The Memory of Love Paperback – Sep 13 2011
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Praise for "The Memory of Love" Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best BookFinalist for the Orange Prize for FictionAn "Essence" Book Club Pick Forna has achieved something . . . startling and impressive here. Here is a luminous tale of passion and betrayal. . . . At the core of this novel is the brave and beating heart, at once vulnerable and determined, unwilling to let go of all it has ever loved. Maaza Mengiste, "New York Times Book Review" A remarkable feat of storytelling. . . . [and] a thrilling story of friendship and betrayal. Karen Holt, "Essence" A sprawling, epic novel of love in Sierra Leone from Aminatta Forna, a rising literary star. "Marie Claire" [Forna is] among the most powerful of new voices from Africa. . . . A novel about the persistence of hope and the redemptive power of love. "The Globe and Mail" [An] elegantly rendered novel of loss and rehabilitation . . . [that] coalesces into an ambitious exploration of trauma and storytelling. "San Francisco Chronicle" The real pleasure of Forna s storytelling is in her scrutiny of her characters inner lives and her ability to connect their choices to the moral dilemmas of a traumatized society. "The New Yorker" [Forna s] visceral appreciation of her troubled country is evident on every page of "The Memory of Love." So, too, is her probing intelligenceand her compassion. Brooke Allen, Salon.com "She threads her stories like music. . . . One is left hauntingly familiar with the distant and alien; not quite able to distinguish the emotional spirits of fiction from the scars of real experience." "The Times" (London) [A] wise, compassionate novel . . . A universal tale of love, of war s power to cripple souls as it maims bodies, and of the triumphant human spirit, overcoming the forces that seek to crush it. Philip Caputo, author of "Rumor of War," "Acts of Faith" and "Crossers" A poignant story about friendship, betrayal, obsession and second chances . . . Bold, deeply moving and accomplished, [Forna s novel] confirms her place among the most talented writers in literature today."Commonwealth Writers Prize judges Often darkly funny, written with gritty realism and tenderness, "The Memory of Love" is a profoundly affecting work. Kiran Desai, winner of the Man Booker Prize for "The Inheritance of Loss" In careful, precise prose, Forna makes even the seemingly commonplace details meaningful. These particulars speak to overarching themes of human experience: devotion, betrayal, and resilience. Nora Dunne, "The Christian Science Monitor" A subtle and complex exploration, daring in depth and scope, of both the psyche of a war and the attractions which it holds for an outsider. Forna is a writer of great talent who does not shy from tackling the toughest questions about why humans do the things they do: from the smallest acts of betrayal to the greatest acts of love. Monica Ali, author of "Brick Lane" Brilliant . . . Forna . . . turn[s] each scene into a metaphor that reverberates with meaning beyond the event itselfThis is a remarkable novel. Helon Habila, "The Guardian" (UK) The author's visceral appreciation of her troubled country is evident on every page of "The Memory of Love." So, too, is her probing intelligenceand her compassion. Brooke Allen, Barnes & Noble Review (online) A soft-spoken story of brutality and endurance . . . Forna s insight, elegance and elegiac tone never falter. Tragedy and its aftermath are affectingly, memorably evoked in this multistranded narrative from a significant talent. "Kirkus Reviews" (starred review) To read "The Memory of Love" is to experience, not simply learn about, the inner existences of its characters, even as they lapse in and out of their lives. Anjali Joseph, "Times Literary Supplement" (UK) Forna s portrait of Sierra Leoneits citizens and the over-eager expatriates who pour in with good intentionsthrobs with life. Karen Valby, "Entertainment Weekly" Fate and tragedy intertwine in this stunning and powerful portrait of a country in the aftermath of a decade of civil war. Kristine Huntley, "Booklist" "This is powerful and necessary reading."Karen Briggs, Shelf Awareness (online) "Intelligent, engrossing and beautifully crafted." "The Daily Mail" (UK) "The Memory of Love" is the most significant novel that I have read since Orhan Pamuk s "The Museum of Innocence." . . . This is an extraordinary meditation on the capacity that men and women have to survive in the midst of the most overwhelming obstacles that war and all its attendant violence and degradation can throw in front of them. Aminatta Forna s "The Memory of Love" is the first major novel of the new decade. Charles R. Larson, Counter Punch (online) ""The Memory of Love" is a beautifully crafted tale of life in Sierra Leone in the aftermath of the civil war. . . . A book . . . to savour and share." "Stylist" (UK)"
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 the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that each of these works, at its core, is about the survival of the human spirit and the triumphant resurgence of love during the worst times of war and torture. At our harshest times, we become the most human and reveal our best and our worst.
