The Book of Memory

Petina Gappah. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-86547-907-4
Gappah’s first novel (after the story collection An Elegy for Easterly) chronicles the death row missives written to an international journalist by a prisoner named Memory in present-day Zimbabwe. Memory, an albino woman, begins by talking about life in incarceration, the litany of inmates at Chikurubi Prison (a real prison in Harare known for its poor conditions) and the guards in charge, who are led by a bully named Synodia. Gappah crafts ample suspense regarding Memory’s past and the circumstances of the incident that sent her to prison. She’s charged with the murder of her guardian, Lloyd Hendricks, a white man whom Memory suspects bought her from her parents when she was nine. Hints are dropped about how the arrival of a man named Zenzo ruined Memory’s life with Lloyd. Gappah also recounts Memory’s childhood under her protective father and mentally unstable mother, the latter of whom subjected her albino daughter to a myriad of dubious healers for their spiritual cures. Certain aspects of the incident at the center of the story remain far-fetched, though the narrative works as a cautionary tale of how superstition and prejudice can shape one’s destiny. The result is a beguiling mystery. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/21/2015
Release date: 02/02/2016
Genre: Fiction
Ebook - 978-0-374-71488-8
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-1-250-11792-2
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