The basics: "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?"--publisher
My thoughts: The Book of Memory was one of the novels I most anticipated this year. The premise is downright beguiling. Gappah's background is as a lawyer, and I loved that she infuses law in this novel without writing from the point of view of a lawyer. The first few chapters of this book read like a crime novel. Gappah expertly reveals shocking details that made me aware of false assumptions I made and raised my curiosity about Memory and her story.
Soon, however, the novel slows down. Memory writes of her past and present well. She must dive into her childhood, of course, to understand her relationship with Lloyd, who bought her from her parents when she was nine. She must write about her life before Lloyd, as she struggles to understand why her parents sold her. This backstory offers wonderful insight into life in Zimbabwe, but some of the detail felt unnecessary. At times, Gappah didn't dig deep into the lives of the minor characters to make it seem essential to the story.
Memory uses sly humor discreetly. Casual readers may not pick up on Memory's misunderstanding of English language and its pop culture, but careful readers will delight in it. As a reader, I enjoyed these moments and appreciated their subtlety, but I also longed for a perspective other than Memory herself. I wanted a different perspective too.
The verdict: The premise of this novel is wonderful, and while it shines at times, the execution was uneven, and too many moments dragged. Overall, I found it to be disappointing because of its moment of greatness, but those moments have me excited for Gappah's next novel.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 288 pages
Publication date: February 2, 2016
Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Book of Memory from Amazon (Kindle edition.)
Want more? Visit Petina Gappah's website.
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