being born albino. Memory carries the social stigma of being albino her entire life and even in jail, she is whispered about and mocked. I had so many questions, why did her parents sell her? Was there motivation, purely financially based? What are the intentions of a man whom buys a child? Would this lead to more misery and pain for Memory?
“In the years that followed, my feelings for Lloyd went through a complex spectrum that took in fear, affection, anger and revulsion, gratitude and, ultimately, pity”
All I can say, as I refuse to leave spoilers, is my initial assumptions were completely and utterly wrong! But to understand the full extent of the rich/poor divide.
The cultural aspects that make such a situation occur and the why Memory is languishing on death row.
You simply have to read her story……
Memory deals with her childhood loss of identity, her new life in jail and the painful relationships of her past, throughout her story. It is incredibly powerful, moving and emotive novel. From the final 30/40 pages I didn’t move a single muscle.
Highly recommended 4*
Via Faber Books: https://www.faber.co.uk/author/petina-gappah/