The Book of Memory

Farrar. Feb. 2016. 288p. ISBN 9780865479074. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374714888. F
In her first novel, which follows the successful story collection An Elegy for Easterly, Gappah returns to her native Zimbabwe. Memory, the smart and often surprisingly witty narrator, begins by describing the abominable conditions of Chikurubi Prison, where she waits on death row. She has been found guilty of murdering Lloyd Hendricks, a white man and her adopted father. Gappah moves readers back and forth in time to reveals the factors resulting in Memory's arrest and conviction. With the slow unraveling of events, the book is structured like a whodunit, but at its heart is the relationship of memory to truth. Memory's recollections are often disputable, calling into question her reliability as a storyteller and forcing readers to wonder about their own remembrance of things past. The narrator's outsider status as an albino, an adopted child, a woman, and a convict further complicates her perspective. But the novel is also strengthened by its investigation of forgiveness, and the author offers fresh insight into Zimbabwe's struggle for independence and Robert Mugabe's rise to power.
VERDICT At times, it's not clear whether gaps in the story are owing to Memory's problematic recollections or to occasionally inconsistent narrative development. Overall, however, Gappah delivers her themes successfully, while stimulating all the senses with Memory's vivid descriptions of food, music, heat, colors, and scents. [See Prepub Alert, 8/3/15.]

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