The Memory of Love

The Memory of Love

by Aminatta Forna

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Overview

“[A] luminous tale of passion and betrayal” set in the post-colonial and civil war eras of Sierra Leone (The New York Times).
 
Winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book
 
As a decade of civil war and political unrest comes to a devastating close, three men must reconcile themselves to their own fate and the fate of their broken nation. For Elias Cole, this means reflecting on his time as a young scholar in 1969 and the affair that defined his life. For Adrian Lockheart, it means listening to Elias’s tale and following his own heart into a heated romance. For Elias’s doctor, Kai Mansaray, it’s desperately battling his nightmares by trying to heal his patients.
 
As each man’s story becomes inexorably bound with the others’, they discover that they are connected not only by their shared heritage, pain, and shame, but also by one remarkable woman.
 
The Memory of Love is a beautiful and ambitious exploration of the influence history can have on generations, and the shared cultural burdens that each of us inevitably face.
 
“A soft-spoken story of brutality and endurance set in postwar Sierra Leone . . . Tragedy and its aftermath are affectingly, memorably evoked in this multistranded narrative from a significant talent.” —Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802196002
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 01/04/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 134,988
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Aminatta Forna is also the author of Ancestor Stones, a novel, and The Devil That Danced on the Water, a memoir of her activist father and her country, Sierra Leone.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

On the iron-framed bed a single, scant sheet has moulded itself into the form of the human beneath. On top of the bedside cabinet, a small pile of spiral-bound notebooks sits alongside a vase of flowers, bright-coloured and plastic. The notebooks are worn from handling, the leaves rippled with damp. In the atmosphere of the room the memories of a man float and form. The man in the bed is telling a story. His name is Elias Cole.

Adrian listens. He is new here.

Elias Cole says:

* * *

I heard a song, a morning as I walked to college. It came to me across the radio playing on a stall I passed. A song from far away, about a lost love. At least so I imagined, I didn't understand the words, only the melody. But in the low notes I could hear the loss this man had suffered. And in the high notes I understood too that it was a song about something that could never be. I had not wept in years. But I did, there and then, on the side of a dusty street, surrounded by strangers. The melody stayed with me for years.

This is how it is when you glimpse a woman for the first time, a woman you know you could love. 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.

I never thought I would hear that tune again. Then a month, or perhaps it was two months ago, as I sat alone in the room in my house that serves as a study, the window was open, and through it faintly, I heard somebody whistling the tune and singing pieces from the refrain. A woman's voice. The very same tune from those years ago. I shouted for Babagaleh, who for once came on the first call. I sent him down into the street to find whoever was whistling. He seemed to be gone for ever. And all the time I waited what could I do but sit and listen to my heart keeping time with my impatience.

The person Babagaleh brought to me was a builder, a Fula, dressed in torn trousers, bare of chest and covered in cement dust, which reminded me of funeral ashes. Babagaleh ushered him off the carpets, but I called him close again. I asked him to sing and he did, some other tune. I wouldn't have put it past Babagaleh to have called the first person he saw from the gate. I hummed a few of the notes, as I remembered them.

And then the man in front of me sang, and there was the tune and his voice, girlish and high. After he had sung for me, I asked him to tell me the meaning of the words. The song was indeed about loss, but not of a woman. In the song a young man longed for a time past, a time he had only heard about in the words of those who'd lived it, a time of hope and dreams. He was singing of the life lost to him, because it had been his misfortune to be born much later, when the world was already a different place.

I had woken later than usual that morning. Babagaleh had been up for hours. A Muslim, a northerner, he's up with the call to prayer by five every morning, which is one good thing about him. Also, he doesn't drink and is an honest man, which is more than you can say of many. Quick to temper, though, those northerners. I called him to take a bucket of hot water to the bathroom, so I could shave. These days there is no hot water, we're lucky if there is water at all. The taps run dry, as had been the case for the last few days. We kept a barrel at the back of the house for such contingencies.

'I want to finish the study today,' I told him. 'When you come back from market come and find me there.'

