Orange Prize Book Review: The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

The Memory of Love

Aminatta Forna

445 pages

Published in 2010 by Grove Press, an imprint of Grove/Atlantic

Source: My personal library

And when he wakes from dreaming of her, is it not the same for him? The hollowness in his chest, the tense yearning, the loneliness he braces against every morning until he can immerse himself in work and forget. Not love. Something else, something with a power that endures. Not love, but a memory of love.

Elias Cole is dying. The former dean of a university, Cole has survived and even thrived during Sierra Leone’s civil war. Now it’s decades later and as a much older man, Cole wants someone else to know how he succeeded when others faltered. Adrian is a young British psychologist who’s in Sierra Leone as a volunteer. Kai is a talented surgeon who’s witnessed more than most people his age. What brings these three men together is the memory of the past, of what they’ve lost and what’s left to be gained.

I should warn you: The Memory of Love is one of those books that you should read with a friend because once you’re finished with it, you’re going to need to talk to someone about it.

Forna does a magnificent job of giving readers beautiful writing, a very realistic story, and also the history of Sierra Leone. Before reading this book, I knew very little about the country’s civil war. I just knew that there had been a war and like most wars, mass casualties. The author gives readers history without turning it into a lecture. There aren’t gory details but the illustration of the psychological effects from it all.

‘I was doorman here,’ he adds. ‘Before.’ He says it as others do, in a way that conveys a sense of timelessness. Before. There was before. And there is now. And in between a dreamless void.

I found myself becoming invested in not only the main characters, but the people they tried to help.  I wonder if Sierra Leone and its people could ever recover psychologically from all that it has been through, and what the future holds for it.

The Memory of Love, a haunting story of betrayal, love, and the possibility of hope, is not a book to miss. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Shortlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction

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27 thoughts on “Orange Prize Book Review: The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

  1. I am glad to see that you loved it as well :-) This book definitely deserved the Orange prize nomination!

  2. I haven’tread any books about this subject, but from the way you’ve described it, it sounds as if there is a lot of emotional heft to this story, and that interests me, along with the subject. I would like to read this one, and that cover is so striking! Great review today. I am wondering if this is a book that will make me cry.

  3. Excellent review, Vasilly. I’m really behind on my reviews, but this one is giving me a hard time. There’s so much I want to say about it, but I don’t want to give any of the story away because I really want people to just read it.

    • Yes, Heather! I know what you mean! I wanted to talk about the different cultures and outlooks on what happened, Elias Cole and betrayal, but I just really want people to read this!

  4. I have a huge backlog of books set in Sierra Leone and various other war-torn countries, and I know I want to read them, but I’m struggling to get myself to do it. It’s because I know how incredibly sad they’re going to be! (Same reason I haven’t yet watched Breaking Bad.)

    • Wait a minute. Breaking Bad is sad? This is what happens when you don’t have cable. I feel the same way about books such as this one. Do I really want to make myself really sad but luckily this one wasn’t like that.

  5. I agree that you need to read this with a friend…both to talk through the confusing parts and all of the issues the book raises. And how interconnected everyone ended up being.

    • Yes! Everyone was connected to everyone else in some manner. When I first started reading it, I kept wondering about the multiple POVs but ended up enjoying it so much. The ending . . .whoa.

  6. Wow, very impressed by this review! I love the cover of the book, too – such a strong and eye-catching face! It sounds like this one is PERFECT for a buddy read, based on your comments, too – great to know!

  7. This is absolutely different when what I usually read, but something I would be very interested to have on my shelf. It sounds like a powerful reading experience.

  8. You know that feeling you get when you keep hearing about a certain book, and you were really close to reading it at one point, but circumstances interfered, and you didn’t read it, and then it feels like the bookish universe is taunting you about it, because every single thing that you hear about it reminds you that you should have *#&$ well read it already, that it’s amazing, and when you finally get to it, you’re going to feel completely foolish for having waited more than an hour from the time you brought it home to actually sit your butt down with it and read it?

    That’s the feeling that I have right now.

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