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Memory of Love, The [Paperback]

Aminatta Forna
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 15 2011
In contemporary Freetown, Sierra Leone, a devastating civil war has left an entire populace with secrets to keep. In the capital hospital Kai, a gifted young surgeon is plagued by demons that are beginning to threaten his livelihood. Elsewhere in the hospital lies Elias Cole, a man who was young during the country’s turbulent postcolonial years and has stories to tell that are far from heroic. As past and present intersect in the buzzing city, Kai and Elias are drawn unwittingly closer by Adrian, a British psychiatrist with good intentions, and into the path of one woman at the center of their stories.

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Review

'A writer of great talent and courage' Monica Ali 'An intricate tapestry of betrayal, tragedy and loss ... an affecting, passionate and intelligent novel about the redemptive power of love and storytelling' Daily Telegraph 'Let us hope that it takes its place where it deserves to be; not at the top of the pile of "African Literature" but outside any category altogether - and at the top of award shortlists' The Times 'Intelligent, engrossing and beautifully crafted' Daily Mail --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Aminatta Forna was born in Scotland and raised in West Africa. Her first book, The Devil that Danced on the Water, was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2003. Her novel Ancestor Stones was winner of the 2008 Hurston Wright Legacy Award, the Literaturpreis in Germany, was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and selected by the Washington Post as one of the most important books of 2006. In 2007 Vanity Fair named Aminatta as one of Africa's most promising new writers. Aminatta has also written for magazines and newspapers, radio and television, and presented television documentaries on Africa's history and art. Aminatta Forna lives in London with her husband. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Read May 14 2011
Format:Hardcover
Memory of Love is a wonderful story, and I think certain to win the Orange Prize for 2011.

Initally it can seem a complex book, due to the several main characters, and and the nonliner nature of the story.

Kai - a native of Sierra Leone who is a surgeon

Adrian - a psychologist who has arrived from Europe to work with those with psychological problems

Cole - an older Sierra Leone native who tells his story to Adrian from his hospital bed.

Saffia - the woman pictured on the cover - a woman with a complex story.

The story takes place post civil war in Sierra Leone. Initially I found it a bit confusing to keep track of the characters, as well as the story line, which is told in a non - linear form . However , by about page 60 I had the all of the charaters and story line easily in hand. Aminatta Forna is a beautiful writer, and as the plot unfolds, many surprises about the characters and the intertwining of their lives emerge. This is a wonderful story of both devastation and also of hope.

The story of the civil war in Sierra Leone forms the background for this wonderful and enlightening story.

Altogether a beautiful read and highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great read. July 15 2013
By Taylor
Format:Paperback
For anyone who enjoys history paired with excellent storytelling, this book is a must. Although some of the characters are just plain unlikeable, Elias Cole, for example, the author really has a knack for creating an interesting and suspenseful story.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  31 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The harder they come, the harder they fall." Feb. 9 2011
By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Incalculable grief cleaves to profound love in this elaborate, helical tapestry of a besieged people in postwar Freetown, Sierra Leone. Interlacing two primary periods of violent upheaval, author Aminatta Forna renders a scarred nation of people with astonishing grace and poise--an unforgettable portrait of open wounds and closed mouths, of broken hearts and fractured spirits, woven into a stunning evocation of recurrence and redemption, loss and tender reconciliation. Forna mines a filament of hope from resigned fatalism, from the devastation of a civil war that claimed 50,000 lives and displaced 2.5 million people. Those that survived felt hollowed out, living with an uneasy peace.

Over 99% of people suffered from unrelieved post-traumatic stress disorder, and those that survived often hid shameful secrets of forced betrayal. Here you have children, now adults, trying to cope after their brutal coercion with rebel soldiers. They are living with the aftermath of "nothing left to lose." If you can imagine an unspeakable atrocity, it was likely executed. Blood on the hands of the people who remain seep into the pores of the newly arrived.

