Months (maybe longer) have passed since I finished Aminatta Forna‘s third and latest title, exquisitely narrated by British actor Kobna Holdbrook-Smith. I think I just didn’t want to let it go by posting a review … but here’s the bottom line: stupendous.
Memory has two of the elements I love most about great fiction: multiple perspectives and zig-zagging time, which woven together create a literary puzzle, unsettling in its myriad pieces, luminous once interlocked. The frame is Sierra Leone, and ‘now’ is a time of post civil-war recovery although ongoing violence is never far off; over almost 450 pages, time moves fluidly through some four decades and three generations.
Professor Elias Cole lies in a hospital bed, dying. When he’s able to speak, he shares fragments of his life with Dr. Adrian Lockheart (take notice of that name), a British psychologist with the best intentions, hoping to use his education and experience for good in an unfamiliar country so seemingly alien to his own. One late night, on the doorstep of Adrian’s apartment arrives Dr. Kai Mansaray, a gifted young surgeon who managed to survive the vicious massacres, whose truculent nightmares rarely give him rest, whose closest friend entices him with a new, past-free life in America.
These three learned men, their memories, their presents, become thickly entangled … with each of their memories of love eventually laid bare – vulnerable, betrayed, bloody … and yet always, there is the love. Narrator Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is remarkable in voicing each character, but especially unforgettable in Elias’ dying growl, Adrian’s naive hope, Kai’s wrenching helplessness; their voices haunt, constant reminders of the overwhelming personal price of war.
Thanks to a phenomenal writer and a narrator her dramatic equal, The Memory of Love proves to be a rare, extraordinary, breathtaking experience. I let it go for now … sharing testimony, investing in hope, believing in love.
Published: 2011 (United States)