'Today is Friday,' he replied as he filled the sink and prepared to withdraw. I was still in my pyjamas, sitting on the edge of the bath, summoning the energy to lift myself up and reach the sink. Of course, Friday. Babagaleh would be at the mosque. No one to help me all day.

'Very well,' I said. 'Mind you come straight back. No wasting time with all that congosa afterwards.'

No reply, which meant he intended to do just as he pleased. He poured the water into the sink and set down the bucket, came and hovered over me like a bluebottle. I waved him away. When he had gone, I took a breath, as deep as my lungs would allow, and levered myself up with the aid of the towel rail. Four steps to the sink. I rested my hands on the edge of the porcelain, steadied myself on my feet and stared into the mirror. The pale hairs on my chin gave my face an ashen cast. I leaned forward and pulled down each eyelid. My eyeballs were yellow, streaked with red. Admirable colours in a sunset, perhaps.

The night before, as on other nights, Babagaleh arranged the pillows behind me. By then I was forced to sleep virtually upright. I had lain gazing into the black listening to the creaking of my stiffened lungs, the air whistling through the tubes, like a piece of rusted machinery.

I picked up my shaving brush, wet the bristles and lathered my face with soap. The razor was less than sharp and pulled at the hairs, dragging them out of the loose folds of skin. Where the furrows were deepest the razor slid over the wet hairs. I stuck my tongue into the side of my cheek and with my left hand pulled the skin taut. When I had finished, I splashed the water in the basin over my face. It was still hot; I luxuriated in the feel of it. Afterwards I looked again in the mirror. The blood welled up in a number of nicks in my skin. Over the years my skin had grown thinner. It hung down, beneath my eyes, under my jaw, sliding off the bones of my face. I squeezed toothpaste on to my toothbrush and attacked my teeth. Blood on the bristles. My gums had shrivelled away, like slugs in the midday sun. When I was through, I rinsed my mouth and spat into the basin. Then I pulled the plug and watched the toothpaste, bloodstained suds, hairs and water swirl away down the hole, like so many lost years.

When Babagaleh returned from the market I was sitting on the unmade bed, struggling into my clothes. The effort of getting dressed had provoked in me a coughing fit, the sound of which must have brought him to the door of my room. Wordlessly he set down the tray containing my medicine, a jug of water and a glass, poured a little of the water and helped me to take a few sips. Gradually the coughing subsided. Then I sat still, submitting to his ministrations like a child or a halfwit. He freed my left arm from where it was trapped in the shirtsleeve, then he buttoned the cuffs. I pushed away his hands, insisted on buttoning the front myself. He bent and rolled a sock over each foot, pushed them into my shoes and tied the laces.

Starched white shirt. Black trousers. Proper footwear. I could shamble around, unshaven, wearing stained pyjamas, like my neighbour opposite. All over town, you see them. Slumped on the balconies of their homes, amid the traffic fumes, staring into space, gradually being covered in a layer of dust from the street. The living dead.

As I left the room I caught a glimpse of my own reflection in the dresser mirror. A straw man in the half-light. The shirt and trousers billowed out above and below my belt. Every week I pulled the belt a notch tighter. A smear of blood on the collar of the shirt. What to do? I could not go through the effort of changing my clothes again. I expected no visitors.

Babagaleh came to tell me he was leaving. He was dressed for the mosque, wearing a long djellaba of pure white, leather sandals and an embroidered round hat of deep blue. It occurred to me, not for the first time, how easy it would make life to be able to dress like that. Each day Babagaleh performed his simple duties; on Fridays he took his place in the second row in the mosque. A day off every other week. Once a month he went to visit his wife. Though they had long since gone their separate ways, only last year he'd paid for a new roof and window frames. Together they drank coffee and spoke of their grandchildren.

Before he left Babagaleh returned carrying another tray, this time holding a Thermos of tea, a loaf of Fula bread, margarine, a pair of hard-boiled eggs. He poured me a cup of tea and loaded it with sugar. Like all his kinsmen he holds to the belief that sugar is heartening.

