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The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

The Book of Memory (2015)

by Petina Gappah

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1821391,863 (3.92)71



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Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
A complicated one to rate. A slow, meandering read that was never the less rich in detail and characterisation and beautifully written. It is ambiguous and not a recommend for anyone who likes their novels with clear narrative and concise outcomes.

Plot in a Nutshell

Mnemosyne, known as Memory is an Albino woman incarcerated in a Zimbabwean high security prison for the murder of her ‘adopted father’, a white man named Lloyd. The novel takes the form of a series of journals she is writing to a western journalist interested in her story. In her journal she covers her early life with her family in the township outside of Harare, how she came to live with Lloyd, some of her life there and a good deal of prison life. All of which is set against the backdrop of the significant social changes in Zimbabwe at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century


This is not a pace filled, action led novel. Much of the writing is Memory sifting through her thoughts and memories from early childhood and her immediate prison experiences. In so doing she explores race, disability, memory and family. All of this is however done in a non-linear way so the story jumps from her time with Lloyd, to early childhood and prison and back round again and again. This felt very realistic to the experience of an intelligent, educated woman who had been without writing materials for over two years but did make the reading and following of the plot a little disjointed.

Whilst Gappah writes in English she includes a fair amount of the Shona language which although adding authenticity did also break up the story a little – particularly in places where she did not include translations. A final point on slowing the story down; there is a large cast of prisoners and prison words introduced; few add to the story but did confuse initially whilst trying to keep them all straight in my head, especially without a cast list!

If I found the Shona hard going at times I really enjoyed the local mythology and folktales that Memory relates when reflecting on her earlier life and her mother’s beliefs and how they are balanced and sit alongside the pursuit of more organised religion. I also love that Memory is a vociferous reader and found the chapter that has her exploring Lloyd’s library and using it to settle herself in her new life charming.

The subtle backdrop to the complicated Colonial history of Rhodesia and the early history of Zimbabwe was fascinating and makes me want to read more on this topic as there was an expectation of some pre knowledge in the writing.

Overall I enjoyed this one but would have liked to have seen slightly less on prison life and more of Memory’s experiences with Lloyd who seemed like an interesting character or her time outside of Zimbabwe and how that shaped her experiences further. ( )
  itchyfeetreader | Jun 14, 2018 |
Memory is in a Zimbabwe prison. She has been found guilty of murdering her white adopted father,Lloyd. Her lawyer has asked her to write down her memories and the reader gradually learns the story of her life. Memory relates her 'sale' to Lloyd, a rich white man and how her life changes. She receives treatment for her albinism, goes to a convent school and then to university, travels to England and Australia. Memory never sees her parents or sister again. Gappah really brings Zimbabwe and its people to life.
I listened to an audiobook read by Chipo Chung who did a great job. ( )
  socialpages | Jan 17, 2018 |
(7.5) This is again a debut novel by a young woman I heard speak at the Auckland Writers Festival. As a speaker she didn't overly impress. However the storyline is interesting. Memory is an albino child who believes that her parents sold her to a white gentleman. The story opens with her on death row for the murder of her adoptive father. She is encouraged to write all that she can remember of her life and through this process the reader and indeed Memory discovers the truth of her life. Hence the title. I found I was slow to engage with the changing timeline and characters initially, however I have had a particularly busy week and my reading was disjointed. It is certainly the first book I have read about an albino person and of course the reader learns the sense of isolation and indeed ostracism experienced especially in an uneducated society. ( )
  HelenBaker | Mar 3, 2017 |
Zimbabwe, female murder suspect, prison, albinos, childhood, death, superstition ( )
  bookenthusiast100 | Jun 13, 2016 |
This book cleverly tackled some difficult issues without causing the reader discomfort. The careful construction of the book produced excellent plot, pace and characters. ( )
  BridgitDavis | May 24, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
he Book of Memory" by Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah is a fiercely vivid novel that in some places — particularly, unfortunately, its opening pages — takes itself too seriously. Some paragraphs there are loaded with foreshadowing and sentimentality — but this is just an awkward warm-up for a book of song and color....In the rush, it seems Gappah could have spent more time letting the reader learn about Memory as an adult. She has a couple of significant relationships, but one is left severely underdeveloped, possibly because it has no direct connection to Lloyd, whose death remains at the book's center...Gappah smoothly weaves these real-life issues into her first novel without shortchanging her main character.
There are sections that could have been more fully developed, such as Memory falling in love for the first time, and occasional inconsistencies in voice are jarring, but these glitches aside, this is a moving novel about memory that unfolds into one about forgiveness, and a passionate paean to the powers of language.
An evocative and powerful rendering of a country mired in corruption and caught between tradition and modernity, the novel explores themes of loss, memory and forgiveness with a most unusual narrator who believes, above all, in the power of language to restore....Gappah brings colour to the bleak world with her vivid characterisation of various prisoners and scenes that see the inmates put on mock courtroom dramas. For all their viciousness, there is humour too...As it seeks to tie all the disparate strains together, the book’s impact lessens significantly in the final quarter....Gappah is a gifted, sensual writer who uses everything from county and western music to “the high whine of a million mosquitoes”, to the taste of a stolen mango to draw the reader into her world.
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The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between to eternities of darkness. Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory
This book is dedicated , with all my love, to Lee Brackstone, who brought me home
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amazon ca : 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. 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?

In The Book of Memory, Petina Gappah has created a uniquely slippery narrator: forthright, acerbically funny, and with a complicated relationship to the truth. Moving between the townships of the poor and the suburbs of the rich, and between the past and the present, Gappah weaves a compelling tale of love, obsession, the relentlessness of fate, and the treachery of memory.
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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?… (more)

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