The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

This book was an impulse read as I am trying to read as many African writers as I can lay my hands on. Especially female writers. From it’s beginning in the impoverished, chaotic township of Mufakose, the book of memory is both entertaining and engaging. Memory, an albino child, feels isolated, stared at, feared, misunderstood but also loved by her siblings and her father.

As a Kenyan, parents taking their children to witch doctors is not shocking for me. Neither are visits to fortune tellers, healers or shamans. This is day-to-day child care. Prayer sessions in different Pentecostal churches is a way both to heaven, to riches or to happines

What kept me reading is Memory’s mother’s slow unraveling and I find myself wanting to know WHY. What is unraveling her? Is it “only” her albino daughter?

Eventually the book captures me in its grip when Memory casually mentions that her parents sold her to a stranger, a white man called Loyd. Being African, that is not new to me either, seeing as I have seen TV programs of adopted children in Europe whose parents “sold them” or “gave them away”. It’s the parents duty to want a better life for their children. Abroad is the promise of a better life.

However, Loyd bought Memory and stayed in Zimbabwe. Why? And what in child-hood abandonment happened to Memory’s parents after they sold her? And Memory is in prison for murdering Loyd.

Generational Trauma

Petina tells a delicate story as a woman who has seen the African society from the inside of its soul. And then she has distanced herself and looked at the African society from the outside.

A  girl is married off to an old man who is already married as a sacrifice at the altar of generational trauma? That does not prevent her loving her child and she loving her child doesn’t save the child’s life. Just like her father’s love doesn’t save Memory, Memory’s mother or Loyd.

In the end, there are few or no apologies or closure, just the realization that even lost lives are lives.

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