He walked the length of the room partially drawing the curtains against the coming heat, left without speaking again. I sat for a moment or two sipping the tea, aware of my sudden solitude. Thoughts like weevils burrowed into my brain. Nothing I did could shake them out; at night they forced me awake just as often as my bouts of breathlessness. There is nothing new in this, I'm sure. A condition of age. A consequence of insufficient occupation.

White-painted walls. Dark-wood floor. Parquet. It had cost money to have that laid. Over by the window, visible beneath the coat of wax, a parallelogram of bleached wood where the sun entered. A fringed, dark-red rug, with its own matching diamonds of sunlightened wool. A pair of planter's chairs bought from the Forestry Commission thirty years before. Tooled red-leather pouffes, cracked and mildew-stained.

Increasingly I found it hard not to look around the place and do the sums in my head of what it might all fetch in a sale. One day I watched Babagaleh shaking out the curtains, wiping down the arms of the chairs with a damp cloth – I wondered if he was thinking the same. The thought got me going and as the day wore on I became preoccupied with the matter of my library. The volumes on the shelves amounted to hundreds. I decided to set myself the task of deciding which ones were worth keeping. The rest could go to the university library. A donation. That was the way to do it. This new angle on the idea invigorated my project with purpose.

We are like caged pets, we elderly. Like mice or hamsters, constantly reordering our small spaces, taking turns going round and round on the wheel to stop ourselves from going mad.

A year ago I'd ordered the whole interior of the house redecorated. Two painters arrived with dust sheets and set up their ladders. From time to time I'd mount the stairs to check their progress, make sure that they didn't spill paint on the parquet floor, but also to watch the pair of them balanced perfectly on a single board suspended between stepladders while they painted the ceiling. They talked between themselves, all manner of subjects, proletariat wisdom prompted more often than not by the words issued from their wireless. They did not mind me, it was not their place to do so and besides they knew I had little enough with which to occupy myself.

It was at this time I began to suffer problems with my breathing; the fumes of the paint, you understand. Before then, a dry cough that bothered me occasionally. I put it down to the harmattan wind, pollen from the garden, the smog of traffic fumes that lay across the city. I hadn't been to see a doctor. For what? So the man could tap my chest, write a prescription for some antibiotics and then chase me for an outrageous sum?

A spider had spun a web in one corner of the ceiling, silken trapeze wires. And over on the carpet, flecks of white powder, missed by Babagaleh. Cement dust.

I saw a woman once, the loss of whom I mourned, even before I had spoken a single word to her.

20 January 1969. The faculty wives dinner. We, the bachelors, gathered together at the bottom of the lawn, a patch of untended weeds. On the other side of the grass was the reception line. I was listening, or at least making the appearance of it, to my companion complain about the reallocation of space in the faculty building. He had lost out, which was a shame, no doubt. I looked away, towards the arriving guests. She wore a blue gown and, as she descended the stone steps to the lawn, her fingers plucked lightly at the fabric, which clung to her in the heat. I watched her and felt a surge of feeling, that then nameless emotion.

The first conscious thought I had came moments later – and it struck me like a blow – the man coming down the stairs a pace behind was her husband.

Within a few yards of the receiving line, I saw him move away. Not her husband. Relief, a cold breath down my spine. Then I saw her reach out her hand and touch him lightly on the sleeve. And with that light touch, made with just the ends of her fingers, she may as well have had the strength of ten men, so quickly did he yield and alter his course back towards the long line of people. I saw how he submitted his will to hers. I saw her smile, an upward curving of her lips, faint and sweet. A smile he returned, gracious in defeat. Seconds had passed since I first laid eyes on her and I'd already lost her twice over.

I excused myself, placed my glass on the tray of a passing waiter, moved across the lawn and stood at the end of the receiving line next to the last man, a fellow I recognised vaguely from the faculty hierarchy. I nodded and he nodded back, barely registering me, having lapsed long before into the sort of stupor such social obligations are inclined to induce.

