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In contemporary Sierra Leone, a devastating civil war has left an entire populace with secrets to keep. In the capital hospital, a gifted young surgeon is plagued by demons that are beginning to threaten his livelihood. Elsewhere in the hospital lies a dying man who was young during the country’s turbulent postcolonial years and has stories to tell that are far from heroic In contemporary Sierra Leone, a devastating civil war has left an entire populace with secrets to keep. In the capital hospital, a gifted young surgeon is plagued by demons that are beginning to threaten his livelihood. Elsewhere in the hospital lies a dying man who was young during the country’s turbulent postcolonial years and has stories to tell that are far from heroic. As past and present intersect in the buzzing city, these men are drawn unwittingly closer by a British psychologist with good intentions, and into the path of one woman at the center of their stories. A work of breathtaking writing and rare wisdom, The Memory of Love seamlessly weaves together two generations of African life to create a story of loss, absolution, and the indelible effects of the past—and, in the end, the very nature of love.


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In contemporary Sierra Leone, a devastating civil war has left an entire populace with secrets to keep. In the capital hospital, a gifted young surgeon is plagued by demons that are beginning to threaten his livelihood. Elsewhere in the hospital lies a dying man who was young during the country’s turbulent postcolonial years and has stories to tell that are far from heroic In contemporary Sierra Leone, a devastating civil war has left an entire populace with secrets to keep. In the capital hospital, a gifted young surgeon is plagued by demons that are beginning to threaten his livelihood. Elsewhere in the hospital lies a dying man who was young during the country’s turbulent postcolonial years and has stories to tell that are far from heroic. As past and present intersect in the buzzing city, these men are drawn unwittingly closer by a British psychologist with good intentions, and into the path of one woman at the center of their stories. A work of breathtaking writing and rare wisdom, The Memory of Love seamlessly weaves together two generations of African life to create a story of loss, absolution, and the indelible effects of the past—and, in the end, the very nature of love.

30 review for The Memory of Love

  1. 4 out of 5

    Brown Girl Reading

    After finishing The Memory of Love late last Friday night, I was truly sad to see page 445 arrive. It seemed to come so quickly for me. I started reading on Wednesday and read non-stop anytime I was free through to Friday. I could have just been pushed by time since I was discussing it with my book club on Saturday, but actually I just didn’t want to do anything else besides read this book. I really didn’t want that passionate story of memory to end. Click the link for more http://browngirlreadi After finishing The Memory of Love late last Friday night, I was truly sad to see page 445 arrive. It seemed to come so quickly for me. I started reading on Wednesday and read non-stop anytime I was free through to Friday. I could have just been pushed by time since I was discussing it with my book club on Saturday, but actually I just didn’t want to do anything else besides read this book. I really didn’t want that passionate story of memory to end. Click the link for more http://browngirlreading.com/2015/01/1...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    You know how some people fall in love and it is as if they're "lost in the darkness, amid thunder, blinding flashes, the madness of the wind?" Falling in love with someone else's love and losing all "sense of direction" can be fatal for the soul. This book captures this sweeping tale of love and betrayal in juxtaposed ways that spans decades, captures it in such an effective and spellbinding way it leaves you numb from memory, captures the force of love in a nostalgic and heartrending way, "the You know how some people fall in love and it is as if they're "lost in the darkness, amid thunder, blinding flashes, the madness of the wind?" Falling in love with someone else's love and losing all "sense of direction" can be fatal for the soul. This book captures this sweeping tale of love and betrayal in juxtaposed ways that spans decades, captures it in such an effective and spellbinding way it leaves you numb from memory, captures the force of love in a nostalgic and heartrending way, "the contortions of which the human heart is so eminently capable." When Elias lays on his dying bed and talks freely to the young, British psychologist, Adrian, who has left his wife and child to do work in Sierra Leone, you think the story is one you know, straightforward, some nuance added. What you get instead is a complex story with many layers revealed. Adrian, of course, has marital issues, some of which has led him to Sierra Leone to work on the psychological trauma plaguing survivors of the war during the 1990s. Elias, a British lecturer present during the postcolonial struggles of Sierra Leone in the late 1960s, tells a story of falling in love with his black colleague's wife; a story that is electrifying and shameless. Elias betrays his friend because he feels entitled to his wife, because he doesn't truly see him as a friend, because he doesn't trust him or better yet, because he doesn't like the idea of the resistance, the movement that threatens colonialism. There is the story and there are the underlying stories. Some writers do it so well it astonishes. Aminatta Forna does is exceptionally well in this novel and even though I saw themes of her memoir, The Devil That Danced on the Water: A Daughter's Quest, I was able to suspend all sense of reality as I dove into the story and saw the many faces of survival. Agnes, dear Agnes, a woman with "a dissociative condition in which the mind creates an alternative state," a condition so poorly treated in her community that she becomes an outcast, while the secret to her trigger lives with her and there is nothing her young, British psychologist can do to help. For when Adrian tries to help his patients, he realizes the damage is more complicated than what meets the eye, that when survivors live in communities next to war criminals, the damage sprouts. He learns what peace is like after war: "the courage it takes simply to endure." So Kai, the Sierra Leonean doctor, views Adrian skeptically. How long will he stay and how can he possibly help when he does not know the stem of this obliterating pain his patients know so well? Adrian and Kai develop a friendship, until things unravel. Ironically, Kai, too, has dreams of leaving his homeland and going to America to practice medicine. His best friend writes him letters from America, tells him because of the complicated surgeries he's had to undertake during war, he is a highly regarded junior surgeon and Kai can be also. But Kai is numb because of his own war trauma, a closely held secret that creates a barrier between he and the woman he loves dearly. He dreams about her, feels "hollowness in his chest, the tense yearning, the loneliness he braces against every morning until he can immerse himself in work and forget." He doesn't tell her this. And then it's too late because she becomes intertwined with another. So it is, the saga unfolds. Love is a memory. And so is pain. How does it end for the women in this story: Saffia, Nenebah, Agnes? Beautiful, intense, magnetic women. It ends like it usually ends for women in war, the symbols of survival, often the targets of masculine anger. They are the steadfast ones holding communities together, despite their own pain, despite their lack of a dream ending. "And there are others still who say love is but a beautiful form of madness."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Thing Two

    I can tell I've finished a moving book when I sit at dinner and explain detail after detail of the book to my non-reading husband, and then HE starts asking about it. This happened to us last night, sharing a sushi boat, sipping our wine, and discussing the civil war in Sierra Leone which lasted from 1991-2002 this time. To say The Memory of Love is about the civil war in Sierra Leone is to dismiss this as a war novel, but it is much, much more. It's about how war ravishes the minds of its part I can tell I've finished a moving book when I sit at dinner and explain detail after detail of the book to my non-reading husband, and then HE starts asking about it. This happened to us last night, sharing a sushi boat, sipping our wine, and discussing the civil war in Sierra Leone which lasted from 1991-2002 this time. To say The Memory of Love is about the civil war in Sierra Leone is to dismiss this as a war novel, but it is much, much more. It's about how war ravishes the minds of its participants. It's about how war destroys the future and the past. It's about love. It's about loss. It's about post-traumatic stress disorder, and why people lie. It's about the best book I've read this year. This is the reason I read many books ... to find the jewels. This one shines!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHq8Rc... (BBC interview) http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/201... * I re-read this book October 2013. I'd done the audio version on my first read, and wanted to see if I enjoyed it as much in hard copy. I did!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Julie Christine

    This novel opens quietly, as if the writer were a doctor, cautiously revealing a wound, warning the reader to look, but don’t touch; as if she were a psychiatrist, probing delicately at the mind, but who avoids coming too close to the main issues, for fear of doing her patient greater harm. The wounds in Aminatta Forna’s devastating and beautiful novel The Memory of Love (why am I certain the author had another title in mind, but was convinced by her publisher to go with the banal to encourage m This novel opens quietly, as if the writer were a doctor, cautiously revealing a wound, warning the reader to look, but don’t touch; as if she were a psychiatrist, probing delicately at the mind, but who avoids coming too close to the main issues, for fear of doing her patient greater harm. The wounds in Aminatta Forna’s devastating and beautiful novel The Memory of Love (why am I certain the author had another title in mind, but was convinced by her publisher to go with the banal to encourage mainstream readers? Sadly, this is the second novel entitled The Memory of Love I’ve read in the past four months and both deserve better titles. No offense to Elton John.) aren’t inflicted on just one person; they are the wounds of a nation brutalized by war. The decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone was relegated to Page Five international sections in this country, overshadowed—if one paid attention to the many tangled messes abroad—by the War in the Gulf, then the Balkans, Rwanda and even Sierra Leone’s southern neighbor, Liberia. This beautiful West African nation was first a hub of the transatlantic slave trade, then became an important symbol of resistance. Its capital, Freetown, was so named by repatriated slaves at the end of the 18th century. Its modern history is at least as complex: a land rich in natural resources, with an infrastructure and population that attained stability and productivity, reduced to horrific footnotes of “blood diamonds,” boy soldiers, hacked-off limbs and a generation of children born of rape. But all politics is personal. And The Memory of Love wraps the war around multiple characters and two eras to show the progression from hope and happy times to defeat and resignation. The central characters in this story are men: Elias Cole, a mid-grade professor of history and his charismatic alter ego Julius, married to the woman on whom Elias develops a obsessive crush; Adrian Lockheart, a British psychotherapist fleeing a loveless marriage in the UK to treat PTSD sufferers in a Freetown hospital; and Kai Mansaray, an orthopedic surgeon whose work schedule seems to be self-inflicted retribution for having survived the war when tens of thousands of his fellow citizens did not. The story opens just before the 1969 Apollo moon landing, when Freetown bustled with progress. Elias Cole, a young professor at the time, relates his story in first person to Dr. Lockheart, who comes to Sierra Leone thirty years later, after the civil war ends in 2001, to a crumbled city beset by poverty, crime and disease. Women are central to the narrative, though we never hear their voices directly: the enigmatic Saffia, Julius’s wife; Ileana, the chain-smoking Romanian doctor who navigates crazy, sad Freetown with wry dexterity; Kai’s former lover, Nenebeh and Adrian's new lover, Mamakay. And there is Agnes, a Sierra Leonean psychiatric patient suffering from a rare “fugue” state where she wanders off for days, lost in a world of memories. There are prostitutes and slutty foreign aid workers, cuckolded wives and neglected daughters. Women bear the greatest injustices and losses in this novel but their experiences are interpreted by their lovers, husbands and physicians. Aminatta Forna explores betrayal on an epic, political scope and an intimate, every-day relationship level. The Memory of Love is many individual but linked strands of characters doing whatever they can to survive, even if it means survival of the body but decimation of the soul. Friendship is one of the central themes—how easily we find and create connections and how it takes just a moment, a misunderstanding, a cruel coincidence, to tear them apart. This complicated and intelligent novel demands careful, slow reading to keep track of the multiplicity of characters, the frequent changes of points-of-view, time and place. Aminatta Forna’s writing is evocative, deliberate and authentic. She infects the narrative with tragedy and anger, then lances the wounds with sweetness, affection and hope. There are competing feelings of pent-up illness and catharsis that are partially, but not fully, resolved by the end. Not an easy read, but an important one.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Joy D

