2012 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Shortlist – The Memory of Love – Aminatta Forna

It’s rewarding reading books from the various literary shortlists around the globe, but I can tell you one thing, it is rare you come across a dud. People who read my reviews (and I know there are but a few), must think I enjoy just about everything I read. And I can fully understand when some reviewers slip into criticism of minor plot errors or factual inconsistencies as it becomes harder and harder to distinguish the good from the bad. Recently I have saved my vitriol for journalists in cheap Murdoch newspapers; at least I have a good cause to mouth off at.
The front cover of “The Memory of Love” has a small review from the “Daily Telegraph”, (Haha, A Murdoch rag.) “An intricate tapestry of betrayal, tragedy and loss”. And here I do agree, it is a rich intricate tapestry of a novel.
Set in Sierra Leone some years after their civil war, where over 50,000 civilians were left dead (which ran largely unreported in the Western media for 9 years). We have two main protagonists in our plot, Adrian a British psychologist and Kai a young local surgeon, but you could say there are many more.
Adrian works at the local hospital (on an aid program) and interviews the dying Elias Cole, where flashbacks of the time leading up and during the war are recalled. He also treats local patients who are suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, drug related withdrawals and more. Kai, an insomniac, works in the same hospital as Adrian as a surgeon, and befriends Adrian as he has a room in the grounds where he can relax. Through Elias Cole’s memories of his love for a married woman, Kai’s memories of his love of a fellow student at University and then Adrian’s love of a local girl we get a rich interwoven view of the human spirit and a picture of a country attempting to rebuild.
In all of my reviews I do my upmost to not reveal any spoilers and I will continue here, however there was one section of the novel where I’d linked two seemingly non connected events and became slightly frustrated as it took about 80 pages to finally put that link to rest. Having said that this is not simply a novel with a linear plot, a thriller, nor one where the last page will reveal all.
We have alternating chapters from Kai and Adrian’s viewpoints, with large sections of Adrian’s view being populated by Elias Cole’s stories of the past. Using a mixture of past and present tense, first person and third person, this surely does qualify as a “tapestry”.
‘He’s using you to write his own version of history, don’t you see? And 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 of them will be blamed. My father has you to help him. You’re just a mirror he can hold up to reflect a version of himself and events. The same lie he’s telling himself and everyone else. And they’re all doing it. Whatever you say, you will go away from here, you will publish your papers and give talks, and every time you do you will make their version of events more real, until it becomes indelible.’
Don’t be misled by the title, this is not simply a tale of love, it is a tale of loss, of hope, of the triumph of the human spirit (is that clichéd enough for you?) and a genuinely moving story of a country still coming to terms with the horrific events of its recent past. Not a difficult read by any stretch of the imagination, but one that you would be privileged to have read.
Thanks to Aminatta Forna and the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for opening my eyes to the events in Sierra Leone in the 1990’s, I am grateful. At this stage I still have “The Matter With Morris” on the top of my list closely followed by “A Visit From The Goon Squad” and this novel a close third. Onto “Even The Dogs” by Jon McGregor.
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