So it is with this story. Adrian Lockheart, a British psychologist, whose heart may indeed have become frozen and locked, comes to Sierra Leone with the best of intentions. He quickly becomes friends with Ka Mansaray, a gifted and tormented young orthopedic surgeon, whose current patient Foday may be a metaphor for the country: crippled and in need of reconstruction to embrace the future. Adrian also deals with a patient of his own: the elderly Elias Cole, an unreliable storyteller if ever there was one, whose captivating recitations center on post-colonial times and his obsession with the wife of a colleague.
All of these men (with the exception of Foday) will be swept into the vortex of one charismatic woman whose present and past history will define them within themselves and in relation to each other. While this plotting may rely a tad too heavily on coincidence, the characters are so fleshed out and the story is so stunningly told that this plot device can easily be given a pass.
In this "land of the mute", the stories that are told are compelling and can also be self-serving. As one character states, "It's happening all over the country. People are blotting out what happened, fiddling with the truth, creating their own version of events to fill in the blanks. A version of the truth which puts them in a good light, that wipes out whatever they did or failed to do and makes certain none o them will be blamed."
It is up to the characters to recognize the silence of the lie, even when the lie becomes internalized. Ms. Forna delineates the two types of liars well: the less educated who express their conflicts physically through psychosomatic illnesses, muteness, paralysis, nightmares, fugues...and those who are "clever" enough to intellectualize their experiences and transform them into a different type of story.
At its heart, The Memory of Love is a love song to a country. When Ms. Forna writes, "People are wrong when they talk of love at first sight. It is neither love nor lust. No. As she walks away from you, when you feel is loss. A premonition of loss," she might as easily be writing about Sierra Leone itself.
The Memory of Love is set in present-day Sierra Leone, and follows three men: a dying academic, Elias, relates his life story (or a version of it) to a British psychologist, Adrian, who meanwhile befriends a local surgeon, Kai. It is a character-driven book, gradually moving deeper into the characters' lives as it goes; Adrian learns more about the country while Elias and Kai must deal with their own baggage from the country's recent civil war.
On the one hand, this book deserves better than three stars; Forna is a clearly talented writer. The book has believable characters and is full of acute observations, and the writing style is solid. It also has an unmistakable thematic depth, and while it can't offer an easy solution for a place like Sierra Leone, it makes sharp observations about what the country needs and what it doesn't. Dealing with the aftermath of the war rather than the war itself is an unusual but mature choice: the book never wallows in easy drama, but instead focuses on how violence changes people and the society they live in. The point is not to show us atrocities, but to show us people, and it does that well. I can understand how it's won some prizes.
But.... the plot, the structure, the point-of-view. First, if you do read this, be aware that the first 150 pages or so are a tough slog: not only because they focus heavily on the odious Elias (who fortunately recedes as the novel goes on) and his stalking of a happily married woman, but because the story is told through a slow and sometimes monotonous accretion of detail, building very gradually through mundane events and description. Second, the structure seems oddly lopsided in places: Elias dominates the early part of the book despite having little importance later; a key character, Mamakay, doesn't appear until about halfway through; the subplot revolving around Agnes, one of Adrian's patients, is abruptly dropped at the 2/3 mark.
As for point-of-view, while Forna writes the male characters very believably (or so it seemed to me, as a woman), the book suffers from not including any of the women's POVs. The most important female characters, while they seem to be interesting people, are seen entirely through the eyes of men who are attracted to them and with whom they are fairly reticent, which leaves them less than completely three-dimensional.
So in the end, I'm not sure whether I'd recommend this or not.... give it a go if it sounds like your thing, but read the sample before you buy.