I shook one or two hands, muttered greetings. Nobody knew or cared, their minds were already turned to thoughts of alcohol and food. And then there she was, standing before me, her hand held out, smiling. I took her hand. I spoke my name. Saw her smile, a poor man's version of the smile she had given to her husband. She moved on and hovered a few yards away while I shook her husband's hand. Together they walked across the lawn, his hand once more at her elbow.

My eyes followed them. I realised I had no idea of her name, for it had been obliterated in the moment of our meeting, by the drumming in my ears.

The tea had cooled by the time I got around to drinking it. I have a dislike of lukewarm liquids. I carried the cup across the room and set it down on a low table while I heaved open the glass door to the verandah. Outside I poured the liquid over the railing into the flowerbed and watched with satisfaction as it bored a hole in the dry earth. The garden had suffered during the drought; bare patches of rough earth had appeared in the lawn, the beds looked more like neglected graves.

By the time I returned to the chair, the effort had brought me out in a sweat. I poured myself a fresh cup of tea, and drank it carefully. I cracked one of the eggs on the side of the tray, and picked at the shell with my fingernails. Then I poured a little salt on to the plate and dipped the egg into it. Babagaleh never had subscribed to the view that an egg could be overcooked. It was as much as I could do to swallow. I returned the rest to the tray. Still no appetite. It is a mockery. It should be liberating, the absence of a desire. Instead you feel another kind of longing, for the desire that is lost. I yearned to want food again, to feel hunger and then to indulge the pleasure of sating it. I felt a sudden, whimsical urge for a cigarette. What could be more pleasurable than casually inhaling toxins, deep into the lungs?

In time I levered myself back to my feet and went to sit behind the desk, swivelled the chair around to face the bookshelves. I selected a volume and brought it down. Banton's West African City, published under the auspices of the International African Institute. The book was cloth-bound with stitched seams, the paper yellow and grainy beneath my fingertips. I searched the front pages for the publication date. 1957.

I began to read where the book fell open, about the growth of this city: The third stratum comprised the tribal immigrants, who were regarded by the Creoles as hewers of wood and drawers of water, and who were for a time content with their station.

I turned back a page: They called them 'unto whom', quoting from Psalm 95: 'Unto whom I sware in my wrath: that they should not enter into my rest.'

In the margin were scribbled some words. Had I not been as familiar as I was with the hand, I would have struggled to decipher the words: Give me a full belly and a hammock and I shall enter my own rest. Julius. It had been a habit of his, typical of the man, to enter marginalia into a borrowed book. I closed the page, took a few minutes to bring control to my breathing. I leaned over the desk and let the book drop into the cardboard box by the side of the desk.

The next volume I picked up was Lethbridge Banbury's book on these parts. Now this one was actually worth something. A handsome deep-red volume. On the cover a gold-engraved image of an elephant and a palm tree. Hand-cut leaves. Black-and-white illustrated plates, each one protected by a leaf of tracing paper.

I can quote the first lines by heart, still: Why I went to S is neither here nor there: perhaps I took that step from that insatiable wish to 'see the world', which so ardently possesses many Englishmen; or perhaps I was actuated by an ambitious desire of obtaining promotion in a service in which success is popularly supposed to come specially to those who depart from the beaten track in search of it.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Memory of Love"
by .
Copyright © 2010 Aminatta Forna.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Delivering us to a common center, no matter where we happen to be have been born, Aminatta Forna tackles those great human experiences of love and war, of friendship, rivalry, of death and triumphant survival. 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

“A subtle and complex exploration, daring in depth and scope… 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

“She threads her stories like music, imperceptibly into the reader’s consciousness. One is left hauntingly familiar with the distant and alien; not quite able to distinguish the emotional spirits of fiction from the scars of reality.” —Sam Kiley, The Times (UK)

“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

"As Forna's forensic re-inhabiting of the aftermath of the conflict reveals, these wounds may have vivid physical realities, but it is always behind the eyes that they are felt most keenly." — The Observer (UK)

