The Book of Memory

Petina Gappah

The stunning debut novel from the award-winning author of An Elegy for Easterly.

Date Published
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The story you have asked me to tell begins not with the ignominious ugliness of Lloyd’s death but on a long-ago day in April when the sun seared my blistered face and I was nine years old and my father and mother sold me to a strange man. I say my father and my mother, but really it was just my mother.

Memory, the narrator of The Book of Memory, is an albino woman languishing in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, where she has been convicted of 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?

Moving between the townships of the poor and the suburbs of the rich, and between the past and the present, Memory weaves a compelling tale of love, obsession, the relentlessness of fate and the treachery of memory.

Critic Reviews

Petina Gappah powerfully probes the tricksy nature of memory through the story of Memory, or Mnemosyne, an albino woman consigned to Chikurubi prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, convicted of murdering a wealthy white man, Lloyd, her adopted father...Gappah brilliantly exposes the gulf between rich and poor, for when Memory was nine years old her parents sold her to Lloyd and she moved from an impoverished township, Mufakose, to a grand house.

The novel is startlingly vivid: Memory recalls the taste of a stolen mango, the suffocating smell of camphor, strelitzia flowers blazing with colour. Most poignant of all is what she cannot remember, such as the pain of realising that she can no longer picture her dead sister's face. It's through tiny details that Gappah grapples with the grand themes of fate and free will, love and loss, the collision of tradition and modernity, the impact of politics on the personal. Yet withholding details also creates a thriller-like suspense...this is a moving novel about memory that unfolds into one about forgiveness, and a passionate paean to the powers of language.

Anita Sethi, The Observer
Critic Reviews

For a novel saturated with death, The Book of Memory is most emphatically alive: from the nursery rhymes of the township streets and Memory's mother's love of 1970s hits, to Lloyd's grandmother's jazz records and the protest songs of uprising, it is always noisily on the move...for the most part her language dazzles as it balances the wittily combative and the frankly voluptuous. The unrelenting nature of daily life for most Zimbabweans is not glossed over, and Gappah's training as a lawyer (like her protagonist, she was raised in Zimbabwe and has a Cambridge degree) informs the cruel absurdity of the miscarriages of justice on display. That she manages to combine grim reality with an appealing likeability is what makes her a writer to take to the heart as well as the head.

Financial Times
Critic Reviews

'The Book Of Memory flits back and forth in time and the plot twists and turns right to the end. It is no surprise that Petina Gappah is considered a rising literary star.'

Aline Reed, Sunday Express
Critic Reviews

A tale which is both compelling and believable. ..Gappah manages to navigate a potentially uncomfortable relationship with great intelligence...Insightful and at the same time a highly personal account of a young Zimbabwean woman's stuiggle, Gappah's work does not disappoint.

Jane Bradley, Scotland on Sunday
Critic Reviews

It's a cleverly written and powerful story. It will imprint on your own memory.

Anna Fielding, Emerald Street
Critic Reviews

Two sentences in and I was sold. Gappah's compelling first novel is the story of Memory, a Zimbabwean woman convicted of the murder of her adoptive father. The novel weaves between the three strands of Memory's story, and is at times sharply funny, at others searingly painful. Slowly, it becomes clear that not only can memories be unreliable, but if you're not given all the pieces of the puzzle, you build your own story - sometimes with devastating consequences. '

The Pool

Petina Gappah is an international lawyer and writer who was born in Kitwe, Zambia and raised in Zimbabwe. She is the author of An Elegy for Easterly, The Book of Memory and Rotten Row. Her work has shortlisted for, among others, the Orwell Prize, the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the PEN America…

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