    ‘This is their reality. And who is going to come and give the people who live here therapy to cope with this?’ asks Attila and waves a hand at the view. ‘You call it a disorder, my friend. We call it life.’ – Aminatta Forna, The Memory of Love In 2001, British psychologist Adrian Lockheart volunteers to help with mental health services in Sierra Leone, where residents are recovering from civil war. Terminally ill, aging academic Elias Cole, one of Adrian’s patients, tells Adrian his story of love ‘This is their reality. And who is going to come and give the people who live here therapy to cope with this?’ asks Attila and waves a hand at the view. ‘You call it a disorder, my friend. We call it life.’ – Aminatta Forna, The Memory of Love In 2001, British psychologist Adrian Lockheart volunteers to help with mental health services in Sierra Leone, where residents are recovering from civil war. Terminally ill, aging academic Elias Cole, one of Adrian’s patients, tells Adrian his story of love and loss, almost as if he is seeking absolution. Adrian develops a friendship with local surgeon, Kai Mansaray, who is haunted by his own past traumas and lost love. Adrian is the focal point for the convergence of these three storylines. This is a novel that works on multiple levels. It is a story of obsessive love, betrayal, the transience of memories, the recent history of Sierra Leone (1960s to 2000s), political corruption, and the traumatic impact of war on mind, body, and soul. Forna expertly weaves the storylines together and the common elements become more pronounced as the story progresses. The writing is stunning – elegant, expressive, and emotionally convincing. It is a pleasing blend of plot and characterization. I found it engrossing and kept trying to figure out all the interconnections. I am not sure what else I could ask from a book. Be aware that it contacts graphic descriptions of war-related violence and symptoms of PTSD.

  6. 5 out of 5

    JimZ

    I read this book and had formed an opinion about it, but was not satisfied about my opinion which lead me to do some snooping, not about reviews of the book but about the context in which the characters of the novel existed…during the period of 1972 to 2003 in Sierra Leone which is a country in Western Africa adjoining Liberia and Guinea. Prior to reading this novel, I was dimly aware of the conflict of Sierra Leone and its poverty, but I was and am otherwise ignorant of the country and its hist I read this book and had formed an opinion about it, but was not satisfied about my opinion which lead me to do some snooping, not about reviews of the book but about the context in which the characters of the novel existed…during the period of 1972 to 2003 in Sierra Leone which is a country in Western Africa adjoining Liberia and Guinea. Prior to reading this novel, I was dimly aware of the conflict of Sierra Leone and its poverty, but I was and am otherwise ignorant of the country and its history. (Which I am not proud to admit.) I was drawn to this book because I enjoyed so much another work of the author that was set in Croatia with a somewhat similar motif —life in the aftermath of war, and flashbacks to the war itself (The Hired Hand). So…I need to learn more about Sierra Leone. I will read Ms. Forna’s first book which is a The Devil That Danced on the Water of her growing up as a girl in Sierra Leone and the death/execution of her father. I had no idea her father was executed when she was only 11 years old. I give this novel 3 stars. I had problems with the length of the book, 445 pages, because at times it was plodding. There was a character in the novel who in an earlier period of her life went by one name and was in love with one other central protagonist in the novel (Kai, a surgical intern from Sierra Leone) and then in the current period went by another name and was in love with another central protagonist (Adrian a psychiatrist from England) in the novel and they (Adrian and Kai) knew one another. Confused? Add to that the character who went by two names has a father (Elias Cole) who is a patient of Adrian’s and he has his own complex story to tell going back to the 1970s, but he doesn’t tell it right away…it gets dragged out over the 445 pages. So the reader is shuttled back and forth between the 1970s and the 1990s and early 2000s… And we must not forget that Adrian is seeing another patient, Agnes, who is in a fugue state due to traumatic events that occurred in the civil war in the 1990s and he is seeking to understand what accounts for the fugue state and Kai discovers the cause and I think he near the end of the book reveals to Adrian the cause, but only after Adrian does some semi-hypnosis treatment on Kai so he will remember a traumatic event that occurred in the civil war in the 1990s. I wrote the preceding long run-on sentence on purpose to indicate how I felt at times during the reading of the book but especially at the end…confused, and trying to keep track of different characters, and it was difficult. ☹ Aminatta Forna is a good writer. But the story was too confusing for me. Perhaps not for others. This book received the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best Book Award 2011, and was short-listed for both the Orange Prize that year and the International Dublin Literary Award in 2012. On an introductory page of the paperback version were 8 positive blurbs from such periodicals as the Times Literary Supplement, Independent, Marie Clare, and Financial Times. I point that out, because I don’t want to be a gloomy Gus about this book. Just be prepared to take some notes and maybe it will be a smoother ride for you. Forna besides “The Hired Man” and her memoir has two other novels that I will probably read (Ancestor Stones [2006] and Happiness [2018]), because I know she is a good writer and I did like “The Hired Man” quite a bit more than this novel. Reviews: https://www.theguardian.com/books/201... https://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/09/bo... https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/20... (In the section, Briefly Noted)

  7. 4 out of 5

    Leslie Reese

    From the early pages of this exquisite, devastating book, I read the story like a jealous lover who doesn’t want to read or hear anyone else talk about the object of their affection. I coveted the choice and placement of each word; I desired to absorb my beloved’s odor, breath, and eyelash movements; the musicality of voice; to hang on the atmosphere of each sentence, unashamedly. Sometimes I sat with the book on my lap, admiring and caressing the cover with my fingertips, clasping the weight of From the early pages of this exquisite, devastating book, I read the story like a jealous lover who doesn’t want to read or hear anyone else talk about the object of their affection. I coveted the choice and placement of each word; I desired to absorb my beloved’s odor, breath, and eyelash movements; the musicality of voice; to hang on the atmosphere of each sentence, unashamedly. Sometimes I sat with the book on my lap, admiring and caressing the cover with my fingertips, clasping the weight of its 445 pages to the flesh of my palm. The Memory of Love is a novel in which a number of love stories run concurrently, feeding and watering each other over a period of 30-plus years, mostly taking place in Sierra Leone, beginning around 1968. A man is in love with a beautiful woman; she is in love with her husband. A surgeon loves everything that takes place in the operating theatre. Visionaries love their dreams. The young love the feeling of their invincibility. Some children are allowed to be loved and protected, while others are not. People love things the way they were: when things made sense/ before there was trouble. People love their homelands, no matter the pictures painted by those from outside. We love selfishly, deeply, altruistically and incidentally. We love feeling ourselves to be necessary. But we love with contradiction; we love dialectically.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Emer (A Little Haze)