"If West Africa has lived through some of the most grotesque episodes of the 20th century, it has also been blessed with several generations of extraordinary writing talents who continue to turn those ordeals into heart-rending literature." — Michela Wrong, The Spectator (UK)

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The Memory of Love 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
DubaiReader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A bit confusing, but I'm glad I read it.When I look back over this book and think about its content, I realise that it was quite a fascinating read, with a lot of details that we spent an excellent book group flushing out. However, while I was reading it I was really struggling to keep it flowing. It was a painfully slow read and the majority of my fellow book-groupers felt the same way. I found it very confusing, not least, the nationalities (native African or ex-pat British) of some of the characters and who was speaking when a new chapter started.Set in Sierra Leone, the narrative swaps - a bit irratically - between current time and 1969, when Elias Cole first sets eyes upon Saffia. He is instantly besotted and although she is married, starts to stalk her, even befriending her husband, his colleague, Julius.In current time, Adrian Lockheart, a volunteer psychologist, is listening to the elderly Elias recount his life, but why is he so determined to tell all? Is he trying to rewrite history so that he appears more favourably?The use of the psychologist, Adrian, was an excellent tool to recount many of the experiences of survivors of the 1991-2002 civil war, as he attempts to help them come to terms with their lives. Almost the whole population is suffering from some degree of post taumatic stress disorder after the atrocities.Adrian befriends a fellow hopital doctor, surgeon, Kai, probably the most likable character. Kai is dedicated to his country but has recently started to consider moving to the USA for a better life and to escape his memories.The denouement effectively links Elias, Adrian and Kai in a satisfying finale that joins the various strands of the novel.Although I am glad I read this book, I stand by my 3.5 star rating as I found it rather confusing, especially in the first half. I don't think I'd particularly recommend it and am quite surprised by some of the glowing reviews it has received.
brenzi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Having already read this year¿s Orange Prize winner, The Tiger¿s Wife, earlier this year I have to ask myself, ¿What in the world were the judges thinking?¿ This stunning novel, that tells the heartbreaking story of the detritus of the Sierra Leone war years, came in what? Second or third? How is that possible? This novel is breathtaking and polished. That other novel is a flawed first attempt. This novel tells how the war in Sierra Leone left the residents bruised and hurting. That other novel dealt with a war too and its effect on the populace. But this novel tore your guts out and that other novel left me feeling like a bystander, with only a casual interest. Both books had two separate threads, years apart, that the author weaved back and forth, telling the story. But this novel was seamlessly constructed while that other novel had me wondering what was going on. What did the judges see, that passed me by?Adrian is a psychologist from the UK serving a one year placement in Sierra Leone, working with those people deeply affected by the war and suffering from PTSD and other emotional disorders. He works in a mental hospital and in a medical hospital. Elias Cole is a patient in the hospital, in the last throes of pulmonary disease. He is telling Adrian his story of the days when he was a young college lecturer and the first man walked on the moon. Kai is a young surgeon who is fighting the demons that have plagued him since the war years a decade ago. Adrian unwittingly finds the one woman who can draw the three of them together.This is the story of modern Africa, told with intelligence and heart. These people are real and this author slyly places the reader on the streets of the city and, through the multistrand effect, makes it all seem so heartbreakingly real. The effects of war on the people can never be overlooked, but how they deal with peace is another story.¿So the man has lost all his young family without knowing it. They¿ll be buried by the time the news reaches him. No telephones, no post, the far reaches of the country are virtually cut off. Somebody will have to carry the message to him. Every day Kai sees women on the wards lying next to their sick children. The women¿s listlessness frustrates the foreign doctors, who try to urge them to take better care, to own responsibility for monitoring their child¿s vital signs. The local nurses, though, show less surprise. And Kai recognizes the expression of the mothers. It is submission, submission in the face of the inevitable. People think war is the worst this country has ever seen: they have no idea what peace is like. The courage it takes to simply endure.¿ (Page 282)Yes, I¿m afraid this is the book that should¿ve won the Orange Prize. If only they would ask me to judge. Oh well. Very highly recommended.
