Memories of love. This is a more accurate title to this book that I think is now one of my favourites. What makes a book a favourite? One might ask. As a reader, I’d say, I either fall in love with the characters, the story or the writing. But each carries the other in most cases, because bad writing will most likely butcher a good story and a bad story will definitely ruin good writing. The same applies to the characters.
Aminatta Forna excels in all these aspects. But her ability to write poetically as she narrates is what makes this book a winner for me. In the first few chapter, her way with words fascinated me before I got a hold of the direction the book was taking. This is one of the many passages that animated the word sculpture in me:
It is true to say no woman had ever produced such restlessness in me. I had never been in love. Once or twice I’d whispered the words, idly, to certain women. Always in the moments before the act of love itself. But I knew if I had not known before, that the affection I had felt for those creatures were like comparing the pleasure of a summer’s day to the terror of the storm. I was lost in the darkness amid thunder, blinding flashes, the madness of the wind. I was caught up in a tempest, I had lost all sense of direction. If Saffia found my appearance in various places unusual, she never commented upon it. The single fact I now allowed to lend a recklessness to my warped judgement.
The above is a reminisce of Elias Cole, one of the three men in the narration who were victims of love. The loss and memory of it. The setting is Sierra Leone, a few years after the civil war and three men, Elias, Kai and Adrian have found themselves in same hospital under different circumstances. The vicinity is heavy with debris from the war, not the visible kind but debris of fragile hearts, lost hope, unspoken words and broken spirits.
Elias Cole, an old and dying man is living out his last days in the hospital. He recollects episodes of his life, the center of which is Saffia, another man’s wife. He was a distinguished academic in his heydays, which is painfully ironic the worst period for many at the time. He tells his truth, which unfortunately appears not to be the truth, to Adrian as an assurance to himself that everything he did was for the best or he had no better alternative.
Kai, who barely survived the war is a doctor in the hospital and a friend to Adrian. A lot of weight wears him down as he goes about his days in the hospital. The weight of the memory of the war that keeps him awake, literally, every night. The weight of the choice of whether or not to leave the country and follow his old friend Tejani to live the American dream they had shared in their days in campus. And the heaviest weight is of the memory of a love he once shared with Nenebah. A loss of love.
And finally Adrian. An expatriate and renowned psychologist, who escaped the mundanity of his life and family in London in search of something. Something unknown to him, but nonetheless ends up finding it in a country connected to his kin. Loss however, does not spare him.
The stories of Elias, Kai and Adrian are stories of love, betrayal and loss. Through and through. My heart broke for these men. More than once. Just when I thought them to be catching a break, another loss. I empathized and was close to tears as I moved from one page to the next. 445 pages of raw emotion.
The narration and character development was a bit too slow for my liking, but once the story developed, I could not put the book down. I’d recommend it for anyone who loves a good story with good life lessons.