    Beautiful. Sprawling. Emotional. Set in Sierra Leone this is a book that explores all the facets of love and of war through the intertwining stories of three men, Elias Cole, Adrian Lockheart and Kai Mansaray, and their loves, Saffia, Mamakay and Nenebah. It explores survivor's guilt, PTSD and the fugue state, marriage, friendship and betrayal. I loved the way this book wove the three stories of the men together. I enjoyed reading about Elias' story the best as he was an utterly fascinating char Beautiful. Sprawling. Emotional. Set in Sierra Leone this is a book that explores all the facets of love and of war through the intertwining stories of three men, Elias Cole, Adrian Lockheart and Kai Mansaray, and their loves, Saffia, Mamakay and Nenebah. It explores survivor's guilt, PTSD and the fugue state, marriage, friendship and betrayal. I loved the way this book wove the three stories of the men together. I enjoyed reading about Elias' story the best as he was an utterly fascinating character and not always the most reliable of storytellers! Adrian and Kai's relationship was a beautiful study of a friendship between men. It was so multi-layered and there was always something else to discover about these two as the pages passed by and their story really did surprise me. Both men were troubled... Adrian was working in Sierra Leone away from his family and Kai was a doctor trying to come to terms with the effects of the civil war. I know very little about the civil war in Sierra Leone but this book really made it come alive through the survivors and how they dealt with that survival. Survivors guilt and PTSD featured very heavily in this book as Adrian worked as a clinical psychologist. The female characters in this book were also incredibly appealing to read about because they were always kept at arm's length because the book was told from the points of view of the male characters. As a reader I kept wanting to know more and more about these independently minded women and it kept me shuttling through the pages. I adored Mamakay; she was probably my favourite character in the whole novel as she very much came alive with the author's descriptions of her and her life story. The story kept surprising me until the end and I was incredibly moved by all of the characters affected by the war. Recommended. Favourite Quotes “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.” ---- “The memories come at unguarded moments, when he cannot sleep. In the past, at the height of it, he had attended to people whose limbs had been severed. Working with a Scottish pain expert years later, he treated some of those same patients again. They complained of feeling pain in the lost limbs, the aching ghost of a hewn hand or foot. It was a trick of the mind, the Scotsman explained to Kai: the nerves continued to transmit signals between the brain and the ghost limb. The pain is real, yes, but it is a memory of pain. And when he wakes from dreaming of her, is it not the same for him? The hollowness in his chest, the tense yearning, the loneliness he braces against every morning until he can immerse himself in work and forget. Not love. Something else, something with a power that endures. Not love, but a memory of love.” ---- ‘Do you know what it took to survive in a place like this, where everyone was watched all the time, when you never had any idea who your friends were? Waiting to see who would be next.’ Adrian stands up and moves towards her; he wants to take her in his arms. ‘I imagine it took great courage,’ he says. She moves away, as though his touch would burn her. From the other side of the verandah she looks at him and laughs humourlessly. ‘Oh of course, the new orthodoxy. Everyone’s a victim now. It’s official. But you see, that’s where you’re wrong, Adrian. Courage is not what it took to survive. Quite the opposite! You had to be a coward to survive. To make sure you never raised your head above the parapet, never questioned, never said anything that might get you into trouble.” ---- “How does a man like him believe in love? A man trained to analyse the component parts of emotion. Measures of neurochemicals, of serotonin, hormones, oxytocin and vasopressin. He who would name, classify and diagnose every nuance of the human soul into attachments, complexes, conditions and disorders. There exists, somewhere, a scale for love invented by one of his profession. Others have identified the neurological reward pathways of the brain, the tripwires that mark the way to love. And there are others still who say love is but a beautiful form of madness. Adrian does not know.” ---- three and a half stars

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rashida

    Forna is a gifted writer, and I want to make clear at the outset that my stars are not based on my estimation of her talent. If it was just about the way she can turn a phrase, well there would be no reason to give her anything less than 5 stars. She can write, and she does it well in this book. The language is lovely. However, I did not like this book. I just didn't. I liked the broad outline of the story. I did not like the way the details were filled in. It was as though the story is a waterc Forna is a gifted writer, and I want to make clear at the outset that my stars are not based on my estimation of her talent. If it was just about the way she can turn a phrase, well there would be no reason to give her anything less than 5 stars. She can write, and she does it well in this book. The language is lovely. However, I did not like this book. I just didn't. I liked the broad outline of the story. I did not like the way the details were filled in. It was as though the story is a watercolor on a large canvass, too large to be contained by this book. So Forna had to choose a section to focus on. She chose the corner (character) I least cared to have so closely dissected. Had she but moved her lens to the left a bit... then we would have been in business. But, Forna is free to write the story she wants to write, and I'm sure there are many who will enjoy seeing this country and this time through this particular lens. For them, this book will be highly rewarding. For me, it became a bit of slog, that I felt obligated to finish, because I was constantly reminded of that larger picture that I was so interested in learning more about.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    8.0/10 for the writing 6.5/10 for the delivery I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a writer's style so very much while at the same time being so completely bored by the book. It took me two weeks to read 185 pages. Each page was an achievement. I read enough to know this was going nowhere for me. It wasn't so very bad; in fact, the writing was good, technically; and she had a fine tale to tell -- but whether or not she would ever get there was lost in the minutiae of bla-de-bla-blah blah, an 8.0/10 for the writing 6.5/10 for the delivery I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a writer's style so very much while at the same time being so completely bored by the book. It took me two weeks to read 185 pages. Each page was an achievement. I read enough to know this was going nowhere for me. It wasn't so very bad; in fact, the writing was good, technically; and she had a fine tale to tell -- but whether or not she would ever get there was lost in the minutiae of bla-de-bla-blah blah, and so I chose to end my misery about half way through the book. Forna's characters did not simply make an omelette: they contemplated from which chickens the eggs should be harvested; they cracked the eggs and pondered the nature of the universe within the beauty of the egg yolks; they hesitated to stir the yolks lest it disturb the balance of the universe; having pondered this enough to realize that if one did not stir those eggs, one was in danger of starving because there was nothing else in the cupboard, the eggs were stirred, not without great angst about eventually setting them on the fire; but the eggs were cooked, they were eaten, and forgotten immediately. In fact, the eggs were never mentioned again -- almost as if they had never existed. This, of course, is all a riff on the madness of her characters' hand-wringing, soul-searching, navel gazing, inner lives. There is such a monstrously important story to be told, but it is viewed through the eye of a needle; other parts are delivered through an eye dropper that never drops its drops! I was maddened into eventually cleaning out my attic -- which I'd been promising myself for two years -- and now it's spic and span. Thanks to Forna. There was great joy in picking up this book and for the first 10 pages, I was in love. As I read on though, I picked up traces of Nadine Gordimer; and then saw Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie being channelled. I could not seem to pick up an authentic Forna voice, so much did she remind me of these two favourite writers. When she finally shed the ghosts of these other writers, I encountered a vague, detached intellectualism that left me rather bored and blasé -- even with some quite horrific scenes -- she had inured me against violence by her distracting/distracted mode of story telling! Lacking Gordimer's passion and Adichie's clarity of thought and purpose, Forna leaves me uninterested in her story and disinterested in her cause, which is rather sad, I am sorry to say. Nothing here for me but the ghosts of other writers.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

    This book has been described as intricate and that might be an understatement. But even with so many moving parts, the author is able to bring them all together beautifully. This story illustrates how it can become impossible to distinguish between love, obsession, and infatuation. Intertwined between the romantic love story are illustrations of love's many other facets. An uncle and a nephew, a physically deformed man and the pain he endures in hopes of finding a wife, the widow, the mistress, b This book has been described as intricate and that might be an understatement. But even with so many moving parts, the author is able to bring them all together beautifully. This story illustrates how it can become impossible to distinguish between love, obsession, and infatuation. Intertwined between the romantic love story are illustrations of love's many other facets. An uncle and a nephew, a physically deformed man and the pain he endures in hopes of finding a wife, the widow, the mistress, best friends..... and the ability of Forna to capture it all in this book - brilliant. As the anticipation builds page after page, finally events start to unfold, a twist always waiting somewhere in the pages that follow, chapter after chapter, it was almost too much. It was comparable to getting to the top of a roller coaster ride, that brief pause before going down, and then hoping you can catch your breath before the next turn.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ellie

    DNF The Memory of Love is not an awful book. Most of my book group enjoyed it though they did seem to agree with me that it took 150 pages to get into. I gave up on page 164 (or 36%). To be honest, I felt uninspired by the book before I even picked it up. A book about love in Sierra Leone. Sounds promising but I didn't engage at all with the characters and I felt it was all a bit unemotional. The group countered that it was more like real life. 1. I get enough real life as it is and 2. I am quite DNF The Memory of Love is not an awful book. Most of my book group enjoyed it though they did seem to agree with me that it took 150 pages to get into. I gave up on page 164 (or 36%). To be honest, I felt uninspired by the book before I even picked it up. A book about love in Sierra Leone. Sounds promising but I didn't engage at all with the characters and I felt it was all a bit unemotional. The group countered that it was more like real life. 1. I get enough real life as it is and 2. I am quite an emotional person (in real life). I felt like I was going through the motions of reading the words but not feeling them. Some thought it was beautifully written but when I compare it to some of my recent reads, it just doesn't cut the mustard in that respect either. I wasn't even moved by scenes of a country ruined by civil war because I felt it was glossed over. The parts I read that did deal with the effects of war did interest me more. There were also too many "main" characters yet not a lot separating them personality wise.

