Book Club: The Book Of Memory by Petina Gappah

This book tells the life story so far of Memory, an albino black woman born in the Zimbabwean capital Harare in the 1970s.

Tuesday, 28th August 2018, 15:59 pm
Updated Tuesday, 28th August 2018, 16:01 pm

When we meet Memory, she is living on death row in the Chikurubi prison, sentenced for killing her wealthy white benefactor and adopted


There’s something irresistible about a book where we know what the document is we’re

reading, and in Memory’s case she is writing in notebooks provided by her lawyer.

The plan is to send these to a western journalist and get attention for her case, in the hope of ultimately being granted a pardon.

We begin with Memory’s memories of being sold by her parents as a nine-year-old.

But where we go from there is far from straightforward, and it can be an occasionally frustrating read as we jump back to replay the same events again and again, and don’t seem to be

getting very far.

But, so it is with memories. There are some that we relive many times, and some that we try to avoid altogether.

And as a meditation on how we remember the complex web of

interconnected events that make up a life, both what is real and what is misunderstood, this

book is something special.

Gappah is strong on how memories of events in childhood shape the rest of our lives, even

those that we have misremembered or invented, either because of a childish lack of

understanding, or for self-preservation so that we create a life narrative we can cope with.

Gappah is a lawyer, and her confidence navigating the legal intricacies of Memory and her

prison-mates’ circumstances is clear.

And the glimpses we get of the changing political landscape in Zimbabwe are beautifully done too; the insight is worn lightly.

My favourite thing about this book, though, is the belief in the redemptive power of reading

that shines through the whole story.

I am a sucker for a book about loving books. And Gappah understands that there is nothing better than the right book at the right time.

Or indeed, any book at any time: the biggest heartbreak of prison life being the absence of

reading matter.

There are some genuinely affecting moments on the importance of reading

in the life of a bookworm.

This is a fascinating, moving and unique book.