Reading Tip: The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

Veröffentlicht: September 30, 2012 in Idle speech
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For reasons that I don’t remember I have been interested in Africa ever since I was a teenager. For a long time I have thought that what we in Germany learn about Africa is rather one-sided: there are the images of starving children with distended bellies, flies swarming around their eyes that populate our TV screesn with shocking frequency, the pictures of the most violent wars and their consequences, or alternatively the cliched African who loves dancing and is ever so friendly but who for the life of him can’t stick to a schedule. In the end of the day this restricted view of Africa can’t be the whole story and that’s one reason why I like reading books by African authors who can tell us more about the complexities of life on that continent.

The last book that has absolutely fascinated me is by such an author: Aminatta Forna, who was born in Scotland, lived in Sierra Leone, the birth country of her father, for many years and now resides in London.

Her novel „The Memory of Love“ takes the reader to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone on the West African coast and makes him experience life there through the eyes of two protagonists: Adrian, an English psychologist from London on secondment to an African hospital where it is his task to help people who are suffering from the effects of  a drawn-out and bloody civil war. He befriends Kai, a young surgeon from the same  Freetown hospital who escapes his own demons through work. Through the treatment of his patients, Adrian learns about the country’s past and about the fact that there is much more to peace than simply the end of fighting. There is one patient especially who has blood on his hands – not a lot of blood, considering the awful events that have wrecked Sierra Leone, but enough to want to rewrite the story of his life and who enlists Adrian’s help to do so. Then there is a love that both unites and tears apart Adrian and Kai and that leads to a conclusion that is so painful it made me gasp.

Aminatta Forna treats many issues that were new for me: for example the question whether people from the rich West who come to Africa to work for development agencies are actually helping Africans or rather themselves. Forna does not seem to be to keen on the often patronising way aid is given to poor countries and has some answers that question our received wisdom that „if Africans only did as we do, things would work much better“. I knew a little bit about the civil war in Sierra Leone and while Forna does not attempt to explain the reasons behind it (she is a novelist, not a historian after all) I have learnt a lot about what war destroys besides lives and property. I assume these lessons are universal and as true for survivours of present day conflicts as they are for the characters in „Memory of Love“.  And finally, the story works simple as a sort of who dunnit in reverse, where the perpetrator is clear from the start but the source and nature of the crime only becomes obvious throughout the story.

The author weaves the different strands of her story together in the most intricately written, beautiful prose that is complex but never complicated. I have found the book a real page turner and thought-provoking well beyond the last page.
„Ancestor Stones“, another novel by Forna which was awarded the German Liberaturpreis in 2008, is on my bedside table next!

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