Three principal characters form the locus of this story--a psychologist, a surgeon, and an academic. The story goes through seamless temporal shifts--from 1969, a period of unrest following a military coup--to 2001, following ten years of civil war begun in 1991.

Adrian Lockheart is a British psychologist on sabbatical from his failing marriage to accept a (second) post in Freetown. He is compassionate and dogged in his pursuit to treat the population of mentally disturbed and traumatized citizens, to help them find hope and resolve, yet he feels emotionally dislocated from his own family at home.

"The truth is that since arriving here his life has seemed more charged with meaning than it ever had in London. Here the boundaries are limitless, no horizon, no sky. He can feel his emotions, solid and weighty, like stones in the palm of his hands."

Adrian treats tortured men and women in the fallout of war, finding a particularly poignant interest in Agnes, a woman who is suffering from a fugue disorder. He contends that the endless miles she compulsively roams on foot (and subsequently forgets) indicate a search for something meaningful from the ruins of war. He believes she is going toward somewhere, a place he determines to find out.

Adrian's most prominent patient is the unreliable narrator, Elias Cole, an elderly, retired history professor dying of pulmonary disease. In this city of silence, Elias is compelled to tell his story, his confession, to Adrian. It begins in 1969, when Elias first laid eyes on Saffia Kamara, a charming and comely botanist married to the gregarious, fearless Julius, an academic at the university.

"People are wrong when they talk of love at first sight. It is neither love nor lust. No. As she walks away from you, what you feel is loss. A premonition of loss."

Julius, Elias, and Saffia embark on a friendship that inextricably points to the destiny of the next generation. The military coups of the late 60's followed Sierra Leon's hard-won independence from the British colonial rule. Political unrest led to widespread paranoia, which in turn led to wobbly allegiances. Elias's confession to Adrian is the rallying point, which heightens all the other narratives. Adrian's probing of Elias reaches to encounters outside of the hospital, and will alter the course of his life, and too of the story.

Lastly, there is Kai Manseray, a talented, young orthopedic surgeon, a tireless and tormented man plagued by chronic insomnia and a suppressed and devastating history. Kai chose to stay and help the damaged and impoverished, rather than abscond two years ago with his best friend, Tejani. He is torn between his loyalties in Sierra Leone and his desire for a more elite station in the States. The woman he loved has gone, the city ravaged, the people embattled, but his little cousin, Abass, and the patients who need him keep him anchored. He has secrets that he won't share with anyone, that threaten to undo him in the operating theater.

As the story highlights the contrast of their professions, Kai and Adrian form a tenuous bond of friendship. Kai's achievements are measurable--stitching, sewing, patching, cutting, and saving lives. Adrian, however, can't measure his patients' success with an X-ray or point to approximated edges of a wound. Psychotherapy is a process of encounters, wending your way through the dark channels of a person's interior and facilitating change through conversation. Kai and Adrian's bond is ultimately the most hypnotic, with consequences encroaching on the dark side of hope.

Forna constructs a mesmerizing collision of forces and people that slowly propel the reader toward a towering climax. This story is for the committed reader, the patient literature lover who will undertake many hours of dedication for the inevitable reward. Think of a blank canvas, and every sentence as a mindful brushstroke, a bloom on the page. It takes a while for the picture to materialize. The writing is carefully crafted, and yet imperceptibly so, not in the least self-conscious. She is steadily augmenting, fuller and deeper, contrasting the light and the darkness, capturing nature and sound. Even her secondary and tertiary characters are wrought with polish and care.The story's leisurely pace builds its emotional cathedral one stone at a time; at about the halfway point, it becomes riveting and impossible to turn away.

This is a personal and natal undertaking for Forna, whose father, Dr. Mohamed Forna, was a dissident in Sierra Leona and was killed on trumped up charges when she was only eleven-years-old. Her non-fiction book, The Devil That Danced on the Water: A Daughter's Quest, is the story of her search for the truth of that harrowing time. She continues her exploration of healing and recovery in this deeply researched and ambitious book.