lit_chick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿People think war is the worst this country has ever seen: they have no idea what peace is like. The courage it takes simply to endure.¿ (Ch 34)The Memory of Love is set in twenty-first century Sierra Leone where English psychologist, Adrian, has taken a post in hopes of helping patients suffering from traumatic disorders precipitated by years of civil war. He develops a relationship with two patients whose stories relate the history of late 1960s Sierra Leone. The first patient is Elias Cole, a former professor who tells Adrian the story of his all-consuming love for a colleague¿s wife and of the colleague¿s subsequent, and suspect, disappearance. The second patient, Agnes, is lost in fugue; but eventually her narrative is pieced together to reveal her indelible courage to survive in the face of unspeakable loss. Meanwhile, Adrian becomes involved with a patient¿s daughter which results in conflict with his African surgeon-friend, Kai. Pervading themes in the novel are loss, which has affected all of the characters; and hope, which Forna contends is sought by everyone, everywhere.The novel is beautifully written, if somewhat longer than I think it needed to be. My favourite quote, which showcases Forna¿s exquisite prose and her gift for relating the human-connect which crosses all cultural boundaries, is from the first page: ¿I heard a song, a morning as I walked to college. It came to me across the radio playing on a stall I passed. A song from far away, about a lost love. At least so I imagined, I didn¿t understand the words, only the melody. But in the low notes I could hear the loss this man had suffered. And in the high noes I understood too that it was a song about something that could never be. I had not wept in years. But I did, there and then, on the side of dusty street, surrounded by strangers. The melody stayed with me for years.¿ Highly recommended. Well worth the read!
vancouverdeb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a beautiful and elegantly written book! One caveat that I would give is that because the story goes back and forth in time, as well as having several threads with different characters - the book can initially seem a wee bit confusing. But by the time I was about 60 pages into the book, I no longer had any difficulty with the nonlinear time, nor the who was whom It's a wonderful read on so many levels. The many strands of the story give us insight into different perceptions of several characters as to what happened both back in time and in the current time. One of the characters, Adrian, a psychologist who goes to Sierra Leone to assist in the war torn country helped me realize something that had never really occured to me. Possible small spoiler alert - it would seem that the author feels that those that have survived the Sierra Leone civil war are all suffering witha degree of PTSD. Perhaps that is true of anyone who has survived a war, at least for some time. One thing that really amazed me is how of all of the separate strands all came together by the end of the book. The Civil War is more a part of the background to the story - though an essential part of the story. The characters come to life so beautifully and fully . Truly a beautiful though tragic story -and yet Memory of Love does not get bogged down in sorrow.Like it's title, this book really is about love at it's heart. 4.75 stars from me. I'm still so carried away by the different characters' , the entire story -and the way that everything comes together in the end. I'm willing to bet that this book takes the Orange Prize for 2011. This is book that will stay with me for a long time.
nancyewhite on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For 'deep' books, I often like small stories because I feel they give the writer an opportunity to get to the heart of things I care about (think Room or Olive Kitteredge). This Orange Prize nominee is a many-charactered story traveling in time to both before and after the Civil War in Sierra Leone with many flashbacks to the war itself, but Forna certainly manages to get to the heart of things. She explores the nature of love, personal responsibility and the human ability to survive the unthinkable. Even with these grand subjects to consider, every character comes alive on the page as does Sierra Leone itself.Absolutely stunning. Run to the nearest bookstore. Dance your fingers over the keyboard as fast as lightning. Do what it takes, but GET THIS BOOK.
MyneWhitman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book starts off very slow but gradually builds as the theme on which it is built becomes clearer. The Memory of Love is Set in Sierra Leone soon after the end of the civil war and has three major protagonists who each have their memory of love. Cole, the aged professor, Adrian, the pyschologist, and Kai, the surgeon. Their lives and loves intersect and the author narrates the book through them. While I was intellectually challenged by the idea behind this book, the love aspect kind of left me cold to be honest. However, I appreciate Aminatta Forna taking up the challenge of saying what she has to say, and what an important message it is too.
