THE BOOK OF MEMORY by Petina Gappah

This is such a wonderful book, so beautifully written, heart breaking and uplifting all at the same time. It is story of a life that has been sentenced to death, a mystery surrounding another death, how the memories of a child are often distorted from the reality. 

Memory, or Mnemosyne in Zimbabwean, is languishing in the Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare for the murder of the man, Lloyd Hendricks, to whom she was sold as a child. She denies the murder, and although there is much mystery about her relationship with Lloyd through most of the book, it is fairly clear she did not murder him. 

She is however,  a woman of two different worlds. For Lloyd was white, a university professor, who lived in an affluent part of town. She comes from an impoverished, traditional village life  background, and flourishes in her new white world. Just as unusual is that Memory is a black albino, so finds that she is neither white nor black, a creature of oddness in both the black community and in the white community. Suspicion and mutterings follow Memory everywhere, and when Lloyd is found dead, Memory is the one charged, found guilty and sentenced to death. In an attempt to make sense of her life and how she has ended up in prison, she is writing a memoir that may also help her appeal to find her innocent. 

The story moves effortlessly from the day to day tedium and anxiety of daily prison life, to Memory's childhood, her parents and siblings. As a child, she has some unanswered questions such as why there were never any grandparents or aunts, uncles and cousins in their lives as all the other children had. Two of her siblings are  dead, was this why her mother was such a troubled soul? There comes the day when Memory, at age eight, is sold to Lloyd, and the next phase of her life begins, so leading up to the time she is charged with the murder. .  This is all set against the backdrop of political unrest and fight for independence that dominated Rhodesia/Zimbabwe in the 1970s-1980s, as well as the seizures of white farmers' land and often their murders in retribution. 

By the end of the book, Memory has dissected her memories sufficiently, and with some unexpected knowledge from a surprising source, she finally finds the answers that make sense of the confusing childhood and family life she had.  

I loved the way how the characters are so carefully developed and revealed through the course of the book - her parents and other adults of her village, her fellow prisoners and prison guards, Lloyd. It is almost as if we are part of Memory's own remembering of her life, this is our journey as much as hers. At the end, as with much of Memory's life to date, she is neither a free woman, nor an imprisoned woman. But a type of peace is reached. 

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