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The Memory of Love – Book Review

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. – from The Memory of Love, page 185 –

Sierra Leone is filled with survivors of a brutal civil war – people who are moving through the remains of their lives, traumatized by loss.

Kai is a young surgeon working in the capital hospital and struggling with his own memories of a lost love and an incident he has buried deep within his heart. Elias Cole is an old man, dying in a hospital bed, and wanting to unburden himself of terrible choices he made, to re-write his own history and spin his story to his own advantage. Adrian is a British psychologist who has left his wife and daughter to come to Africa and help survivors to recover emotionally.

Bound together by their own secrets, desires and one woman, these three men’s lives will become interwoven in ways none of them could ever have anticipated.

Immersed in the novel are the stories of not just the characters, but of a whole country changed by war. Aminatta Forna explores the resilience of the human spirit, the fine line between truth and lies, betrayal, and the ethereal power of love in a novel which spans nearly two decades.

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 of them will be blamed. – from The Memory of Love, page 351 –

Forna constructs her novel with three distinct narratives which move the reader back and forth from present time to when Sierra Leone was embroiled in civil war. The voice of Elias Cole is the echo behind the other stories. Here is a man who begins his narrative with his attraction to a married woman, but whose story changes as the reader begins to see the character through the eyes of others. Driven, competitive, and willing to do anything to advance his career, Elias is a man who represents the quiet support behind the scenes which allows evil to propagate.

Adrian is a complex character – a man who is searching for something greater. He loves his child in England, but has grown distant from his wife. He is drawn to the people of Africa and wants to understand their torments. The last thing he expects to find, however, is love.

How does a man whose task in life is to map the emotions, their origins and their end, how does such a man believe in love? – from The Memory of Love, page 362 –

It was Kai, however, who I was most drawn to in this novel of loss. A young and gifted surgeon, a man whose job was to put back together the physically shattered lives of his patients, but whose own life was emotionally fragmented. My heart ached for Kai. I wanted to know what had happened to him…and Forna waits until the end of the novel to fully reveal his story. It is Kai’s character who brings the novel full circle, who links all the characters together.

Close at hand a dog adds its voice to those of the others. Kai thinks of the day and the journey he now has before him. He does not lack the courage for it. No. Rather it was the courage to stay that had failed him. – from The Memory of Love, page 287 –

The Memory of Love is a quiet novel which reveals the people of post-war Sierra Leone: a boy whose father was murdered, a man rebuilding his body and dreaming of marriage, a woman ready to reclaim her son born of a rape, a community strengthened by its collective memories and cultural ties. Forna’s writing is graceful, introspective, and beautifully rendered.

The Memory of Love is a novel for those readers who enjoy literary fiction and works which examine African culture. It is a book about survival and the power of love to heal us.

Highly Recommended.


  1. June 24, 2012    

    This sounds marvelous to me.

  2. June 24, 2012    

    I loved, loved, loved this book … I gave it 5 stars, too!

  3. June 24, 2012    

    Thanks for sharing your review. I am going to put this on my list. I love a good literary fiction read.

  4. June 24, 2012    

    Sounds good!! On to the wish list it goes…

  5. June 24, 2012    

    I like novels about Africa …. count me in on this one. Goes on the list. thanks

  6. June 27, 2012    

    Oh, I bought this a while ago when it made the short list for the Booker. I really need to get to it but I haven’t, yet. Reading your review might have just bumped this up to my next one. :O)

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