logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: sense-of-time-sense-of-place
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2019-06-17 17:16
On Trauma and Healing (of Sorts)
The Memory of Love - Aminatta Forna
The Memory of Love - Kobna Holdbrook-Smith,Aminatta Forna

Sierra Leone gained independence from British colonial rule in 1961, but, like so many other African countries, after enjoying a few brief initial years of peace and democracy, it was torn apart by dictatorial rule, military regimes, civil war and corruption in the decades that followed.  As a result, surveys have shown that a staggering 99% of the population exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

This is the background against which the events in Aminatta Forna's novel The Memory of Love unfold.  Don't be fooled by the title: Yes, love in all of its shapes and forms is a driver of people's motivations here, but this book is about so much more -- it's a vast, virtually boundless tapestry of events, emotions, action and reaction, illness and health (mental and otherwise), war and peace, ambition, greed, selflessness, loss, beauty, ugliness ... and again and again, trauma; pathological, emotional and in every other respect you can imagine.

 

Forna unveils the enless layers of the novel's complex tapestry with a painstaking and almost painful slowness and care (as a result, it is virtually impossible to describe the plot without giving away major spoilers): The events, alternating between the late 1960s / early 1970s and the present day, are told from the point of view of three men -- Elias Cole, a former university professor lying on his deathbed in a Freetown hospital and telling his story to Adrian Lockheart, an English psychologist who has come to Sierra Leone with an international aid organization but has decided to stay on and help since he specializes in PTSD, and Kai Mansaray, a surgeon at the hospital where Elias is wheezing his way back through his life for Adrian's benefit (and his own -- or so Adrian hopes).  Though strangers initially, over the course of the novel it becomes clear that the three men not only establish a relationship in the here and now but that what connects them goes deeper and has roots in the past; their own as much as the country's.  At the same time, through the PTSD sufferers that Adrian treats at a nearby mental hospital (not the general clinic that ties him to Elias and Kai but a different place), through his and Kai's friends and colleagues, and through Elias's narrative and the men and women inhabiting it, in turn, Sierra Leone itself and its people collectively become a further main character to the novel -- the one that, ultimately, is the most important one of all and which drives every action and event; a huge, many-limbed, monstrously traumatized and brutalized organism that can't help but swallow its own constituent organs -- its own people -- and those whom it does eventually spit out again after all will be changed forever.

 

It took me a while to get into this book, and this is not the kind of novel that you can race through in a day or two (or at least, I can't).  But this definitely is one of my reading highlights of this year -- and this reaview wouldn't be complete without me giving my due and hartfelt plaudits to Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, whose unmatched, deeply empathetic narration lifted an already profound, complex and harrowing reading experience onto yet another level entirely.  Highly, highly recommended.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2019-06-16 19:53
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
The Memory of Love - Kobna Holdbrook-Smith,Aminatta Forna

Wow.  What a book -- definitely one of the highlights of this year; and I'm glad I took a whole week to finish it.  Nothing short of spectacular -- as is Kobna Holdbrook Smith's narration.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-03-31 20:51
Sonata in a Minor Key
Quartet in Autumn - Barbara Pym

Wow.  What a depressing read -- particularly so, the first half of the book (or thereabouts).  We're meeting four main characters who thoroughly seem to be passengers, not drivers of their own lives, in a trajectory from nowhere to nowhere (and not necessarily a different part of nowhere, either) -- all set, as I said in my reading status update from a little over the halfway point, against a quintessentially late 1970s backdrop of cheap drabness (with the cityscape and office life mirroring the four protagonists's personal lives), occasionally contrasted with and punctuated by the visceral shocks of the psychedelic age.

 

Like others who participated in the buddy read, I felt by far the most drawn to Lettie; not only because she is the character whom we get to know the best both inside and out (and with whom it is thus easiest to empathize), but also because she is the one who most reflects about her situation and who is the most honest to herself

-- to the point of realizing, at the very end, that even at this comparatively late point of her life she does still have choices, however seemingly minor ones, and it is up to her and nobody else to make those choices.  (Norman, by contrast, is likewise given a choice and though he does realize it for what it is, he ultimately backtracks to the status quo, only a more secure version thereof; and Edwin -- the most financially secure and socially "established" member of the quartet -- never has sufficient incentive to change the status quo to begin with ... whereas Marcia's path is one of utter self-destruction.)

(spoiler show)

 

Throughout the book, I kept finding myself comparing the lives of the four protagonists with those of my grandparents and my mom: The former, selling the house where they had raised their children upon my grandpa's retirement from his job in a federal ministry and moving into a (much smaller, but comfortable) apartment and into a financially secure and, health allowing, active final 2 (or in my grandma's case, 3) decades of their lives.  And my mom, taking advantage of the generous early retirement program offered by the employer where she'd worked the final 2 decades of her working life, and making the most of it, with plenty of travel in Europe and elsewhere as long as her body would play along, and at 80 years of age still my opera-going companion and still in control of arranging her life just as she sees fit. -- And yet, only a few decades earlier (if my mom had not started but ended her professional life in the 1960s or 1970s), she might easily have found herself in Lettie's place, and the poorer for it.

 

This was quite a contrast to our first Pymalong read, and while Pym's fine eye for the workings of British society and of people's behaviour was again on brilliant display, I do hope our next Pymalong book will strike a less somber and subdued note again and leave more room for her particular brand of wry, gentle humour.  For a novel of less than 200 pages in length, it took me quite a long time to finish Quartet in Autumn and quite a substantial effort to return to it time and again -- if it hadn't been for the buddy read, I might quite conceivably have DNF'd it, not because it's not well-written (it is), but because it is simply such a depressing book.

 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2019-03-17 00:15
Reading progress update: I've read 99 out of 186 pages.
Quartet in Autumn - Barbara Pym

Is this the fate that would have awaited Pym's heroine from Excellent Women, Mildred Lathbury, if she had decided upon permanent "spinsterhood"?

 

So quintessentially late 1970s -- cheap drabness (the cityscape and office life mirroring the four protagonists's personal lives), occasionally contrasted with and punctuated by the visceral shocks of the psychedelic age.  Pym (1913-1980) quite obviously more than empathized with her protagonists -- but unlike other writers born before WWI and still publishing books in the 1970s (looking at you, Dame Agatha and Ms Marsh), she seems to also have looked upon the concerns and attitudes of the representatives of younger generations with quite a fair amount of sympathy.

 

Now that the two female protagonists have retired (and I'm about halfway through the book), it seems a good moment to take a break.  I wonder how Pym is going to keep the "quartet" together, though -- the office so far having provided their only, albeit persistent, point of contact.  I guess I'll be finding out tomorrow!

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2019-02-26 20:08
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
Murder on the Orient Express: Complete & Unabridged (Audiocd) - Agatha Christie

Still as much fun as ever.  David Suchet obviously is Poirot -- but this is the one audio recording where he is equally obviously having the time of his life with the rest of the cast in an "Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets" manner, and I'm enjoying being along for the ride every single second, every single time.

 

Original review (also of this audio version) HERE.

 

Now onwards and upwards on the Snakes and Ladders board!

 

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?