labfs39 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Shortlisted for the Orange Prize, The Memory of Love is the story of two love triangles. One is set in the chaotic post-colonial days of Sierra Leone, and the second takes place in the aftermath of the country's civil war. The story switches back and forth between the two time periods, and between the perspectives of three men. As each love triangle unfolds, and then the two become connected, we see the web of ways in which our choices impact the people we love.The story opens with Elias Cole relating the story of his life to a British counselor, Adrian, who is in Sierra Leone as a volunteer. Elias, we learn, was a young professor in love with a colleague's wife during the turbulent early 1960s. He tells a story of obsession, unrequited love, and betrayal, yet withholds something, even now, after all these years. As Adrian listens and tries to help Elias bring to light his true role in the events surrounding Julius and Saffia Kamara, Adrian's own life is in turmoil. Why is he here? What does he want to accomplish? As Elias's story unfolds, Adrian unwittingly plays out the same complex love triangle: he becomes obsessed with a woman who loves another and in the process betrays a friend.The third voice heard in the novel is that of a young surgeon, Kai. A victim of nightmares and insomnia, he immerses himself in his work and wonders if it is time to join his best friend in America, leaving behind the trauma of his country. Through Kai we learn of some of the brutal acts perpetrated throughout the war and the untenable position people are in now, with over 90% of the people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. The decisions and actions of Elias, Adrian, and Kai represent groups of people: those forced to choose between personal suffering and collusion, those forced to live with horrible memories and the absence of hope, and those Westerners who come in behind the war wanting to help and leaving again as soon as their rotation is up. But the experiences of these three men are also very personal stories of loss, love, and memory.I found The Memory of Love powerful in the descriptions of how civilians and rebels are now living side by side with what Adrian calls "the fragmentation of the conscience". By focusing on the present and suppressing their memories, millions of people are trying to get by in modern Sierra Leone. But can people (and a country) heal if they remain internally fragmented? I also found of interest how the author treats the subject of Western aid workers. In the book, they are seen as people who come to pad their resume or ease their conscience, but without being asked to help and without understanding the people's needs or desires. These short-timers are ignored or despised, sometimes giving foreigners the impression that Sierra Leoneans are not trying to help themselves or improve the situation in their country. I wish the book had contained more history. Perhaps simply because of my own proclivities, I found that I had to read an online history of the war in order to fully understand and appreciate the novel. Dates, place names, and forces are alluded to, but much is left for the reader to either know or to skip, reading the novel more as a Everyman's experience of war and its aftermath. I also wish that the author had chosen to write from the perspective of some of the women in the book. There are some very strong female characters, but they are always described from the perspective of the men around them. I found that dissatisfying. It's a good book, but left me wanting more. I'm looking forward to discovering additional authors from the country.
Citizenjoyce on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What can I say about The Memory of Love? I agree, it's a great book in it's discussion of war and the personal and societal aftermath. I loved the idea that a psychologist would think to go to Sierra Leone to help with PTSD. The scenes of the patients in the mental institution and even in the main hospital were chilling and hopeful. Chaining mental patients and drugging them into quietude, sending a paralyzed man home because there was no hope and no room for long term care then forgetting to talk to the family, wow. But beginning a book called The Memory of Love by talking about a stalker had me just about ready to chuck the book. I thought perhaps the author didn't realize the difference between obsessive need for possession and love, I was wrong. But the book comes down to a dynamic story of 3 men and a country with women, with few exceptions, being only victims and/or the object of desire, and/or the means of reproduction. I don't know why a woman would write such a book. Obviously she has had an affect on the world, and I'm willing to bet the women left behind in her native country do too. We can't fault a book for not being the book we wish it had been, so I gave it 4 stars, but can't help but wish Forna had done more with the women. Recommended to anyone wanting to know more about the effects of war.
