Sunday 18 March 2012

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

This has to be one of the best books I read last month.  It does have tough competition what with Snow Crash and American Gods having made such an impression on me.  It centres on life in Sierra Leone after the civil war and it isn't for the faint-hearted.  The thing about its violence, in comparison with trashy thrillers or even Sci-Fi, is that it has all actually happened in Sierra Leone.  That's the heartbreaking part of it.

We follow an English psychologist who has volunteered overseas, despite having a wife and daughter back home.  He is that typical foreigner, invading a developing country after a war or flood or catastrophe with the idea of "helping" who is resented by the locals, and whose small amount of work can barely make a difference to the thousands suffering there.  He seems to be working through his own problems rather than truly helping.  But then what else can he do?

Adrian, the psychologist, connects with an old, dying man in the hospital who wishes to tell his life story.  You can see from the outset though that this is a story of his own devising, and there are gaping holes in his version of events.  In a somewhat cliche fashion, Adrian also falls in love with a local woman, who turns out to the be estranged daughter of the old man.  I'm not sure what I think about the twists of the plot.  It all fits so neatly, even when the most gruesome details are being discussed.  But maybe that makes it all the more effective, because we can anticipate what is going to happen - there is a limited cast of characters and they are all interconnected.  The one I haven't mentioned so far is Kai, a surgeon at the hospital and befriender of Adrian, who has his own past which he is trying to bury.

I read this on my trip to Germany a month ago, and given that I am still thinking about it, I think that means it really moved me.  I will definitely be looking out for more books by Aminatta Forna...

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