  13. 5 out of 5

    switterbug (Betsey)

    Incalculable grief cleaves to profound love in this elaborate, helical tapestry of a besieged people in postwar Freetown, Sierra Leone. Interlacing two primary periods of violent upheaval, author Aminatta Forna renders a scarred nation of people with astonishing grace and poise--an unforgettable portrait of open wounds and closed mouths, of broken hearts and fractured spirits, woven into a stunning evocation of recurrence and redemption, loss and tender reconciliation. Forna mines a filament of Incalculable grief cleaves to profound love in this elaborate, helical tapestry of a besieged people in postwar Freetown, Sierra Leone. Interlacing two primary periods of violent upheaval, author Aminatta Forna renders a scarred nation of people with astonishing grace and poise--an unforgettable portrait of open wounds and closed mouths, of broken hearts and fractured spirits, woven into a stunning evocation of recurrence and redemption, loss and tender reconciliation. Forna mines a filament of hope from resigned fatalism, from the devastation of a civil war that claimed 50,000 lives and displaced 2.5 million people. Those that survived felt hollowed out, living with an uneasy peace. Over 99% of people suffered from unrelieved post-traumatic stress disorder, and those that survived often hid shameful secrets of forced betrayal. Here you have children, now adults, trying to cope after their brutal coercion with rebel soldiers. They are living with the aftermath of "nothing left to lose." If you can imagine an unspeakable atrocity, it was likely executed. Blood on the hands of the people who remain seep into the pores of the newly arrived. Three principal characters form the locus of this story--a psychologist, a surgeon, and an academic. The story goes through seamless temporal shifts--from 1969, a period of unrest following a military coup--to 2001, following ten years of civil war begun in 1991. Adrian Lockheart is a British psychologist on sabbatical from his failing marriage to accept a (second) post in Freetown. He is compassionate and dogged in his pursuit to treat the population of mentally disturbed and traumatized citizens, to help them find hope and resolve, yet he feels emotionally dislocated from his own family at home. "The truth is that since arriving here his life has seemed more charged with meaning than it ever had in London. Here the boundaries are limitless, no horizon, no sky. He can feel his emotions, solid and weighty, like stones in the palm of his hands." Adrian treats tortured men and women in the fallout of war, finding a particularly poignant interest in Agnes, a woman who is suffering from a fugue disorder. He contends that the endless miles she compulsively roams on foot (and subsequently forgets) indicate a search for something meaningful from the ruins of war. He believes she is going toward somewhere, a place he determines to find out. Adrian's most prominent patient is the unreliable narrator, Elias Cole, an elderly, retired history professor dying of pulmonary disease. In this city of silence, Elias is compelled to tell his story, his confession, to Adrian. It begins in 1969, when Elias first laid eyes on Saffia Kamara, a charming and comely botanist married to the gregarious, fearless Julius, an academic at the university. "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." Julius, Elias, and Saffia embark on a friendship that inextricably points to the destiny of the next generation. The military coups of the late 60's followed Sierra Leon's hard-won independence from the British colonial rule. Political unrest led to widespread paranoia, which in turn led to wobbly allegiances. Elias's confession to Adrian is the rallying point, which heightens all the other narratives. Adrian's probing of Elias reaches to encounters outside of the hospital, and will alter the course of his life, and too of the story. Lastly, there is Kai Manseray, a talented, young orthopedic surgeon, a tireless and tormented man plagued by chronic insomnia and a suppressed and devastating history. Kai chose to stay and help the damaged and impoverished, rather than abscond two years ago with his best friend, Tejani. He is torn between his loyalties in Sierra Leone and his desire for a more elite station in the States. The woman he loved has gone, the city ravaged, the people embattled, but his little cousin, Abass, and the patients who need him keep him anchored. He has secrets that he won't share with anyone, that threaten to undo him in the operating theater. As the story highlights the contrast of their professions, Kai and Adrian form a tenuous bond of friendship. Kai's achievements are measurable--stitching, sewing, patching, cutting, and saving lives. Adrian, however, can't measure his patients' success with an X-ray or point to approximated edges of a wound. Psychotherapy is a process of encounters, wending your way through the dark channels of a person's interior and facilitating change through conversation. Kai and Adrian's bond is ultimately the most hypnotic, with consequences encroaching on the dark side of hope. Forna constructs a mesmerizing collision of forces and people that slowly propel the reader toward a towering climax. This story is for the committed reader, the patient literature lover who will undertake many hours of dedication for the inevitable reward. Think of a blank canvas, and every sentence as a mindful brushstroke, a bloom on the page. It takes a while for the picture to materialize. The writing is carefully crafted, and yet imperceptibly so, not in the least self-conscious. She is steadily augmenting, fuller and deeper, contrasting the light and the darkness, capturing nature and sound. Even her secondary and tertiary characters are wrought with polish and care.The story's leisurely pace builds its emotional cathedral one stone at a time; at about the halfway point, it becomes riveting and impossible to turn away. This is a personal and natal undertaking for Forna, whose father, Dr. Mohamed Forna, was a dissident in Sierra Leona and was killed on trumped up charges when she was only eleven-years-old. Her non-fiction book, The Devil That Danced on the Water: A Daughter's Quest, is the story of her search for the truth of that harrowing time. She continues her exploration of healing and recovery in this deeply researched and ambitious book. There are coincidences in this novel that nevertheless do not disturb the beauty or the impact of the story. In lesser hands, this may have come across as artifice. However, Forna's characters and themes are ultimately grounded, and the patterns that emerge from the disparate stories--the unguarded moments, the link of love that ties all the characters together--transcend her intention. The potency of storytelling and the refrain of love in the aftermath of tragedy is evident and sublime in her fluent prose. "There exists, somewhere, a scale for love invented by one of his [Adrian's] profession...And there are others still who say love is but a beautiful form of madness." The injured voices of her characters mesh into a voice of hope and holding on, to a startling story of redemption. At various intervals, the lyrics of Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come" drift onto the page. It sang, I sang. "Well, they tell me there's a pie up in the sky, waiting for you when you die...The harder they come, the harder they fall." Love endures. One and all.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Roger Brunyate

    I fall down, I stand up Where to start, in praise of this amazing book? Perhaps from the fact that Aminatta Forna, a woman, writes a novel where all three major characters are men, inhabiting their minds so naturally that it was not until almost the end that I stopped to wonder at it. Not that her writing is devoid of the female presence; the title of the book is well-chosen. Whatever else it is, the novel is threaded through with love stories, or rather, in most cases, the memories of love. I th I fall down, I stand up Where to start, in praise of this amazing book? Perhaps from the fact that Aminatta Forna, a woman, writes a novel where all three major characters are men, inhabiting their minds so naturally that it was not until almost the end that I stopped to wonder at it. Not that her writing is devoid of the female presence; the title of the book is well-chosen. Whatever else it is, the novel is threaded through with love stories, or rather, in most cases, the memories of love. I thought more than once of Gabriel García Márquez and Love in the Time of Cholera ; Forna has a similar ability to tie a historical theme of great scope to the lives of a few individuals, shown in all their telling detail. It would do no harm to look up the history of Sierra Leone, where most of the novel takes place, from the late 1960s into the present century, though eventually the main facts will emerge. The details are unimportant, but the pattern will be familiar enough: independence from Great Britain, a period of relative stability broken by recurrent coups, descent to one-party dictatorship, and eventually violent civil war fought by child soldiers high on drugs. The worst of these is over by the time the book opens, around 2000, but the scars and memories remain. The country seems gripped in a fatalism that one character describes in the phrase "I fall down, I get up"—fatalism tempered with a basic human resilience. Kai Mansaray, a young surgeon, has had to deal with the physical wounds all through the war, limbs cleaved by machetes chief among them. His carefree student days seem a thing of the past, when he was making great plans with his best friend Tejani and Nenebah, the woman they both loved. But Tejani has emigrated to America and Nenebah has left him. Now Kai buries himself in his work, rejoicing in his small successes and trying to forget the memories of a particular incident when the war touched him directly with a personal and shaming violence. Early in the book, Kai crashes in a room at the hospital occupied by Adrian Lockheart, a psychologist seconded for a year from Britain. Adrian is married, with a young daughter, but we sense that his year abroad is also an attempt to escape from mounting problems at home. He has become something of a specialist in PTSD, and gets closely involved, even obsessed, with several of the cases in his care. There is both a horror and a beauty in Adrian's work that reminds me strongly of how the theme of PTSD is explored by Thomas Kennedy in In the Company of Angels, a comparison I intend as highest praise. He quickly becomes close friends with Kai, and eventually becomes attracted to an African woman himself, so he provides a different pair of eyes on present-day Sierra Leone. But his researches, interviews, and discoveries also make him a link with the past. That past is represented chiefly by Elias Cole, an elderly academic slowly dying in a private room of the hospital. For some reason, Elias needs to talk about his past, and Adrian becomes in effect his stenographer. His memories go back to 1969, the year of the Moon landing, when he was a young lecturer obsessed with desire for Saffia, the wife of a charismatic young colleague. This was not a period of civil war so much as the steadily closing tentacles of a police state, and Elias' part in it, though also leading to violence and death, was a quieter one. There are moral issues at play here that, though in an entirely different context, remind me of Graham Greene, most especially The Quiet American. Yet Elias seems the simplest of the three protagonists and his yearning for Saffia is the earliest embodiment of the novel's title. His segments of the story seem illuminated in a clear light that we welcome at first, and only gradually begin to question as we discover how the three major strands in the book are in fact connected. Reading this book made me realize how many novels have been published recently that deal with survivors from war or human rights abuses in their own countries, whether in Africa, Southeast Asia, or South America. It feels that a full third of what I have read recently have been of this type, and there are several more on my pile. But The Memory of Love stands above most of these for the sheer quality of its writing, the closeness of its concentration on individual people and the details of their lives, and its refusal to take the easy route of making the mere fact of such atrocities an automatic handle on the reader's sympathies. It is a dense book, a long one, and undeniably sad. But hopeful too, hopeful because human. It will be hard now to pick up any others in the genre again.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Fiona

