Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

I chose this book purely and simply because I know a young girl who came from Sierra Leone to study in England while her parents stayed behind to survive the horrors of civil war as well as they could.

Saying that, I must point out that Sierra Leone isn't mentioned anywhere in the book but I think it's accepted that it is indeed set in Sierra Leone both during and after those dreadful times.  It tells the story of three men whose lives become three strands which touch and cross to form a complex web: Kai, a Sierra Leonean surgeon; Elias, the retired dean of the university who is dying at the hospital; and Adrian, a young British psychologist who is escaping his life in England.

At first I found it hard to keep track of the three different points of view all of which darted from present to past and back again.  It often took me a few moments to work out where I was, and when.  Before long, though, I was totally absorbed and found it a compelling read.  I kept wanting to pick up the book when I should have been doing other things.

It's not the most comfortable of reads, it does make you sit back and think, so if you're looking for a light page-turner this is not it.  However it does give you insight not only into ordinary life in western Africa, but also a clear picture of a country torn apart by war and an idea of what those terrible times must have been like.

More than that, it raises issues that are worth considering, whether or not you agree with them.  The first of these is whether all the western organisations which flood into developing countries do any good and whether in fact the individuals are there for their own benefit rather than the people they profess to help.  Do these NGOs understand the way of life in the countries where they are trying to help as they should or are they approaching with pre-conceived western values?  Second is the matter of post traumatic stress disorder, and whether it's always necessary to pathologize what is a natural reaction.  A vast percentage of the Sierra Leone was affected by the war but is it a psychosis or is it life?

There is a really interesting interview with Aminatta Forna on The Interview Online. It really is well worth listening to it.

The Memory of Love is available at and at
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