Shortlisted for The Orange Prize 2011, The Memory of Love is Aminatta Forna’s second novel, and what a powerful book it is. Set in Sierra Leone, Forna travels between the 60s and 70s, when this newly independent country is trying its hands at democracy, and going through the tail end of the brutal civil war.
Sierra Leone is presented to us by three different voices. Academic Elias Cole, who narrates his version of events, growing up, teaching and falling in love in an independent Sierra Leone. As a lecturer, he saw the government’s crackdown on political dissent, losing many of his “friends”.
We then have British psychologist Adrian Lockheart who feels an affiliation to Sierra Leone, working in the country in the aftermath of the civil war, with patients like Elias Cole as well as traumatised teenage soldiers and tortured victims.
Lockheart strikes up a bond with surgeon Kai Mansaray, a young Sierra Leonean who learns very early on in his career how to mend and operate on the severest of injuries, having worked in a Freetown hospital during the conflict.
In her writing, Forna conveys just how hard healing is in a setting that has seen so much brutal trauma. This book is beautifully written, moreover excellently researched, as Forna depicts some of the battles that hospitals faced dealing with both the mental and physical illnesses caused by the war, as well as the earlier signs that trouble was brewing! The book accurately touches on the feelings at the time, and the difficulty in healing such pain, whilst also telling an excellent story.
It’s no surprise this book received the reception it did, nor that Forna was the person to tell it. In her first book, a memoir, The Devil that Danced on the Water, Forna tries to piece together her family history, why her Sierra Leonean father was imprisoned and how he died. The Memory of Love isn’t just a story of a far-away place, but writing very close to her heart, and it shows!