The Book of Memory – Petina Gappah

Ah this book was an intriguing one. It opens with a woman in prison in Harare, Zimbabwe. Her name is Memory and she has been convicted of killing her adopted father, a white man named Lloyd. In the first chapter we learn that when she was nine, her parents sold her to Lloyd. She recounts that day, wearing the clothes they usually wear to church “because if you are going to hand your daughter over to a perfect stranger, you need to look your best”.

Her memories from her childhood pop in here and there. For our memories are never accurate, never exact. We might remember something someone said but not exactly when they said it or why. And adults may never tell us the whole truth, even when asked. Such as when Lloyd spoke of how Memory came to live with him, always in euphemisms.

But this is what Memory is trying to achieve here, she is writing down her story in notebooks given to her by an American journalist. Her first visitor, other than her lawyer, in the two years, three months, seven days that she has been in prison. And as she writes, “the memories are flooding my mind, faster than I can write them down”.

This is a story about Zimbabwe. One seen from a prison cell, one seen from the eyes of a child, as Memory introduces her family, her life story, and tries to figure out what happened, how she got here.

“Until you attempt to write the story of your life, you cannot quite understand just how hard it is to grasp at the beginning. I wish I could start this the traditional way, by telling you all about my father and mother and how they met and who their parents were and all the begats that preceded their lives, but I cannot. Until they sold me to Lloyd, and I moved away, I knew nothing about them beyond the fact that they were my mother and father.”



I read this book for the Diversity on the Shelf challenge hosted by Akilah @ The Englishistdiversity


  1. Oh this one sounds great, definitely goes on my tbr! I’ve read 2 Zimbabwean novels this year and it’s so great to finally take notice of it’s wonderful literature. I’ve usually read mostly Nigerian fiction before and am trying to branch out this year.

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      1. I will need to get hold of one of her books at least. I’ve read The Hairdresser of Harare and finished We Need New Names. Train journeys are so great for audiobooks 🙂


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