    I was given this book several years ago by a gentleman I know with an incredibly exciting job that involves lots of travel, eye-watering anecdotes over dinner and, er, a legitimate favourite Somalian pirate that he knows on first name terms. His daughter is one of my best friends, and he knows my specialism in international and humanitarian law, so he'll occasionally send me interesting articles, white papers - and, once, this book. It sat on my shelf for a long time because I am rubbish, and re I was given this book several years ago by a gentleman I know with an incredibly exciting job that involves lots of travel, eye-watering anecdotes over dinner and, er, a legitimate favourite Somalian pirate that he knows on first name terms. His daughter is one of my best friends, and he knows my specialism in international and humanitarian law, so he'll occasionally send me interesting articles, white papers - and, once, this book. It sat on my shelf for a long time because I am rubbish, and reading about war zones is more difficult for me these days than it used to be. But after several weeks of needing comfort reading and not being comforted by it, I wanted something difficult, to give me a bit of perspective. I loved it and I love it. Stories of Sierra Leone ebb and flow around a few focal points: a British psychiatrist, in Sierra Leone to help people - along with a dissection of how it feels to live in a place where you have British psychiatrists come and make it their mission to try and fix you, to see your head and the town you grew up in as something that can inherently be fixed. A Sierra Leonean surgeon, who dreams of joining his childhood friend in America, whose only way of keeping going with his work is to get tunnel vision and embrace that. A dying academic whose tunnel vision is, presumably, the only way he can still manage to look himself in the eye. What it means to take responsibility in a place where 99% of people have PTSD, to take responsibility for having done things that can only be called atrocities, for failing to stop them happening to other people, for facilitating them and for trying to patch things back together afterwards. What counts as a way out. Forna is, of course, extremely well placed to discuss all of this. Her mother was British, her father Sierra Leonean, and she writes locals and ex-pats very well. She writes kindly, and broadly. Her writing is marinated in experience and observation, and much the better for it. None of her characters are unsympathetic, but then, they are the ones telling their stories and still alive and well enough to do that, so of course that is their prerogative to make you be sympathetic towards them whether they deserve it or not. In a sense, that's what having a voice means. It is how Forna explores her themes, rather than necessarily the themes she explores, that is her strength. Deftly. Very deftly. I thought it was beautiful and intelligent, and I feel like I have more empathy and a little more understanding of people after reading than before. This is a thing I ought to have read, and now I have, and I'm glad I did. I see what my friend was getting at when he gave it to me. I don't have very many things like it in my field of literary attention, and now I want more of them.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lisa (Harmonybites)

    I just couldn't get into the story or the characters. I think part of the reason was the clogging sensory detail. Often you don't have enough--I've even heard an editor say that density of sensory detail is what separates the amateur from the professional, and such details can ground you in a story, and its setting--in this case post-Civil War Sierra Leone. But it seemed as if Forna had to walk us through the day of her characters in excruciating detail, burying us in minutia like this: Adrian po I just couldn't get into the story or the characters. I think part of the reason was the clogging sensory detail. Often you don't have enough--I've even heard an editor say that density of sensory detail is what separates the amateur from the professional, and such details can ground you in a story, and its setting--in this case post-Civil War Sierra Leone. But it seemed as if Forna had to walk us through the day of her characters in excruciating detail, burying us in minutia like this: Adrian pours Kai a tumbler of whisky. They open with the best of three. Kai wins easily and challenges Adrian again. Adrain, who has watched Kai's strategy closely, has worked out a thing or two, takes the fifth game and sixth as well. They play double colours. Blue and green: Kai. Red and yellow: Adrian. Adrian mixes the whisky with water to stretch it. Kai plays intensely. Adrian is grateful for the company. In the kitchen he finds a packet of chocolate cookies. The cookies are soft and dusty. The chocolate has melted, seeped into the stratum and hardened. They eat the cookies in place of supper, washing the taste away with whisky. The effect of the details, the jumps in point of views, even that much of it is told in the self-consciously literary present tense, I think all helped in distancing me from the characters and their emotions. And I didn't feel very grounded in the characters, was unsure even after 100 pages who or what was the focus of the novel. I couldn't even get a fix about whether Elias Cole was a native African or expatriot European. Both him and Adrian, who dominate the first 100 pages, felt flat to me. The narrative line up to then felt so meandering, so blah, such a slog to read--and the book is a fat 473 pages. I've read reviews that claim it picks up enormously in the second half--the problem is it lost me long before that.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship

    On the one hand, this is a well-written book with good character development and a solid sense of place. On the other, it has some structural issues that make me hesitate to recommend it. The Memory of Love is set in present-day Sierra Leone, and follows three men: a dying academic, Elias, relates his life story (or a version of it) to a British psychologist, Adrian, who meanwhile befriends a local surgeon, Kai. It is a character-driven book, gradually moving deeper into the characters’ lives as On the one hand, this is a well-written book with good character development and a solid sense of place. On the other, it has some structural issues that make me hesitate to recommend it. The Memory of Love is set in present-day Sierra Leone, and follows three men: a dying academic, Elias, relates his life story (or a version of it) to a British psychologist, Adrian, who meanwhile befriends a local surgeon, Kai. It is a character-driven book, gradually moving deeper into the characters’ lives as it goes; Adrian learns more about the country while Elias and Kai must deal with their own baggage from the country’s recent civil war. On the one hand, this book deserves better than three stars; Forna is a clearly talented writer. The book has believable characters and is full of acute observations, and the writing style is solid. It also has an unmistakable thematic depth, and while it can't offer an easy solution for a place like Sierra Leone, it makes sharp observations about what the country needs and what it doesn't. Dealing with the aftermath of the war rather than the war itself is an unusual but mature choice: the book never wallows in easy drama, but instead focuses on how violence changes people and the society they live in. The point is not to show us atrocities, but to show us people, and it does that well. I can understand how it’s won some prizes. But.... the plot, the structure, the point-of-view. First, if you do read this, be aware that the first 150 pages or so are a tough slog: not only because they focus heavily on the odious Elias (who fortunately recedes as the novel goes on) and his stalking of a happily married woman, but because the story is told through a slow and sometimes monotonous accretion of detail, building very gradually through mundane events and description. Second, the structure seems oddly lopsided in places: Elias dominates the early part of the book despite having little importance later; a key character, Mamakay, doesn’t appear until about halfway through; the subplot revolving around Agnes, one of Adrian’s patients, is abruptly dropped at the 2/3 mark. As for point-of-view, while Forna writes the male characters very believably (well, if you want to take my word for it), the book suffers from not including any of the women’s POVs. The most important female characters, while they seem to be interesting people, are seen entirely through the eyes of men who are attracted to them and with whom they are fairly reticent, which leaves them less than completely three-dimensional. The ending initially seemed too equivocal to me as well, but I've since learned through another reader's sleuthing that the resolution is there.... but blink and you'll miss it. So in the end, I’m not sure whether I’d recommend this or not.... give it a go if it sounds like your thing, but read the sample before you buy.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Heledd Davies

    As a book set in a period of war and turmoil and based around the concept of love, I felt that 'The Memory Of Love' was oddly lacking in emotion. Reading the reviews on a lot of other books I've read about romance under horrific circumstances, the main criticism seems to be that they are over sensationalised and use cheap tricks to pull at our heartstrings. Well this book doesn't do that. The traumatising events that occur to the characters are told in a largely matter-of-fact way, and although As a book set in a period of war and turmoil and based around the concept of love, I felt that 'The Memory Of Love' was oddly lacking in emotion. Reading the reviews on a lot of other books I've read about romance under horrific circumstances, the main criticism seems to be that they are over sensationalised and use cheap tricks to pull at our heartstrings. Well this book doesn't do that. The traumatising events that occur to the characters are told in a largely matter-of-fact way, and although the author goes to painstaking detail on the day to day observances of the characters (which is extremely frustrating at points), the actual events of the story seem to be glossed over, until I found myself feeling totally unaffected by the slightly predictable ending. Maybe the problem lies in the fact that I couldn't make myself care about the characters who on the whole I found pretty unlikable. The possible exception is Kai, and he is the only character whose 'love story' seems at all genuine, but unfortunately he's the character we hear the least from. Overall I can't say I enjoyed the book, although it would be unfair to say that it was a chore to read. It has its fair share of touching moments and the actual events of the story are as shocking as those of a war-based novel should be, but the perspective just didn't allow me to connect with it in the way I wanted to. I realise the author was commenting on a country that refuses to talk about its past, and the tone reflects this, but its reluctance to delve into the feelings of the characters just made it seem a bit empty to me. Others have clearly been affected by this book in the way it was intended, so maybe I just missed the sensationalism!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Elaine

    This is an ambitious novel and Forna clearly can write, and I appreciate her wanting to make it more than a horror story of war-torn Africa, to have varied voices and to emphasize the life around the trauma, not just the vortex within it. But the threads were uneven -- both in terms of plotting and timing, and in terms of compelling-ness. We spend a lot of time with Elias Cole, especially at the beginning, with his flat banality of evil and his not very interesting love story. When his denouemen This is an ambitious novel and Forna clearly can write, and I appreciate her wanting to make it more than a horror story of war-torn Africa, to have varied voices and to emphasize the life around the trauma, not just the vortex within it. But the threads were uneven -- both in terms of plotting and timing, and in terms of compelling-ness. We spend a lot of time with Elias Cole, especially at the beginning, with his flat banality of evil and his not very interesting love story. When his denouement comes, it is almost not enough for the time spent in his company. Meanwhile, Kai, easily the book's richest and warmest character, dances on the sidelines for far too long -- when his reveal comes there is nothing breathless about it, only a sense of finality. Adrian's career as a psychologist among a sea of PTSD turns out to be something of a red herring -- the "mystery" of one of his key patients drives most of the central section of the book (and is deeply harrowing and interesting) and then is entirely put aside for the latter third, when the story becomes much more conventional in its coincidences. Adrian too is flat -- almost colorless- we learn that he is loveable because the book's loveable characters love him, not because of what we can understand about him from himself. This essential coldness of both Elias and Adrian means that too much of this quite long book is not gripping, probably its most fatal flaw. Finally, the final twist lacks plausibility. That's all I'll say bc spoilers!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lily

