June Book of the Month: The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

The novelist Aminatta Forna, praising Gappah for her Guardian First Book Award winning short stories, noted: "Through humour and compassion, she depicts that most quintessential of African characteristics: the ability to laugh at life, for fear of crying." 

Gappah's first novel, The Book of Memory, shows the same perfect balancing act between sharp wit and blinding pain. Memory is a young albino woman, on Death Row in Harare's maximum security jail, for the supposed murder of her adoptive father. A journalist has persuaded her to write an account of what happened, to help with the appeal process. Her subsequent tale is what she thinks and what she remembers - but is it the truth? Moving from early childhood in a township, to wealthy white suburbs, away to study at Cambridge, and eventual return to a turbulent country, Memory's life is slowly unwrapped, although what is fact and what is constructed becomes increasingly unclear. Gappah's rich language is brimming with vivid detail, pop references and blending of dialects. The cruelty and corruption of Zimbabwe's legal system are never far away, nor are the hidden layers of unspoken shame and prejudice, yet there is joy simply in the way Gappah writes. Evocative and compelling, this is a wonderfully satisfying debut novel.

About the author:

Petina Gappah is a Zimbabwean writer with law degrees from Cambridge, Graz University and the University of Zimbabwe. Her debut short story collection, An Elegy for Easterly, won the Guardian First Book Prize in 2009. She lives in Geneva with her son. 

You can find out more about Petina's fascinating life in this excellent Guardian profile, including her top 10 books set in Zimbabwe.

What the critics said:

"Startlingly vivid - Gappah grapples with the grand themes of fate and free will, love and loss, the collision of tradition and modernity, the impact of politics on the personal. A moving novel about memory that unfolds into one about forgiveness, and a passionate paean to the powers of language." - Observer

"For a novel saturated with death, The Book of Memory is most emphatically alive; her language dazzles as it balances the wittily combative and the frankly voluptuous. That she manages to combine grim reality with an appealing likeability is what makes her a writer to take to the heart as well as the head." - Financial Times

Book Giveaway:

This giveaway is now closed. If you weren't lucky enough to bag a free one, you can always get a Kindle edition or paperback copy.

Webchat with Petina Gappah:

When we asked Petina if she'd be happy to come and talk to you about her book she replied, "Do please say a HUGE THANK YOU from me! How exciting! I am a huge fan of Mumsnet, and know the lingo in and out, from cutted up pears to cocklodgers, from LTB to 'naice ham'. I am very honoured!" so we're absolutely thrilled that Petina will be joining us to answer your questions about The Book of Memory and her writing career on Tuesday 28 June, 9-10pm. Please feel free to discuss the book on the discussion thread throughout the month and then come and meet Petina on the night, and ask her a question or simply tell her what you think of her books.

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Bookfest 2016: tickets now on sale 

Last updated: over 1 year ago