There are coincidences in this novel that nevertheless do not disturb the beauty or the impact of the story. In lesser hands, this may have come across as artifice. However, Forna's characters and themes are ultimately grounded, and the patterns that emerge from the disparate stories--the unguarded moments, the link of love that ties all the characters together--transcend her intention. The potency of storytelling and the refrain of love in the aftermath of tragedy is evident and sublime in her fluent prose.

"There exists, somewhere, a scale for love invented by one of his [Adrian's] profession...And there are others still who say love is but a beautiful form of madness."

The injured voices of her characters mesh into a voice of hope and holding on, to a startling story of redemption. At various intervals, the lyrics of Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come" drift onto the page. It sang, I sang.

"Well, they tell me there's a pie up in the sky, waiting for you when you die...The harder they come, the harder they fall."

Love endures. One and all.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Recommended but with some reservations March 31 2011
By sb-lynn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Brief summary and review, no spoilers.

This story takes place in the African nation of Sierra Leone and takes place over a period of time starting in the late 1960's. One of the main characters is Elias Cole, an ambitious British professor who strives to become both published and respected. He finds himself friends of sorts with a man named Julius - also a fellow professor who is both popular with his students has a beautiful wife named Saffia. Elias becomes obsessed with Saffia at first sight, and his jealousy and mixed in with some affection for Julius become a central part of the story.

The other main characters in this novel are a British man named Adrian who has come to Sierra Leone to work as a psychologist in a local hospital. Adrian is married and has a child still in England, but he is obviously dissatisfied with his work there and with his marriage, and feels the need to matter and feel some passion about what he does. The other central figure in this story is a native born doctor named Kai Manseray, who is an extremely bright and dedicated surgeon. Kei and Adrian become friends, when Kei starts staying at Adrian's home on occasions to sleep and make meals.

The chapters alternate and we go back and forth in time, with alternating narrators and stories. We are taken through these incredibly turbulent and disturbing years in Sierra Leone, with all its violence and horror suffered by the people due to war and government instability. In fact at one point Adrian is told that most everyone in the country has post-traumatic stress syndrome - and their mental hospitals are filled with many such damaged individuals.

More than just a story about these characters, this is also a story about Sierra Leone. I did not know very much about this country, but you do learn a lot by the time you turn the last page. Many characters in this novel love their homeland, yet we see the price they pay (and paid) for staying. In this story we also meet a woman, a patient of Adrian's named Agnes, who has a strange disorder that causes her to wander in a fugue-like stake, and over time we come to know her story, and why she is the way she is.

What's very good about this book is the plot itself - in the parts that take place near the most present time, Elias Cole is dying and wants to tell his story to Adrian. We get the sense he is seeking some sort of absolution, but we won't find out why till the end. We also know from that Kei is a broken man who was once passionately in love with a woman named Nenebah, though we don't know what happened to her or what caused the end of their relationship.

It's just a great story, and I found it very moving with a terrific resolution and denouement.

In criticism, I believe that there were parts of the novel that were over-written - and at times the constant hints and sense of foreboding overwhelms the novel. It was just too much, and if anything trying to add the drama and sense of apprehension took away from the rest of the story. I truly think this novel could've been edited down and would have made for a better story.

Even with this critique, I highly recommend this book and I know it will stay with me for a long time. This is not just because of the startling depiction of the horrors experienced during wartime, but also because this author has really come up with a terrific story with memorable and true-to-life characters.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I Fall Down, I Stand Up March 27 2013
By Roger Brunyate - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Where to start, in praise of this amazing book? Perhaps from the fact that Aminatta Forna, a woman, writes a novel where all three major characters are men, inhabiting their minds so naturally that it was not until almost the end that I stopped to wonder at it. Not that her writing is devoid of the female presence; the title of the book is well-chosen. Whatever else it is, the novel is threaded through with love stories, or rather, in most cases, the memories of love. I thought more than once of Gabriel García Márquez and LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA; Forna has a similar ability to tie a historical theme of great scope to the lives of a few individuals, shown in all their telling detail.