    Several years ago, I read a book which had a couple of paragraphs that so moved me that I simply quoted them for its review. This past month (early 2016), I have read two books, each by a Neustadt winner or nominee, which sent me scrambling to find that quotation. The two books were this one, Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love, and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance. TMoL deals with the terrible aftermath of years of rebel and civil war in Sierra Leone, whereas AFB is set in the years of Indira G Several years ago, I read a book which had a couple of paragraphs that so moved me that I simply quoted them for its review. This past month (early 2016), I have read two books, each by a Neustadt winner or nominee, which sent me scrambling to find that quotation. The two books were this one, Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love, and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance. TMoL deals with the terrible aftermath of years of rebel and civil war in Sierra Leone, whereas AFB is set in the years of Indira Gandhi’s attempts to reshape India with brutal political programs. When I finally asked what might be considered to link these two exceptional books, I found a theme in a paraphrase of that long set-aside quotation: to the humans enduring horrific situations, on the surface toughness and self-sufficiency seem to be what enable survival. However, in reality, only tiny bits of love, sometimes stolen, sometimes given here and there, occasionally lavish, are what sustain the human soul and will. Obviously, Forna’s title inspired my search to ascribe meaning to these devastating stories. (For the entire excerpt, see my review of Reiland’s Get Me Out of Here. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the Neustadt award for literature (or have not looked at its legacy recently), I suggest perusing this page and the accompanying ones about its winners and nominees: http://neustadtprize.org/about-the-ne... Also of possible interest: http://www.britannica.com/topic/Neust... A very good summary of the story of TMOF appears here, if that is what interests you in a review. I won’t try to imitate Mengiste: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/09/boo... Both Mistry’s and Forna’s books are likely to “stay with me always.” They were books full of characters, primary, secondary, tertiary, well drawn, sometimes by relating story after story, sometimes by a few carefully chosen images. Forna only sketches Seligmann, the daring surgeon whose wife virtually kicked out this restless retired husband to a land where he could dare extend his prodigious skills into new medical accomplishments. Seligmann co-mingles his skills with those of the native Kai, well versed in the medical triage of selecting and treating the carnage from the killing fields that have ravaged the countryside. Together, they strive to restore function to the man Foday, far more genetically and physically handicapped than Somerset Maugham’s famous club-footed Philip Carey from Of Human Bondage (currently reading it). Kai, on the other hand, is developed fully as a character into a key protagonist of the novel. We are dragged, as within a mystery, into the stories of Kai’s loves, hopes, fears, friendships, patients, experiences of atrocities,…. Almost the only portrait we get of Elias Cole’s attending doctor, but my mind’s eye readily converts him into a “full person”: To Adrian’s question of how the patient (Cole) is, we read “The man, a Swede, possessed of the crisp, antiseptic aloofness Adrian associates with Northern Europeans, looks at Adrian, according him the automatic respect of a fellow white man. [and responds] ‘Not so great. But OK.’” p. 265 For Kai and Adrian we get myriad situations and interactions with numerous other characters, many of whom, like Adrian’s wife Lisa, we scarcely meet. Or the nurse Balia, of whom we know little more than her horrendous fate in rape and death at the hands of the rebels even as she and Kai had just applied their medical skills to save lives, leaving Kai forever scarred by the experience. Then there are the children, who I realize as I write this, are perhaps symbols of hope: Adrian with daughter Kate in the home of his mother in northern U.K.; Abass, son of Kai’s cousin, and the little girl on the beach in Sierra Leone. The writing is beautiful. How do I describe what is beautiful writing? Well, read it, savor it, taste it, think about it, feel it and you can know too, whether you agree or disagree. Sentences, paragraphs, chapters are well constructed. Ideas and images flow believably. It is not perfect. Some relationships may seem a bit too contrived, too conveniently plotted, too serendipitous. Those unaccustomed to post modern fiction may be jolted by abrupt changes in voice or time or place. But overall the story is almost too believable, both in the horrors of war and poverty and chaos, and in the ennui of first world living – both escaped from and escaped to. I just re-read Chapter 50. Oh, to be able to write such as it. (In a chapter, the story of an adult man with the mother who parented him, with his father, into the man he became.) I realize now this is a book likely to enrich into at least its third reading. Not but what it isn’t enough on its first. But the comprehension of life, of the milieu that raises men like Adrian and Kai, of the challenges placed upon the modern world by conditions in places like Sierra Leone, of the potential reaches and limitations of modern psychology, of the challenges of economic and cultural limitations, of the devastation and promise of being human. At least right now, I place this book alongside Tolstoy’s War and Peace in the regard and esteem I accord it. I give no higher accolade to a work of literature. P.S. Here is another example of a particular kind of love and respect, for country, for profession, for people. Adrian was recently told the taciturn administrator of the mental hospital that his aim for his patients is: "To hold down a job. To enjoy a relationship. To marry and have children." p318. Attila, the administrator takes Adrian with him on a trip that overlooks the city and its slums. He says: "Anyway,...you carry on with your work. Just remember what it is you are returning them to." "It is as close as he has ever come to praise." p319-20 But Adrian knows he has been given permission to carry on.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    Every now and then I read a book that is so powerfully crafted that I am in its spell for days afterwards: The Lizard Cage. In the Company of Angels. The Lotus Eaters. White Dog Fell from the Sky. And to this group, I now add Aminatta Forna’s masterwork, The Memory of Loss. Perhaps it is no coincidence that each of these works, at its core, is about the survival of the human spirit and the triumphant resurgence of love during the worst times of war and torture. At our harshest times, we become t Every now and then I read a book that is so powerfully crafted that I am in its spell for days afterwards: The Lizard Cage. In the Company of Angels. The Lotus Eaters. White Dog Fell from the Sky. And to this group, I now add Aminatta Forna’s masterwork, The Memory of Loss. Perhaps it is no coincidence that each of these works, at its core, is about the survival of the human spirit and the triumphant resurgence of love during the worst times of war and torture. At our harshest times, we become the most human and reveal our best and our worst. So it is with this story. Adrian Lockheart, a British psychologist, whose heart may indeed have become frozen and locked, comes to Sierra Leone with the best of intentions. He quickly becomes friends with Ka Mansaray, a gifted and tormented young orthopedic surgeon, whose current patient Foday may be a metaphor for the country: crippled and in need of reconstruction to embrace the future. Adrian also deals with a patient of his own: the elderly Elias Cole, an unreliable storyteller if ever there was one, whose captivating recitations center on post-colonial times and his obsession with the wife of a colleague. All of these men (with the exception of Foday) will be swept into the vortex of one charismatic woman whose present and past history will define them within themselves and in relation to each other. While this plotting may rely a tad too heavily on coincidence, the characters are so fleshed out and the story is so stunningly told that this plot device can easily be given a pass. In this “land of the mute”, the stories that are told are compelling and can also be self-serving. As one character states, “It’s happening all over the country. People are blotting out what happened, fiddling with the truth, creating their own version of events to fill in the blanks. A version of the truth which puts them in a good light, that wipes out whatever they did or failed to do and makes certain none o them will be blamed.” It is up to the characters to recognize the silence of the lie, even when the lie becomes internalized. Ms. Forna delineates the two types of liars well: the less educated who express their conflicts physically through psychosomatic illnesses, muteness, paralysis, nightmares, fugues…and those who are “clever” enough to intellectualize their experiences and transform them into a different type of story. At its heart, The Memory of Love is a love song to a country. When Ms. Forna writes, “People are wrong when they talk of love at first sight. It is neither love nor lust. No. As she walks away from you, when you

  22. 4 out of 5

    Joyce

    Amazing. Powerful. Though the first quarter of the book didn't do much for me. I had a hard time following the shifts from one character to the other and the present to the past. Slowly, the book drew me in and slowly the dots were being connected. The characters were complex and their experiences both during the wars and after were unimaginable. Surviving was almost easier than coping afterwards. But hope and love also weaves its way through these hard times and broken hearts and minds. Those ar Amazing. Powerful. Though the first quarter of the book didn't do much for me. I had a hard time following the shifts from one character to the other and the present to the past. Slowly, the book drew me in and slowly the dots were being connected. The characters were complex and their experiences both during the wars and after were unimaginable. Surviving was almost easier than coping afterwards. But hope and love also weaves its way through these hard times and broken hearts and minds. Those are the qualities that come shining through. Truly a significant accomplishment of writing about a broken country, broken people and about survival, goodness and love. Remarkable.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Aubrey

