5 September 2011

Review 36: The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

The Memory of Love is a moving and thoughtful story of love in Freetown, Sierra Leone but none of the relationships are your traditional hearts and flowers romances. There is the manipulative Elias who is in love with his friends beautiful wife, Saffia. There is Kai who was in love with Nenebah before the civil war began when everything changed. And there is Adrian, the English psychologist who despite his wife and child at home falls in love with Mamakay the freespirited African woman who will only tell Adrian the minimum about herself.

Forna was nominated for the Orange prize for this book and I can see why. I had previously read and thoroughly enjoyed the winner, The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht but I think that this book compares favourably with that and would probably by my favourite of the two as has a similar theme of many interlinked stories but manages to be much more cohesive as well as more emotionally engaging.

I must admit one thing I really didn't like about the book was the title and probably just because I'm being snobby about it but it does make it sound like a rather generic 'chick-lit' novel and it's anything but. I don't have any clever suggestions for what I would have named it but I do find it satisfying when novels have titles that manage to encapsulate the tone of the story and whilst the book is undeniably about the impact that love has on men and women it doesn't seem to manage to get across the depth of the book and I hope that doesn't stop people reading it; I probably wouldn't have picked this up if it wasn't for the fact that I was looking at all of the Orange shortlist.

Whilst the atrocities of the civil war are by no means shied away from the focus is on the relationships of the people caught up in it and the effects is has on their relationships both romantic and otherwise. However, there are some upsetting incidents that take place throughout the book which bring home the truth of what happened in Sierra Leone in the 1990s. The effects of the war weigh heavy on the characters of the book and we learn each of their stories in pieces across the novel. The characters are all engaging, if not always likeable and there are some truly heartwrenching moments towards the end of the novel.

Forna moves effortlessly between the narratives of the various characters and between first person relations of Elias' time in the politically unstable 1960s and the third person narrative of the present day as Adrian and Kai work in the grossly underequipped hospital and try to deal with the aftermath of the war. The stories interlink seamlessly and beautifully throughout the novel.

This is a wonderful novel in which Forna manages to create a novel that is intense, involving and shocking as well as moving and beautiful.

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