It would do no harm to look up the history of Sierra Leone, where most of the novel takes place, from the late 1960s into the present century, though eventually the main facts will emerge. The details are unimportant, but the pattern will be familiar enough: independence from Great Britain, a period of relative stability broken by recurrent coups, descent to one-party dictatorship, and eventually violent civil war fought by child soldiers high on drugs. The worst of these is over by the time the book opens, around 2000, but the scars and memories remain. The country seems gripped in a fatalism that one character describes in the phrase "I fall down, I get up" -- fatalism tempered with a basic human resilience.

Kai Mansaray, a young surgeon, has had to deal with the physical wounds all through the war, limbs cleaved by machetes chief among them. His carefree student days seem a thing of the past, when he was making great plans with his best friend Tejani and Nenebah, the woman they both loved. But Tejani has emigrated to America and Nenebah has left him. Now Kai buries himself in his work, rejoicing in his small successes and trying to forget the memories of a particular incident when the war touched him directly with a personal and shaming violence.

Early in the book, Kai crashes in a room at the hospital occupied by Adrian Lockheart, a psychologist seconded for a year from Britain. Adrian is married, with a young daughter, but we sense that his year abroad is also an attempt to escape from mounting problems at home. He has become something of a specialist in PTSD, and gets closely involved, even obsessed, with several of the cases in his care. There is both a horror and a beauty in Adrian's work that reminds me strongly of how the theme of PTSD is explored by Thomas Kennedy in IN THE COMPANY OF ANGELS, a comparison I intend as highest praise. He quickly becomes close friends with Kai, and eventually becomes attracted to an African woman himself, so he provides a different pair of eyes on present-day Sierra Leone. But his researches, interviews, and discoveries also make him a link with the past.

That past is represented chiefly by Elias Cole, an elderly academic slowly dying in a private room of the hospital. For some reason, Elias needs to talk about his past, and Adrian becomes in effect his stenographer. His memories go back to 1969, the year of the Moon landing, when he was a young lecturer obsessed with desire for Saffia, the wife of a charismatic young colleague. This was not a period of civil war so much as the steadily closing tentacles of a police state, and Elias' part in it, though also leading to violence and death, was a quieter one. There are moral issues at play here that, though in an entirely different context, remind me of Graham Greene, most especially THE QUIET AMERICAN. Yet Elias seems the simplest of the three protagonists and his yearning for Saffia is the earliest embodiment of the novel's title. His segments of the story seem illuminated in a clear light that we welcome at first, and only gradually begin to question as we discover how the three major strands in the book are in fact connected.

Reading this book made me realize how many novels have been published recently that deal with survivors from war or human rights abuses in their own countries, whether in Africa, Southeast Asia, or South America. It feels that a full third of what I have read recently have been of this type, and there are several more on my pile. But THE MEMORY OF LOVE stands above most of these for the sheer quality of its writing, the closeness of its concentration on individual people and the details of their lives, and its refusal to take the easy route of making the mere fact of such atrocities an automatic handle on the reader's sympathies. It is a dense book, a long one, and undeniably sad. But hopeful too, hopeful because human. It will be hard now to pick up any others in the genre again.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Fragmentation of Conscience June 2 2011
By Robin Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Late in Aminatta Forma's long novel, "The Memory of Love" (2010) a British psychologist, Adrian Lockheart, reflects on his extended series of meetings with a dying political scientist, Elias Cole. Deeply troubled near the end of his life, Cole has been meeting with Lockheart as a form of expiation for feelings of loss and feelings of guilt. Lockheart observes that Cole suffers from "fragmentation of conscience" (p. 410), a condition which seems to indicate an unwillingness to accept the consequences of one's action or inaction. In a brief acknowledgement section following the novel, Forma attributes the phrase "fragmentation of conscience" to a book by M Scott Peck, called "People of the Lie." Forma quotes Peck: "The plain fact of the matter is that any group will remain potentially conscienceless and evil until such time as each and every individual holds himself or herself directly responsible for the behaviour of the whole group -- the organism -- of which he or she is part. We have not yet begun to arrive at that point."