    This is the way Europeans talk, as though everybody shared their experiences. Adrian's tone suggested that the desire for something was all it took. They all live with endless possibilities, leave their homes for the sake of something new. But the dream is woven from the fragment of freedom. I had hopes for this work that were not circumscribed by the formulaic route it ultimately took. Rest assured, there is a great deal of quality to be found within the realms of writing style and political This is the way Europeans talk, as though everybody shared their experiences. Adrian's tone suggested that the desire for something was all it took. They all live with endless possibilities, leave their homes for the sake of something new. But the dream is woven from the fragment of freedom. I had hopes for this work that were not circumscribed by the formulaic route it ultimately took. Rest assured, there is a great deal of quality to be found within the realms of writing style and political commentary, enough of each in quotable form to make for a very nice miniseries if the producers took their task seriously enough. However, at the end of the reading day and at the beginning of the writing, 'serviceable' is not the word I want to be left with. Considering that I've engaged with many a composition which in the space of 120 pages took on what this blatantly refused to do in 445, it's not as if my standards are unreasonable. It's simply a matter of paying attention to, on a systematic level, who is the subject and who is, frequently if not always, considered the object. No sooner than we think we can get away with it, we do as we please. It doesn't require the breakdown of a social order. It takes a six-hour plane flight.' In the words of the inimitable Elizabeth Warren: if you don't have a seat at the table, you're probably on the menu. The more you diverge from the het cis able middle class to upper some type of Christian white boy, the bigger the chance that the most popular narratives of today will sacrifice you on the pedestal of pathos. Perhaps the horrendous trope of a cover should have warned me off, but publishers are not authors, and what once mandated three volume tomes for the sake of multitask profit now prefers certain bodies in certain times be put on display. When I set out, as my recorded statuses show, I was thrilled by initial findings of a story that did not cut costs for the sake of the usual centricity of clarity. First one male character point of view, than another, and then one other, but two of them not white in a postwar setting, and On Beauty had taught me how a first person was not required for a woman of color when an author knew what they were doing. And so I read, and I read, and I read. The truth is none of you wanted to know then, so why do you care now? The problem, ultimately, is the potential. So many divine moments of concise comprehension and so many human beings to engage with, but what underlay the course was not enough to prevent the narrative structure from buckling under its own weight. There was trauma, and tragedy, and the breed multigenerational pain only imperialism can sustain, but every content of spotlit character was built on the backs of one or more women of color whose stories were made to fit into the flesh of others, rather than fleshed out in their own accord. I held off on judgment when my manic pixie dream girl senses started tingling, but when the last mystery resolved itself as a girlfriend in a refrigerator, I couldn't have said that I hadn't seen it coming. Coming as I currently am from classes on 19th, 17th, and 3rd-12th century narratological study, I know the arguments of the times and the places and all that jazz. If you try to extend this to 2010, I'm going to laugh. Here enemies are a luxury only the poor can afford. In short, my woman of color author trope backfired. Not because of lack of quality, but because the type of character I can usually expect only a certain demographic of author to attempt was avoided to a seemingly conscientious extent. True, the few white women were here, there, sidekick echo chambers, but none of them were annihilated. This writer's got a great prose style and I have much hope for her future endeavors, but in the class of suitable comparisons, she's no Adichie. The darkness seems to hurtle at them, breaking apart on the windscreen and closing up again in their wake. Abass says, 'Do we have to keep quiet?' 'No,' says Kai. 'No, we don't.' 'What if we lived in that town? Would we have to be quiet then?' In the silence all Kai can hear is the rush of air. 'I don't know,' he says.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Peggy

    This must have been the slowest book I've ever read. It took me exactly 1 month to read the 450 pages. For the first 70% I was just waiting for something to happen, then in the last 30% it picked up slightly, but still there were so many pages that I just found boring and had to force my way through. I have to admit I started skimming in the last third, reading a couple of sentences per page properly, and I was still able to follow all of it, so that says something. The reason I finished it is t This must have been the slowest book I've ever read. It took me exactly 1 month to read the 450 pages. For the first 70% I was just waiting for something to happen, then in the last 30% it picked up slightly, but still there were so many pages that I just found boring and had to force my way through. I have to admit I started skimming in the last third, reading a couple of sentences per page properly, and I was still able to follow all of it, so that says something. The reason I finished it is that it took me a long time to decide whether to continue or abandon, and by the time I decided on the latter I was so far in (56%) and already put so much effort in, that it felt like a waste of invested time if I did not finish. I want to make clear though that this is my experience and I think the reasons it was so slow for me were the writing, the fact that nothing happened, and the lack of connection to the characters. However, I do think that objectively speaking this is not a bad book and I can imagine people giving it higher ratings. That, and the fact that I did finish, makes me give it 2 stars, even though the reading experience itself was more like 1.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Madhulika Liddle

    I will admit that I read The Memory of Love because I had set myself one of those challenges to read books from around the world. Sierra Leone, I wondered, when I reached that part of the globe. Sierra Leone, of which I knew nothing except that it had had a very bloody history, civil war in my own lifetime. I didn't know the details, but the name of the country conjured up images of violence. The Memory of Love begins in a quiet, sleepy way which does not hint at any of this violence. Former uni I will admit that I read The Memory of Love because I had set myself one of those challenges to read books from around the world. Sierra Leone, I wondered, when I reached that part of the globe. Sierra Leone, of which I knew nothing except that it had had a very bloody history, civil war in my own lifetime. I didn't know the details, but the name of the country conjured up images of violence. The Memory of Love begins in a quiet, sleepy way which does not hint at any of this violence. Former university lecturer Elias Cole, looked after by his servant Babagaleh, goes through the daily routine of life, hindered by old age and debility. And, he looks back at the past, at a memory of love: beginning with a landmark event. The faculty wives' dinner, when he first saw the beautiful Saffia, the wife of one of his colleagues. Dovetailing eventually into the story of Elias Cole are the stories of Adrian, the British psychologist who's come to Sierra Leone; and the orthopaedic surgeon Kai Mansaray. Adrian, who finds himself listening to Cole as he recounts the last years of the 1960s: the moon mission, Saffia's love for her husband, politics touching student lives... And Kai, unable to sleep because of the past that haunts him. Gradually, the superficial calm and peace of the 'now' in this story is punctuated by the memories of the past. The horrors of the war, the scars not only on bodies but on minds. Slowly, what seems like an everyday existence peels back to reveal extreme trauma, horrifying tales of violence and pain. In the beginning, I'd thought Elias Cole's long-ago love for Saffia was the love of the book's title. By the end, I didn't think so. There are other loves here, greater loves than Cole's one-sided obsession with another man's wife. There is love, hate, jealousy, terror, betrayal. There is a constant reminder of a saying mentioned: I fall, I get up. I may not be fine, but I am carrying on. Forna writes with an acute understanding of human nature, its frailties and its resilience. That, combined with her skill as a storyteller, makes this a compelling, deeply moving book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Wim

    This book is great. It has so many layers and dimensions. It is wonderfully written. It blew me away. Aminatta Forna has succeeded in writing a beautiful and painful novel on the aftermath of civil war in Sierra Leone. It is a book about love and loss, highlighting both physical wounds (Kai, one of the protoganists is surgeon) as psychological damage and mental health. It goes back to the past through the personal story of Elias Cole, former Dean at the university, and intertwines several persona This book is great. It has so many layers and dimensions. It is wonderfully written. It blew me away. Aminatta Forna has succeeded in writing a beautiful and painful novel on the aftermath of civil war in Sierra Leone. It is a book about love and loss, highlighting both physical wounds (Kai, one of the protoganists is surgeon) as psychological damage and mental health. It goes back to the past through the personal story of Elias Cole, former Dean at the university, and intertwines several personal stories into a fascinating whole in which all is concealed but intensely connected. The subject is extremely difficult, but Forna succeeds wonderfully well. This is why fiction is often more powerful than non-fiction. It gets to the heart of questions: how to cope with unbearable losses? how to live on when unspeakable horror has destroyed your life? It also touches upon the role of the West, of aid workers and others, and it does so in a sensible way, raising interesting questions.

  27. 5 out of 5

    robin friedman

    The Fragmentation Of Conscience Late in Aminatta Forma's long novel, "The Memory of Love" (2010) a British psychologist, Adrian Lockheart, reflects on his extended series of meetings with a dying political scientist, Elias Cole. Deeply troubled near the end of his life, Cole has been meeting with Lockheart as a form of expiation for feelings of loss and feelings of guilt. Lockheart observes that Cole suffers from "fragmentation of conscience" (p. 410), a condition which seems to indicate an unwil The Fragmentation Of Conscience Late in Aminatta Forma's long novel, "The Memory of Love" (2010) a British psychologist, Adrian Lockheart, reflects on his extended series of meetings with a dying political scientist, Elias Cole. Deeply troubled near the end of his life, Cole has been meeting with Lockheart as a form of expiation for feelings of loss and feelings of guilt. Lockheart observes that Cole suffers from "fragmentation of conscience" (p. 410), a condition which seems to indicate an unwillingness to accept the consequences of one's action or inaction. In a brief acknowledgement section following the novel, Forma attributes the phrase "fragmentation of conscience" to a book by M Scott Peck, called "People of the Lie." Forma quotes Peck: "The plain fact of the matter is that any group will remain potentially conscienceless and evil until such time as each and every individual holds himself or herself directly responsible for the behaviour of the whole group -- the organism -- of which he or she is part. We have not yet begun to arrive at that point." Peck's and Forma's understanding of the "fragmentation of conscience" form much of the theme of this serious and ambitious novel, set the the West African nation of Sierra Leone in 2001 following a long, brutal civil war. Cole and Lockheart are two of the three major characters of the novel. Cole speaks in the first person throughout the novel as he tells his story to Lockheart. Cole's story goes back to 1969, with the beginning of strife in his native Sierra Leone. Cole falls in love with a woman named Saffia, the wife of an engineer and colleague, Julius. Cole recounts the story of his love for Saffia which becomes intertwined with political unrest, Cole's arrest, and his subsequent role in betraying Julius. While Cole speaks in the first person when he unburdens himself to Lockheart, the remainder of this book is told in the third person. Lockheart, a PhD in psychology, leaves Britain with a sense of dissatisfaction with his work and his marriage. He wants to make something more of his life by helping alleviate suffering in a troubled nation where an estimated 99 percent of the population suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. He works with patients at the hospital together with an expatriate psychologist Ileana under the supervision of a gruff administrator, Atilla. Lockheart becomes especially interested in a woman patient, Agnes, who wanders from one place to another, and in Cole. He becomes attracted to Sierra Leone and its people and falls in love with a young woman known as Mamakay who plays the clarinet. Besides Lockheart and Cole, the third major character of this book is Kai, a native of Sierra Leone and a gifted orthopedic surgeon. Kai works long hours with an aging expatriate Canadian surgeon, Seligmann, in operating on the many brutally wounded casualties of the Civil War. Kai seems to be at home only when he is operating as he is tormented by his own experiences of the war, as shown among other ways by his chronic insomnia, and his lost love for a woman named Nenebah. Lockheart and Cole share an apartment and gradually become friends. Their stories intersect. Lockheart, Cole, and Kai each have their own relationship to the civil war and each man has his own "memory of love" developed throughout the course of the novel. There is much that is good and thoughtful in this novel as it slowly develops each of the three protagonists, individually, in their relationships to each other, and in their responses to the political and military conflict around them. But on the whole, I found the novel unsuccessful. Length and difficulty are in themselves not faults in a book. Forna's story, however, is marred by slowness, long, and wordy sections of extraneous material, and implausible, coincidences.. The reader can get lost in unnecessary detail, particularly in the first half of the book, and simply want the author to get on with it. The book becomes tedious. The writing tends to the overdone. The shifts in voice between Cole's first person and the narrator's third person tend, at the outset, to be confusing. Forna seems to me to attempt too much in this book as the personal lives and loves of Cole, Lockheart, and Kai interfere with rather than enhance one of her themes of "fragmentation of conscience" and personal responsibility. The novel becomes too long for what it says and itself fragmented and unwieldy. Forna's book is a valiant failure. It has much that it is worthwhile. Readers and writers need to know how to control their material and to have a sense of limit. Prospective readers of this book need not necessarily be discouraged but should know what they are getting into. Robin Friedman

