The slender period these two novels cover is that part of Zimbabwean history most known to the Western world: what Petina Gappah calls ‘the invasions’ of white-owned farms. C B George’s titular Rex Nhongo (the nom de guerre of General Solomon Mujuru) was murdered on his ‘reformed’ farm, while the death of Gappah’s character Lloyd (of whose murder Gappah’s protagonist, Memory, is convicted) coincided with the repossessions. It is to the authors’ credit, however, that neither actually dramatises that episode or names Mugabe, who is only ever referred to as ‘the President’.
The Book of Memory is Gappah’s first published novel but it is not a debut work of fiction: her collection An Elegy for Easterly deservedly won the Guardian First Book Award in 2009. Mastery in the short-story form has not proved transferrable, however. The excellence of her previous work is recalled in moments of comedy, succinct critique and harsh social realism – the status of albinos is an