Peck's and Forma's understanding of the "fragmentation of conscience" form much of the theme of this serious and ambitious novel, set the the West African nation of Sierra Leone in 2001 following a long, brutal civil war. Cole and Lockheart are two of the three major characters of the novel. Cole speaks in the first person throughout the novel as he tells his story to Lockheart. Cole's story goes back to 1969, with the beginning of strife in his native Sierra Leone. Cole falls in love with a woman named Saffia, the wife of an engineer and colleague, Julius. Cole recounts the story of his love for Saffia which becomes intertwined with political unrest, Cole's arrest, and his subsequent role in betraying Julius.

While Cole speaks in the first person when he unburdens himself to Lockheart, the remainder of this book is told in the third person. Lockheart, a PhD in psychology, leaves Britain with a sense of dissatisfaction with his work and his marriage. He wants to make something more of his life by helping alleviate suffering in a troubled nation where an estimated 99 percent of the population suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. He works with patients at the hospital together with an expatriate psychologist Ileana under the supervision of a gruff administratior, Atilla. Lockheart becomes especially interested in a woman patient, Agnes, who wanders from one place to another, and in Cole. He becomes attracted to Sierra Leone and its people and falls in love with a young woman known as Mamakay who plays the clarinet.

Besides Lockheart and Cole, the third major character of this book is Kai, a native of Sierra Leone and a gifted orthopedic surgeon. Kai works long hours with an aging expatriate Canadian surgeon, Seligmann, in operating on the many brutally wounded casualties of the Civil War. Kai seems to be at home only when he is operating as he is tormented by his own experiences of the war, as shown among other ways by his chronic insomnia, and his lost love for a woman named Nenebah. Lockheart and Cole share an apartment and gradually become friends. Their stories intersect. Lockheart, Cole, and Kai each have their own relationship to the civil war and each man has his own "memory of love" developed throughout the course of the novel.

There is much that is good and thoughtful in this novel as it slowly develops each of the three protagonists, individually, in their relationships to each other, and in their responses to the political and military conflict around them. But on the whole, I found the novel unsuccessful. Length and difficulty are in themselves not faults in a book. Forna's story, however, is marred by slowness, long, and wordy sections of extraneous material, and implausible, coincendental plotting. The reader can get lost in unnecessary detail, particularly in the first half of the book, and simply want the author to get on with it. The book becomes tedious. The writing tends to the overdone. The shifts in voice between Cole's first person and the narrator's third person tend, at the outset, to be confusing. Forna seems to me to attempt too much in this book as the personal lives and loves of Cole, Lockheart, and Kai interfere with rather than enhance one of her themes of "fragmentation of conscience" and personal responsibility. The novel becomes too long for what it says and itself fragmented and unwieldy.

Forna's book is a valiant failure. It has much that it is worthwhile. Readers and writers need to know how to control their material and to have a sense of limit. Prospective readers of this book need not necessarily be discouraged but should know what they are getting into.

Robin Friedman
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's about the best book I've read this year March 17 2012
By thing two - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I can tell I've finished a moving book when I sit at dinner and explain detail after detail of the book to my non-reading husband, and then HE starts asking about it. This happened to us last night, sharing a sushi boat, sipping our wine, and discussing the civil war in Sierra Leone which lasted from 1991-2002.

To say The Memory of Love is about the civil war in Sierra Leone is to dismiss this as a war novel, but it is much, much more. It's about how war ravishes the minds of its participants, it's about how war destroys the future and the past. It's about love. It's about loss. It's about post-traumatic stress disorder, and why people lie. It's about the best book I've read this year.
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