  28. 4 out of 5

    Trent

    Okay, this is a tough one to review. The title doesn't do much for me, but I entered the First Reads giveaway program here on GoodReads based on the blurb and my fascination with Africa. I was pleased to be selected for a free copy, but even more so, pleasantly surprised to be introduced to the work of this wonderful author, whom I may not otherwise have discovered on my own. Trying to describe what The Memory of Love is about is part of what makes a review tough. Yes, as others have said, it's a Okay, this is a tough one to review. The title doesn't do much for me, but I entered the First Reads giveaway program here on GoodReads based on the blurb and my fascination with Africa. I was pleased to be selected for a free copy, but even more so, pleasantly surprised to be introduced to the work of this wonderful author, whom I may not otherwise have discovered on my own. Trying to describe what The Memory of Love is about is part of what makes a review tough. Yes, as others have said, it's about three men in Sierra Leone over a period spanning decades. But, truth be told, it is about so much more than that. It is about love, sure, but also about war, about choices, about survival, about betrayal, hope and disappointment. It's about life. Trying to expound on an author's "intent" or "deeper meaning" is always a thorny path, so I won't even try to tiptoe down that trail. Particularly with this work, I think the significance will vary based on the reader. And for me, that was very much the beauty of The Memory of Love. When writing of such a troubled and tragic world as that of Sierra Leone, fixating on the brutality and poverty and sadness to "engineer" powerful emotion in the reader, is tempting. I know, I have tried writing of Sierra Leone before, and even reading dry journalistic accounts as part of my research had my stomach in knots, let alone the words that could have been written by such a clearly gifted writer as Aminatta Forna, who could, I'm sure, have painted oceans of blood in broad enough strokes to leave every reader in tears. Instead the author chose the tougher road. A story without grandstanding, without hysteria. A story told in a matter-of-fact way that portrays people as they really are -- imperfect, uncertain, motivated by conflicting needs, playing the hand which they've been dealt, and faced with choices that don't always have a "right" answer. When confronted with love, death, injury, hope, and failure, the people in this story show their humanity in simple, realistic terms. And therein for me lay the power. I was able to gain my own insights, without being beaten over the head by the author's "message", or having her try to draw lines between what is "wrong" or "right". This story held me transfixed, not in the traditional pot-boiler, can't-put-it-down sense, but in the way one is absorbed in relationships, where the little things matter and you want to know more about the past and future of these people with whom you are involved. For this very lack of twists and turns, cliffhangers, and contrived scenarios, The Memory of Love may not garner the popularity of even many poorly written thrillers, and this is unfortunate. For my part, this book will linger with me, long after I've forgotten the current "hot title", and I'm sure this holds true for anyone who takes the time to read and absorb it. There is an effortlessness to the writing style that made me forgot I was reading a novel, but instead made me feel pulled into someone else's world. Again, compared to the formulaic, plot-driven nature that seems popular for many bestsellers today, this may not work in its favor, but it is truly welcome to encounter true art and talent every once in a while. To savor something that is prepared to reach beyond the boundaries of the generic, to create beauty and meaning, and show us the world as it really is. Not that The Memory of Love is flawless of course. But then, is any book or work of art? The shifting between characters and time periods for me at times took some adjusting, to figure out where we were and with whom. Some of the description was a little flat for the circumstances. While as outlined above, the author does a great job of not overplaying to emotion, there are moments where emotion could have been used a little more to effect in creating a greater connection and involvement for the reader, particularly with regard to the focal characters, who at times come across as slightly wooden in response to seemingly significant events. Overall, a really worthwhile read, especially for those who enjoy literature and who like to think for themselves. As mentioned, part of my reason for entering is my ties to Africa and books about the continent, but even for those without this attachment, this book isn't just about some war-torn African nation, that's merely a shadowy backdrop. I think anyone willing to reflect on the story told here will walk away with something valuable. Enjoy! *** Review of copy received as part of First Reads giveaway program here on GoodReads ***

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jade

    I burst into tears and cried for about 30 minutes after I finished The Memory of Love. I felt like I had closed the chapter on a long emotional journey, which had not been mine, but in which I had invested part of me, inserting myself into the lives of the characters without their knowledge, a fly on the wall so to speak. It took me a while to get into the book, but not in the way that I would get bored or find it laborious. On the contrary, I fell in love with Aminatta Forna’s writing pretty muc I burst into tears and cried for about 30 minutes after I finished The Memory of Love. I felt like I had closed the chapter on a long emotional journey, which had not been mine, but in which I had invested part of me, inserting myself into the lives of the characters without their knowledge, a fly on the wall so to speak. It took me a while to get into the book, but not in the way that I would get bored or find it laborious. On the contrary, I fell in love with Aminatta Forna’s writing pretty much immediately, and loved how she set the foundations for an epic story spanning decades and people and narratives. It was more because there is so much information to process at first, the different times, stories, and people, that I felt I needed time to ingest it all before moving on. Some books make you want to devour them, others savor their progress, and The Memory of Love was one of the latter. The Memory of Love is the stories of Elias Cole, as an older, dying man recounting his youth, Adrian Lockheart, a British psychologist who is working in Sierra Leone, and Kai Mansaray, a surgeon in the hospital where Adrian also works, and where Elias resides. It is also the story of the women they love: Saffia, Mamakay, and Tejani, and how all of their lives are tightly linked. The storylines are set in times of unrest, coups, and civil war, where the entire population has to learn to survive amongst atrocities, and then in contemporary Sierra Leone, where a certain peace resides. Love and the survival of love are important themes, and general survival is another one, as well as the different elements of PTSD, and how it can effect anyone, even years after they have witnessed or survived war, genocide, atrocities. And then there is also the theme of belonging, one that is always so dear to my heart. This is the 14th book in my #ReadAfrica2018 (soon to become #ReadAfrica2019) challenge, and while Aminatta Forna was born in the UK, her father was from Sierra Leone and she also spent time there and was directly affected by the unrest and war. While the book is set in Sierra Leone and there are some intense passages relating to the civil war, I love how the narrative focuses mainly on everyday people, survivors, love, and courage, as well as other less remarkable, but very human, traits such as jealousy, betrayal and denial. I think I have discovered a new favorite author in the vein of how I feel about Marge Piercy’s work. I’m very excited to read more of Aminatta Forna’s work. “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.”

  30. 5 out of 5

    George

    One of the most beautifully written books I've read in quite a while. But if you're looking for some light summer fare, go elsewhere. This book requires the reader to put some real effort into it, but the rewards are pretty worthwhile by the end of the tale. The book takes place almost entirely in Sierra Leone and the story shifts back and forth in time and back and forth among the major characters. We learn over time just how closely related all of these people are and how their stories are int One of the most beautifully written books I've read in quite a while. But if you're looking for some light summer fare, go elsewhere. This book requires the reader to put some real effort into it, but the rewards are pretty worthwhile by the end of the tale. The book takes place almost entirely in Sierra Leone and the story shifts back and forth in time and back and forth among the major characters. We learn over time just how closely related all of these people are and how their stories are intertwined, but slowly over time. The main characters are quite complicated constructions, capable of both good and sometimes, profound evil, and it's not always possible to trust their personal narratives as several of them are trying desparately to convince others and perhaps themselves of their comparative innocence in the events that unfold in the horror that became Sierra Leone in the 90s. One of the major characters is a British psychologist who visits the country after the war, with the intention of staying a short time to help mental patients damaged by the events of the war. One of the more interesting themes becomes what does it mean to cure someone of mental illness only to turn them out into an insane world? The well meaning but rather shallow and ineffective doctor, Aidan, becomes a major focal point of the entire chain of events, both as actor and active listener, as we discover over time how his patients and friends became these people we come to know after the war. One of the peculiarities of the novel for me is that all of the major active characters are men. There are important female characters, but we hear very little in their own voice. We meet them as wives, daughters, victims, etc. but we learn very little from them directly, which given the fact that the author herself is of course female as is the face on the cover of the book, but the women here are almost as silent as that face. We hear their stories but from some distance. I don't know what to make of that, other than to observe it. But, the book is quite moving in its study of the human character under extreme duress. And, as I said while it will take some effort to make it through its storyline, the trip is quite worthwhile and memorable.

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