After finishing The Memory of Love late last Friday night, I was truly sad to see page 445 arrive. It seemed to come so quickly for me. I started reading on Wednesday and read non-stop anytime I was free through to Friday. I could have just been pushed by time since I was discussing it with my book club on Saturday, but actually I just didn’t want to do anything else besides read this book. I really didn’t want that passionate story of memory to end.
The Memory of Love is a story that takes place in the West African country of Sierra Leone. The main characters are Kai a brilliant surgeon, Elias an aging academic, and Adrian a British psychologist. It’s through the relationships of these three men that we follow their personal stories and memories along with the tragic incidents from Sierra Leone’s troubled political past and growth. The faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information is one of the essential themes of the story. The past can be so tragic that one’s only means of survival is to bury that tragedy deep within and push the little that is left of oneself forward.
“The memories come at unguarded moments, when he cannot sleep. In the past, at the height of it, he had attended to people whose limbs had been severed. Working with a Scottish pain expert years later, he treated some of those patients again. They complained of feeling pain in the lost limbs, the aching ghost of a hewn hand or foot. It was a trick of the mind,……the nerves continued to transmit signals between the brain and the ghost limb. The pain is real, yes but it is a memory of pain.” (The Memory of Love, p.184)
This book isn’t plot driven. It has no real beginning, middle, or end. It’s life. It’s survival. This book will teach you about Sierra Leone’s history and culture. The first one hundred pages left me a little frustrated because Forna was giving me information, but not as I was anticipating it. I soon stopped trying to will the book into what I wanted and began to accept and appreciate the story Forna was trying to tell me. Beautifully written and always with phrases that are exact and perfect for each situation, there are lessons to be learned through out the novel.
Forna writes the three male characters with absolute realism. Not at any moment did I feel a feminine voice ringing through. I would have to say that this is a book about men, since the female characters were minor and not very vocal. Their roles were to bring the male characters’ stories full circle. Reading about the habits of the people in Sierra Leone was enlightening, as was unfortunately hearing about the atrocities that happened to its people.
Aminatta Forna is a Scottish-born British writer, raised between the UK and Sierra Leone. The Devil that Danced on the Water, a memoir, was her first published book in 2003. It discusses the imprisonment and later death of her father due to his political involvement. Her first fiction novel is called Ancestors Stones and was published in 2006 and won her the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award in 2007. The Memory of Love won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and others. I’m looking forward to reading The Devil that Danced on the Water and Ancestors Stones.
Book Club reactions:
Everybody raved about it. Some also complained about the first 100 pages being difficult because they couldn’t figure out who was speaking (story is told from multiple points of view and switches from first to third person frequently) nor could they figure out where the story was taking place specifically. They marveled over Forna’s capacity to describe situations and places, as well as her poignant writing. We also discussed at length her background and how Forna feels as comfortable in the UK as she does in Sierra Leone. We all came to the conclusion that showed considerably in The Memory of Love because of the authentic descriptions of Sierra Leone but also of Adrian Lockheart and his reactions to things he saw there and descriptions of his family back home in England. We all agreed we were interested in reading more of her books, specifically The Devil that Danced on the Water.
If you’ve read Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone you’ll probably be interested in reading The Memory of Love.