The blurb of this book is one of those that gets your attention and I could not stop thinking about it afterwards, so I bought it (a decision I’m glad I made).
It is the story of a young albino woman named Memory who is languishing in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, where she has been convicted of murder. As part of her appeal, her lawyer insists that she write down what happened as she remembers it.
The narrative flits without ceremony between past and present, although the book is split into three segments. Memory is a good story teller, albeit a distractible one, but then again no life is ever so linear. Her prison mates make for hilarious parts of the book when I found myself clutching my belly and laughing. Memory herself is such an interesting character: smart, witty, resilient. Her life is honestly quite the tale.
I love, love the use of indigenous language in this book. I feel like Zimbabwe is one of those African countries that I knew nothing about before this book. There’s information about culture and history in this book that was far better than knowing nothing and definitely piqued my interest.
I don’t even remember how I first found Pettina Gappah anymore but I’m now simultaneously excited and nervous about reading anything else by her, because what if its better or it’s not this good, you know?
Until you attempt to write the story of your life, you cannot quite understand just how hard it is to grasp at the beginning.
That is something that may interest you, by the way: that the magistrates here hand out stiffer sentences for stealing cows than for raping children.
“You must open your hearts to the Lord. You must fill your blood with his power, so that even the mosquitoes that bite feel that power. They will suck the power in your blood.”
Joyi’s face wore a pinched expression after each hair session; she stuck out her head as though it was now too heavy to rest on her shoulders, or like it carried an invisible load… It was only after two days that their faces relaxed as the style settled in.
I had famously used English, and only English at my trial. In my first week in prison, I had overheard Jimmy tell Evernice that even when I cried, I cried in English. ‘And she even laughs in English’, she had added, with what sounded like admiration.
The biggest surprise about prison is the laughter. There is laughter to go with sudden quarrels; there is malice and gossip along with acts of generosity.
Until I came to Chikurubi, I had never gone more than three hours without reading. Whenever Loveness brings me the newspapers, I drink them in quick, thirsty gulps. When I first got here, I thought I would go mad. I hallucinated pages rising like mirages before me, the letters dancing away when I reached out to touch them.
‘And what’ she often asked ‘is God’s telephone number?’ ‘Jeremiah thirty-three verse three’, we chanted in unison.
I would have taken Whizi’s eyes, and Lavinia’s limp and added it to Nhau’s scar and Drunken’s speech, only to have colour in my skin.
I also read, perhaps in the same article, that memory is closely linked with the acquisition of language, that without verbal ability to articulate experience, there can be no memory, and this is why our earliest recollections date from the time we learn to speak.
Looking back, there was something essentially joyless in their drinking, a determination that had nothing to do with conviviality.
It’s a lovely, funny, unique experience, this book. Read it.