Sunday, March 6, 2011

Review: The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

..........and war!

In a country torn apart by repression and war, four individual lives collide in a story about friendship, understanding, absolution and the indelible effects of the past.

Adrian Lockhart is a psychologist specialising in post traumatic disorders.Escaping his life in England he travels to Sierra Leone and in the dirt and dust of Freetown he befriends a young local surgeon, Kit Mansaray, and begins to build a new life Kit plans to leave and go to America. In the hospital Adrian encounters an elderly man, Elias Cole, whose memories are recorded in notebooks and reveal an obsession with Saffia - a woman he loved - and Julius, her fiery husband.

I found the first 50 pages difficult and admit I almost gave up. The writing was excellent but it felt confused and I couldn't get a hold on either the characters or understand what the two different time frames were. I'm very, very glad I persevered and in hindsight I think that was a deliberate, but risky, choice by the author. It is exactly how Adrian was feeling , discouraged and lacking a real sense of direction but also , and more importantly, a reflection of Sierra Leone itself.

Elias , once a history professor, is compelled to tell his story that begins in 1969 to Adrian. It is a love triangle story set against the growing political unrest, the military coups that followed independence, the escalation of violence and corruption that would lead to civil war.

Thirty years later Adrian has come to help in the healing of a country with almost an entire population suffering from  post-traumatic stress disorder and finds his sense of purpose after visiting a mental hospital and witnessing the pain and distress of so many in need. It is from the stories of his patients that the horror of the years between 1969 - 2000 emerges...............murder, rape, loss and betrayal , guilt and shame Agnes whose fugue disorder closes down her mind and leaves her wandering mindlessly in search of something in the ruins.

This is not a book for those who only want a 'good story' or an action packed plot. It takes some patience and the willingness to listen, absorb and try to understand the meaning within the words , to wait for the many threads to weave together but it's well worth the effort. It is about the tragedy of war but it's also about recovery and hope for the future and the greatest healing power of all - Love!

I thought it was wonderful.......awesome!............and very happy to see that this week it won the African Regional Commonwealth Writers' Prize .

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2010

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