Sierra Leone: Dealing with Personal and National Traumas

I have read a book, a true story, about a boy soldier’s life in Sierra Leone, and I was afraid it would be the only book I will be able to find. Luck was on my side this time since I was able to find two other authors and their books. The books I could immediately get hold of was either magical realism, or a multi-layered love story, so I decided to go for The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna. The book won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize Best Book Award 2011.

The book is set right at the end of one of the most devastating wars in recent African history, the Sierra Leone Civil War that ended in 2002. I still vividly remember the details about what I have read about the lives of boy soldiers. Absolutely horrific. The Memory of Love does not draw a pretty picture. Pretty much everyone suffers from PTSD, and I cannot blame them for that. They call it “living”, which is understandable. What else would it be?

Three men tell the story. Adrian, a British psychologist, and his patient Elias, a lecturer of political history at the university, and Kai, a surgeon. Adrian has left his wife and child back home, and escaped to Sierra Leone. Elias is an old man about to die, and he tells Adrian the story of his lost love, and the book is built up around this story. Adrian meets Kai in the hospital where he visits Elias. Kai had decided to stay in his homeland when so many others, understandably, fled. He longs to heal his patients, but can only help with the physical healing, while suffering from insomnia, and sharing the same post-war pain as his patients.

I like the way Forna writes. The book is somehow so peaceful and beautiful in its simplicity. It does not gorge on the horrible details of war, even though they are present, and it is simply impossible to escape it. The love story is in the focus of the story, as can be expected due to the title of the book. I found the life of Elias on the campus in the olden days to be the most interesting part of the book.

Sadly, Sierra Leone is still one of the poorest countries on the planet, and there is civil unrest, and problems with human rights. What I do respect though is that it is a tolerant country when it comes to religion, and there seems to be little conflict in that regard. Forna has written a memoir about her childhood and the story behind the execution of her father, called The Devil That Danced on the Water. This is a book I will read as soon as possible, and it has gotten good reviews. Hopefully there will be more authors from this small country, because there is so much to write about.

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