Petina Gappah ||The Book of Memory

The Book of Memory is one of those concise novels that apparently effortless combine several topics. Topic one: the fate of African albino’s; two: the fate of gays;  three: life in prison; four: from colonialism to independence and five: believe in ghosts and devils in a modern society. Gappah combines everything in a logical and fluent way, furthermore depicting her characters to the point in a minimum of words. I suspect she, and many contemporary writers with her, profits from this time and age in which image influences our daily life more and more. Whether it’s the documentary on African albino’s, series like Orange is the New Black or platitudes of Britishness,  they’re in our head and Gappah uses those images to depict her characters effectively.
Main character Memory is in jail for a murder she did not commit. Her victim is Lloyd, the man who once bought her (or so Memory believes). As a result she left her poor surroundings and had a drastic change of life. Because of Lloyd Memory has had an outstanding education and she did not lack anything, apart from her family. She misses her parents and her younger sister, she does not understand why she has had to leave them. The only explanation she can come up with is her lack of colour. Only at the end of the novel it becomes clear that she misunderstood what came to pass between Lloyd and her parents. Whether Memory will ever leave jail is never revealed.
Memory writes down her story for a journalist whilst waiting for a retrial, thus providing Gappah with the opportunity to link Memory’s story to the five topics. The contrast between old customs and modern times is a constant in Memory’s story.  As a modern woman in London she can toy with her colourless skin, hair and eyes, in Zimbabwe they are a heavy burden.  Several times I was shocked to realize that The Book of Memory is contemporary, not a memory of the fifties. I can only find one flaw in The Book of Memory: Gappah’s frequent use of one of the Zimbabwean languages, not providing a translation. It made me miss out on entire sentences which I did not like.  A minor detail in a beautiful novel with a main character who is surprisingly strong and frail at the same time.


About booksandliliane

I am an avid reader and love to share my love for literature. I have my own opinion on books that have been shortlisted, laureated by critics or are pushed on us by bookstores. I will try and explain why I like or do not like a book. Hopefully influencing you in your choice of books to read.
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