-Cee- on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If there is a human emotion not woven into the tapestry of this well crafted novel, I don¿t know what it is. The writing is exquisite. This is a journey in revelations of unnamed, concealed demons of the mind and subsequent behaviors. The characters are tangible, complex, independent and intertwined. The bonds of friendship, dependence and romantic love grow to varied levels of intimacy and many suffer betrayal. There is distrust, fear, sacrifice and soul searching. This is the story of war¿s effects on the human psyche, the distortion of relationships, and the struggle for survival during peacetime in a nation with rampant PTSD.Adrian, an English psychologist searching for deeper meaning in his own life work, leaves his family and moves to an African country to help in that country¿s post-war adjustment. Understandably, the country is skeptical of his motives and in its instability rejects his unwanted foreign involvement. Adrian eventually befriends a young native surgeon who is able to bring credibility to, and acceptance of, this alien¿s attempts towards integration and healing. Nothing is easy. Though he is patient and persistent, Adrian¿s gains are slow and torturous. He gently nudges out the horror stories of war and loss, explores the psychic defense mechanisms, and offers therapy to restore hope. And how does this experience affect him? He discovers things he never expected to find.This book is powerfully absorbing. It is heart breaking and tender. This is one you should not miss. The pages fly by¿ but it is not superficial. It makes you think.
rainpebble on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Last night I completed The Memory of Love, an absolutely outstanding book about the days following the Sierra Leone civil war. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.What a beautiful book about a horrendous subject or rather subjects. So many really good story lines in The Memory of Love and all of them proved out to be very telling.There are so many lovely reviews on this book that I am not even going to attempt to review the book but I did love it. I cared about all of the characters, I laughed, I cried, I mourned, so many emotions are drawn out of the reader with this book.A couple of quotes:re: the study of PTSD on patients and civilians; "You call a disorder, my friend. We call it life.""So now his turn has arrived and he has never felt more conflicted. For here in this building where he barely has a moment to himself, he has never been so sure of who he is. He can walk he corridors, courtyards and wards blindfolded. Out on the streets he is recognised by his patients and he in turn recognises them. The change had occurred outside of his awareness. In this place of terrifying dreams and long nights, he knows who he is.""Sometimes I think that this country is like a garden. Only it is a garden where somebody has pulled out all the flowers and trees and the birds and insects have all left, everything of beauty. Instead the weeds and poisonous plants have taken over"The Memory of LoveI too, wonder why it did not win the Orange Prize. This is a spectacular read! I read a library copy but must buy my own. 5 stars +belva
CarolynSchroeder on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This novel was such a wonderful surprise, I absolutely loved it. I found an ARC at a used book sale and then found out it was recently short-listed for the Orange Prize. I was just stunned at how beautifully Forna writes (considering how unknown she is here in the U.S.), about many things too (surgery, post traumatic stress, aging, love, lust, longing and loss). The amount of research had to be considerable. It is a fairly simple story/plot about characters with very complex emotional lives. It flashes from contemporary Sierra Leone (after the brutal civil wars there) back and forth to the lives of the characters during that turbulent time. The characters could not be more diverse. The are: 1) a dying professor (Elias); 2) a talented young orthopedic surgeon (Kai); and 3) a British psychiatrist (Adrian). There is quite a strong supporting cast, with people we learn about in the flashbacks who greatly influence the main ones. One of the more amazing things about this book is how convincingly Forna writes from a male perspective (including Elias in first person). I usually groan when a writer attempts this, but she may be the best I've encountered. The joy in this novel is the unfolding of events, the rich and turbulent history of the country, and the lives the characters live, leave and create amidst the chaos and pain left behind. The other joy is the writing. There were just so many times I wanted to quote this book, or just wondered at how beautifully/accurately she captured an emotion or feeling ~ despite the exotic local ~ in such a way I could totally relate. I was sad when it ended and it was just such a pleasure to get lost in this world. Highly recommended.
Jcambridge on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A well-written novel that gives a broad view of the conflicts in Sierra Leone and the effect is has on individual lives -- of those who have spent their entire lives in country as well as those who come to "help". It offers interesting perspectives on personal responsibility.
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