6. A book written in Africa: The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah
List Progress: 8/30
Some books have all the individual pieces going for them, but just can’t get them to harmonize right. Obviously this judgement call will always be a matter of opinion, but unfortunately The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah falls into this group for me. This 2015 Zimbabwean novel follows the journey of Memory, an albino woman convicted of murdering the white man who bought her from her parents as a child. Alternating between her recollections of her life with her parents, her life with the white man, and her present day reality in a women’s prison, The Book of Memory is trying to cover a lot of ground and different settings, and while individual moments and threads work, I don’t think it all harmonizes together that well.
While there are some specific parts near the end that rankled with me a bit, the larger spoiler-free reasons are just that the three parts of the story don’t seam together that cleanly. So much time is spent with her childhood with her parents and siblings, that her time with the white man feels disproportionate, and a subplot with a love interest is particularly rushed. The ultimate conclusions the book comes to raise some interesting thoughts, and I can see the process that got us there, but the last few chapters are very rushed, as if Gappah can’t find a natural way for several mysteries to come unraveled at once, so the answers are just declared. It’s not bad, it’s just not particularly well-structured.
There’s nothing actively wrong with The Book of Memory, and it doesn’t read nearly as grim as the subject matter would imply, but it really didn’t hit the mark for me. I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from reading it, but I also won’t be declaring its virtues from the rooftops.
Would I Recommend It: Not really, but I imagine it will find its fans.