Book Review: The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah


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. As her story unfolds, Memory reveals that she has been tried and convicted for the murder of Lloyd Hendricks, her adopted father. But who was Lloyd Hendricks? Why does Memory feel no remorse for his death? And did everything happen exactly as she remembers?

In The Book of Memory, Petina Gappah has created a uniquely slippery narrator: forthright, acerbically funny, and with a complicated relationship to the truth. Moving between the townships of the poor and the suburbs of the rich, and between the past and the present, Gappah weaves a compelling tale of love, obsession, the relentlessness of fate, and the treachery of memory.


The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah tells the story of Memory who is thethe main character. One of the things that intrigued me about this book is the fact that the main character was an albino. I haven’t come across many books that feature albinos. Actually, Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code is the only one that I have read that featured an albino who also happened to be the villain in the story.

Memory’s story is quite different though. There is a lot of insight provided about albinos and how they are perceived by society. It mentions the fact that they don’t really fit in with the black or white people. The character describes the open stares and mockery especially from other kids. She also talks about the superstitions about albinos although this is described with a touch of humor. For instance; there is a part where she decides to scare an inmate by just unflinchingly staring at her at mealtimes. The fact that people don’t know how to react around albinos played out in Memory’s favour at times in the jail. Needless to say, the main character was the best part for me in this book. I really liked Memory, sympathized with her and went through  heartbreaks as she narrated about her ordeal.

“When we talk of fate, when we talk of a fatalistic vision of human experience, what we mean is that the most important forces that shape human lives are out of human control.”
Petina Gappah, The Book of Memory

I also liked the setting of the book. This book is set in Zimbabwe and I have never read any books set there. I only know of the country based on the news reports. I liked the descriptions of the land and the people. I was also curious about the names. Most of the characters in this book have names based on attributes and just random nouns like Memory, Loveness, Evernice, Princess, Synodia…there were so many such names. I wasn’t sure if that was just for the book or if it’s a cultural thing but it was interesting nevertheless.

memo.jpgThere are a number of themes that were covered in this book. There was the issue of race and homosexuality. Being a Kenyan, I could relate with the narration on these issue especially on the matter of homosexuality. Different countries have different attitudes towards such issues and although Kenya is a bit more accepting, there is still a lot of bias on the issue of sexuality. Albinism is also a major theme in this book. Memory doesn’t only talk about herself but also others like her. She also mentions the general treatment of albinos all over the world and also in literature where they are mostly portrayed as being odd due to their appearance hence end up being the villains. Another theme that comes up is mental illness. I think the attitude of a number(not all, of course)Africans about mental illness, the misconceptions, superstitions all come out clearly. This reminded me of how much awareness needs to be done concerning the issue in our continent. Just recently, I heard someone say that PTSD is not an African condition. This was during a discussion concerning counseling for victims of a terrorist attack whereby the argument was that it was unnecessary. It was hard to explain how real PTSD but the other party was so adamant that it is ‘un-African’. Anyway, I digress.

The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah is not a fast-paced book. It is slow but quite interesting. It shifts between the present and past times flawlessly. I loved how well written it was. Everything came alive through the pages and I found myself so emotionally involved in the story. I definitely recommend this book to everyone.


19 thoughts on “Book Review: The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

    1. Yeah its timely.Its so sad that even in 2016 there is still discrimination against them.There are African countries where they are targeted for ritualistic purposes(some superstition about power that can be harvested from their body organs) so they are not safe. its really sad.I hope that you will like the book when you get to read it.

  1. Sounds great! Definitely going to look for it. If you’d like to read another book with an albino protagonist (not a villain though), try Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. It’s more YA or maybe even MG, but I enjoyed it!

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