It won me over

I initially found Aminatta Forna’s writing style very unappealing when I began reading The Memory of Love. There were too many intertwining stories and characters and I was kind of frustrated with the fact she as the author chose to let the reader go for so many pages without explicitly spelling certain things out in one way or another. Typically I am very impatient with novels like this and won’t complete them.

Had this been just a casual read I would have done just that–thrown the book aside and never looked at it again. Obviously that was not the case. Now, after finishing the book, I can confidently say that it won me over. This was for two main reasons.

The first is the sheer brilliance of Forna’s writing at both the macro- and micro- level. The micro-level details and characterizations were crisp and authentic. I was taken back by Forna’s ability to write from the perspective a male with such ease (I say “ease” because clearly she is comfortable writing male dialogue). At one point she describes Elias as having a “tightening in his balls” which is something I personally have experienced once or twice. This is just a brief example. The point is that she repeatedly kept even the most routine dialogue original and interesting. At the macro-level, I was impressed with the way she connected the three main characters’ stories and their “memories of love” in a way that I should have probably seen coming, but didn’t and as a result was left saying to myself “Ohhhhh! That’s the name of the book, I get it now!”

The second reason is that the scale of the story’s violence and the way the story transcends into reality and the bigger picture in Sierra Leone is both horrifying and fascinating. The fact that Charles Taylor is responsible for the torture and murder of Forna’s father makes this story seem eerily personal and even shocking and disturbing at times. Some might call that blood lust, but those people surely have not read this novel. Every detail of this story, no matter how shocking or disturbing, was an attempt to capture one of history’s most shocking and disturbing realities.

I am glad Forna did not shy away from that.

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Posted on October 23, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I agree with both your statements! It might be a little out of left field, but I felt that she was able to write such a well developed male voice because she was trying to write in honor of her father. If that makes sense? She may have been trying to write the story through his eyes. I felt that Forna wanted to best capture the male voice for her father because he was one of the many citizens of Sierra Leone that experienced such violence, and in the end died from it.

  2. Thanks for your perspective on how your opinion of the novel changed from beginning to end, I really enjoyed it. I found your second point, about discussing the violence, particularly interesting. I’m also glad that she did not shy away from the topic or gloss it over to appeal to a more sensitive audience, but I also think that was necessary for the telling of the story. It’s next to impossible to publish a novel set in Sierra Leone in the past 30 years, or that section of Western Africa for that matter, without discussing or alluding to the horrific violence that the citizens endured. I’m curious how much of this is truly necessary to produce an accurate depiction of life in Sierra Leone, or how much is simply a stereotype that Westerners have come to desire or expect on the subject of Africa. Additionally, I think there’s a possibility that Forna’s capturing of her father’s message and critical take on violent politics in Sierra Leone are tainted a little with bias, she might have been consumed by a lot of sentiments of vengeance and vindication, but then again, I’m sure any novel is loaded with bias. All in all, while I’m unsure about the motives behind the presence of violence in “Memory of Love”, I also thought it fit fantastically with her plot line involving Adrian, Kai and Elias Cole.

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