Petina Gappah’s first novel The Book of Memory embarks on a vivid and startlingly gripping cultural tale. Simply put, it is a tale about Memory, an albino woman who is on death row in Zimbabwe.
As the name hints, The Book of Memory demonstrates the capabilities of one’s memory. It also shows how they can tell the most powerful of stories.
Gappah’s novel captures the fictional memories of Memory who is being held captive in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison. The prison, for those unaware, is in Harare, Zimbabwe. She is on death row for pleading guilty to the murder of her adopted father, a wealthy white man named Lloyd of whom she was sold to when she was nine years old.
But who exactly is this man? Why does Memory not remember who he is?
Her notes during her appeal and time on death row form the novel, in an almost diary-like fashion. Gappah’s style of writing this novel gives the illusion that it is in fact non-fiction, and the story of a real woman is being told; making it merely impossible to stop reading.
The narrative fluctuates thoroughly throughout the novel, looping back and forth through time, pitifully returning to times of pain and suffering, reflecting perfectly the life on death row.
The stories of Memory also echo the treatment of albino people in Africa, in such a colour-conscious culture, particularly in the rural areas of the country. As Memory noted throughout her memoirs, she “noted obsessively the different shades of her family members’ skin”.
The Book of Memory delivers a cultural and extraordinary tale of one young woman’s life of difference, suffering and realisation.
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