Book Review – The Book Of Memory

The book of memory - Book review - Petina Gappah - Inspirit Pages - Homeland Reviews - Naijabookworm

“As murungudunhu, I am a black woman who is imbued not with the whiteness of murungu, of privilege, but of dunhu, of ridicule and fakery, a ghastly whiteness”

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, not only for the funny bits but for the issues it addressed. The Book of Memory is about Memory (also called Mnemosyne). An albino woman who is the only female on Death Row in the Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Zimbabwe. Accused of killing Lloyd, a white man who adopted her at age nine whom she insists she did not kill.

I know what you’re thinking, another murder mystery book. No, it’s not a murder mystery but a story that shows how family secrets and lies, cultural beliefs and superstitions can ruin an individual. It’s a fascinating story of an albino woman’s journey of self-acceptance, her strength and determination to succeed and move on against the odds.
The prominent themes in the book are the lack of awareness of albinism, the dysfunctional African judiciary system, and ignorant cultural beliefs It brings to light the struggles and bullying that albinos face and the discriminatory way people react to/treat them.
The book starts with Memory in prison narrating her story. As it unfolds, she reveals more about her childhood, family and the events that led up to her incarceration. There are many misconceptions that Memory had about her parents that led to her hating them. So many questions she had about her family background and why they never had any relatives visit them. Why her parents gave her up to a white man and the strange nightmares she has had since she was a child.
It gets to a point that the reader begins to ask the same questions. Thankfully, we get answers to these questions at the end of the book. I am not too happy with the way things turned out for Memory. But I’m glad she got closure and got to understand why her family was this way.
The book is very well written, easy to follow and reads like a true story even though it’s fiction. I like the way the characters developed and their stories revealed. I also like the way Memory narrates her story. Switching between past and present, recollecting childhood memories. Then telling of her day-to-day experiences in Chikurubi Prison. She succeeds in painting a vivid picture of Zimbabwean townships – the way the people lived, the sights and sounds. It felt like I was there with the children playing on the streets and listening to the gossiping mothers.
There are sentences and whole paragraphs written in the native Shona which doesn’t take away from the story. Showcasing a beautiful African language, made it more authentic. What I especially loved were the humorous bits that littered the book. This description in particular almost made me crack a rib or two:

“She had one of those frozen faces with precisely matching eyebrows like she was Botoxed to the eyeballs even before the invention of Botox. Her hair was sprayed into such stiffness that it seemed as though nothing could move it, not even the blistering high wind of an August day.”

With names like Sinfree, Officer Rollers, and Jimmy Blue Butter, you are bound to laugh.


I finished reading this novel and sat amazed at how cultural beliefs and superstitions could destroy a family. I thought about all the African albinos and the troubles they are facing. And I was thankful that this book tries to shed some light on it. I will give this book a 4/5 and easily recommend it to anyone.

The Book of Memory was my first bookish trip to Zimbabwe and I think it made a great first trip. I certainly will be visiting again. I will leave you with my favourite quote from the book, a truth that I think we all must embrace:

“It is your choice, Mnemosyne. You can spend your life feeling sorry for yourself, or you can simply choose not to. You can invite people’s pity or you can refuse to be an object”

Author: Petina Gappah

Published by: Faber & Faber

Date of Publication: 2015

Genre: Fiction

Pages: 288

Source: Bought

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The story you have asked me to tell begins not with the ignominious ugliness of Lloyd’s death but on a long-ago day in April when the sun seared my blistered face and I was nine years old and my father and mother sold me to a strange man. I say my father and my mother, but really it was just my mother.

Memory, the narrator of The Book of Memory, is an albino woman languishing in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, where she has been convicted of murder. As part of her appeal, her lawyer insists that she write down what happened as she remembers it. The death penalty is a mandatory sentence for murder, and Memory is, both literally and metaphorically, writing for her life. As her story unfolds, Memory reveals that she has been convicted of the murder of Lloyd Hendricks.  But who was Lloyd Hendricks? Why does Memory feel no remorse for his death? And did everything happen exactly as she remembers?

Moving between the townships of the poor and the suburbs of the rich.  And between the past and the present. Memory weaves a compelling tale of love, obsession, the relentlessness of fate and the treachery of memory.

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