Booklist Reviews

Set in Sierra Leone at the turn of the twenty-first century, Forna's absorbing second novel (after Ancestor Stones, 2006) revolves around three very different men. British psychiatrist Adrian Lockheart has fled his failing marriage in England in the hopes of doing some good in Sierra Leone. Adrian becomes fascinated by two of his patients, elderly Elias Cole, a former university professor, and Agnes, a woman lost in a fugue state. The dying Cole reveals to Adrian, Scheherazade-like, how he fell in love with a radical colleague's wife in the late 1960s, while Adrian must piece together the details of Agnes' life. Adrian finds a friend in a haunted young surgeon, Kai, who is contemplating leaving the country. Kai questions some of Adrian's risky decisions, such as his intention to track Agnes down once she leaves the hospital, but it is Adrian's involvement with a local woman from Kai's past that shocks the young doctor. Fate and tragedy intertwine in this stunning and powerful portrait of a country in the aftermath of a decade of civil war. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews

Two physicians in Africa examine the scars left behind by war

Writer Aminatta Forna spent her childhood in the United Kingdom and Sierra Leone, the daughter of an African father and Scottish mother. Her father Mohamed trained as a physician in Scotland, but filled with hope created by post-colonial possibilities, he returned to Africa with his new family, working at first in a clinic, then holding political office as minister of finance. In 1974, he was charged and then executed for treason. Forna explored this period brilliantly in her thoughtful memoir The Devil That Danced on the Water; and she revisits the time and place in her new novel The Memory of Love, a striking study of the past and present of a country whose name calls up twisted images of beautiful beaches, blood diamonds and child soldiers.

Forna’s complex novel revolves around the lives of two doctors in contemporary Sierra Leone. Adrian Lockhart, a British psychiatrist, has come to the city convinced that his work in post-traumatic stress disorders will be of great help to its troubled citizens. Kai Mansaray is an orthopedic surgeon born and raised in Sierra Leone. His parents and most of his friends have emigrated; though he toys with the idea of leaving himself, he can’t commit.

Each man has a caseload that connects him to a wide network of survivors whose mental and physical ailments are also metaphors for war’s lingering effects. Kai literally has to break the legs of one of his patients whose limbs are so misshapen he cannot walk. Adrian is drawn to a woman who periodically loses all sense of herself and wanders through the countryside as if in a trance. Most pertinent to the novel, Adrian’s elderly patient Elias Cole is a survivor of the country’s turbulent history. A low-level academic during the late 1960s, he fell in love with a colleague’s glamorous wife, and his obsession led him to actions he has spent decades justifying to himself.

The Memory of Love looks hard at the scars that civil war leaves behind. The city’s dusty streets are filled with the walking wounded: perpetrators living among their victims, women immobilized by fears of assault, men like Cole searching for absolution. Forna is reluctant to leave any motive unexamined, and as the novel sweeps from the radical campus politics of the 1960s to the traumatized population of the current day, the prose occasionally drags. The Memory of Love is an ambitious novel, but one that richly rewards the committed reader.

Copyright 2011 BookPage Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews

In a soft-spoken story of brutality and endurance set in postwar Sierra Leone, three lonely men are connected by love and a legacy of terror.

Gravitas distinguishes the ambitious second novel by Forna (Ancestor Stones, 2006, etc.), which uses a handful of perspectives and consciences to consider the impact of civil war on an African nation. Adrian Lockheart, a British psychiatrist, is treating elderly, dying Elias Cole, a history lecturer who recounts his obsession, decades earlier, with Saffia, the wife of Julius, a colleague who is suddenly arrested and who dies in police custody. Although she does not love him, Saffia later marries Elias and they have a child. Was Elias partly complicit in Julius's death? Kai, a surgeon at the same hospital as Adrian who has treated victims of the civil war, notably amputees cleaved by machetes, is haunted by terrible events. And Adrian is drawn deeper into recent history by a patient whose disorder symbolizes the scarcely bearable legacy of atrocities inflicted on the civilian population. Setting her story against a background of streets, beaches, bars, police stations and hospitals, Forna evokes a vivid social and cultural panorama. Affection between characters is overshadowed by politics, poverty and the larger fingerprint of a bloody past. While later episodes are weakened by occasional lapses of subtlety and too much connection heaped on a single character, Forna's insight, elegance and elegiac tone never falter.

Tragedy and its aftermath are affectingly, memorably evoked in this multistranded narrative from a significant talent.

Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews

Determined young surgeon Kai Mansaray of Freetown, Sierra Leone, forges a relationship with a dying patient-and what better setting than a hospital to capture the tragedy of civil war? Forna's Ancestor Stones grabbed a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction and Washington Post Best Novel honors; her memoir, The Devil That Danced on the Water, was a Samuel Johnson Prize finalist; and Vanity Fair named her one of Africa's promising new writers. For everyone beyond sheer populist readers; with a reading group guide and an eight-city tour. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Reviews

Forna's second novel after her well-regarded memoir, The Devil That Danced on the Water, takes place in Sierra Leone and weaves stories, past and present, involving Kai, a young surgeon; Elias, an older patient; and Adrian, a British psychiatrist.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews

Forma, recipient of a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Ancestor Stones, returns to Africa's troubled conscience in this admirable if uneven outing. Adrian Lockheart is a well-meaning English psychologist who embarks on a temporary post at a Sierra Leone hospital intending to modernize treatment of the long-neglected schizophrenics, transients, and scarred victims of civil war who walk the hospital grounds. He soon meets his match in the elderly ex-professor Elias Cole, who speaks eloquently of his country's turbulent history—and also of his passion for the wife of a more radically minded colleague whose eventual disappearance Cole may be implicated in. As the holes in Elias's story widen, Adrian falls for a patient's daughter and into conflict with a surgeon, and ripples from the unexamined past threaten the present. Yet Forma's material doesn't measure up to the book's length. The book's prolixity, combined with scenes that drag or come off as forced, certainly doesn't ruin the experience, but it does occasionally glut what amounts to a heartening cry for moral responsibility in the thick of maddening injustice. (Jan.) Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC