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Aline Reed

The revelations at the end are so dramatic they change everything you’ve read and you learn that you can’t trust memories. Or should that be Memory?

Memory, our narrator, is writing from her cell in Zimbabwe’s notorious Chikurubi women’s prison. She’s been sentenced to death for murdering a white man, Lloyd Hendricks. An American journalist, famous for fighting miscarriages of justice, has taken an interest in her case and Memory is asked to write down the truth of what happened. But the truth proves hard to find.

Memory starts by describing one of her most vivid recollections. At the age of nine, she remembers her mother and father selling her to a white man, Lloyd Hendricks. She remembers her mother’s violent mood swings and the death of her baby sister, drowned in a bucket.

When Memory is forced to go and live with Lloyd Hendricks, she never sees her family again and moves into the Zimbabwe of white people. Hendricks, who becomes her adoptive father, pays for her good education at a convent and she lives in a luxurious house. So how does she end up on Death Row?

She was arrested after being seen shooting and dumping Hendricks’ body in the swimming pool of the house they share. Memory claims to be innocent but the story she tells the police is so strange that they refuse to believe her. She eventually decides to tell them a version of events that they ar ...

The revelations at the end are so dramatic they change everything you’ve read and you learn that you can’t trust memories. Or should that be Memory?

Memory, our narrator, is writing from her cell in Zimbabwe’s notorious Chikurubi women’s prison. She’s been sentenced to death for murdering a white man, Lloyd Hendricks. An American journalist, famous for fighting miscarriages of justice, has taken an interest in her case and Memory is asked to write down the truth of what happened. But the truth proves hard to find.

Memory starts by describing one of her most vivid recollections. At the age of nine, she remembers her mother and father selling her to a white man, Lloyd Hendricks. She remembers her mother’s violent mood swings and the death of her baby sister, drowned in a bucket.

When Memory is forced to go and live with Lloyd Hendricks, she never sees her family again and moves into the Zimbabwe of white people. Hendricks, who becomes her adoptive father, pays for her good education at a convent and she lives in a luxurious house. So how does she end up on Death Row?

She was arrested after being seen shooting and dumping Hendricks’ body in the swimming pool of the house they share. Memory claims to be innocent but the story she tells the police is so strange that they refuse to believe her. She eventually decides to tell them a version of events that they are more likely to believe. Her “confession” earns her the death penalty.

The Book Of Memory flits back and forth in time and the plot twists and turns right to the end. It is no surprise that Petina Gappah is considered a rising literary star. If there is a flaw in her first novel, it is that she pours too much into it. It is not just Memory’s story but the story of black and white Zimbabwe and includes a dizzying array of references from the Bible, Greek mythology and traditional Zimbabwean beliefs.

Gappah won the Guardian First Book Prize in 2009 and looks likely to earn more acclaim for The Book of Memory, which teaches us that our memories, however clear, may not be what we think they are.

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