The story you have asked me to tell begins not with the ignominious ugliness of Lloyd's death but on a long-ago day in April when the sun seared my blistered face and I was nine years old and my father and mother sold me to a strange man. I say my father and my mother, but really it was just my mother.
Memory, the narrator of The Book of Memory, is an albino woman 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 death penalty is a mandatory sentence for murder, and Memory is, both literally and metaphorically, writing for her life. As her story unfolds, Memory reveals that she has been tried and convicted for the murder of Lloyd Hendricks, her adopted father. But who was Lloyd Hendricks? Why does Memory feel no remorse for his death? And did everything happen exactly as she remembers?
Moving between the townships of the poor and the suburbs of the rich, and between the past and the present, Memory weaves a compelling tale of love, obsession, the relentlessness of fate and the treachery of memory.
Gappah's first novel (after the story collection An Elegy for Easterly) chronicles the death row missives written to an international journalist by a prisoner named Memory in present-day Zimbabwe. Memory, an albino woman, begins by talking about life in incarceration, the litany of inmates at Chikurubi Prison (a real prison in Harare known for its poor conditions) and the guards in charge, who are led by a bully named Synodia. Gappah crafts ample suspense regarding Memory's past and the circumstances of the incident that sent her to prison. She's charged with the murder of her guardian, Lloyd Hendricks, a white man whom Memory suspects bought her from her parents when she was nine. Hints are dropped about how the arrival of a man named Zenzo ruined Memory's life with Lloyd. Gappah also recounts Memory's childhood under her protective father and mentally unstable mother, the latter of whom subjected her albino daughter to a myriad of dubious healers for their spiritual cures. Certain aspects of the incident at the center of the story remain far-fetched, though the narrative works as a cautionary tale of how superstition and prejudice can shape one's destiny. The result is a beguiling mystery.