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The Longest Memory

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  303 ratings  ·  32 reviews
From William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner to Toni Morrison's Beloved, modern American fiction engaged with slavery has provoked fiery controversy. So will The Longest Memory, the powerful, beautifully crafted, internationally acclaimed fictional debut of prizewinning Guyanese poet Fred D'Aguiar. In language extraordinary for its tautness and resonance, The Longes ...more
Paperback, 144 pages
Published July 6th 1995 by Vintage (first published October 1st 1994)
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15th out of 26 books — 45 voters

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Community Reviews

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The following is my review, written in 2006, of this amazing book, which I read on the recommendation of another member, and a good friend of mine, Mandy. If it inspires anyone to add this book to their "To Read" list then both she and I will be much pleased:

This week I had the privilege of reading this very short, very beautifully crafted book by Fred D’Aguiar, a writer whose name I had never come across before, which is of course a reflection on my own literary ignorance as this book was a win
I understand why this book has won awards.

I bought The Longest Memory as a super-cheap scratch-and-dent from knowing nothing other than it's synopsis. So, I took a chance. I'm so glad that I did.

In the initial chapters were are introduced to Whitechapel. He is an elderly slave of the Whitechapel Plantation in Virginia. He has buried two wives and sired thirteen children, only one of which, Chapel, is a son.

The book opens with the death of Whitechapel's second wife, mother of Chape
A provocative opening begins this, one of the shorter & starker mediations on American slavery from Anglo-Caribbean eyes. I mean, just listen to this:
The future is just more of the past waiting to happen. You do not want to know my past nor do you want to know my name for the simple reason that I have none and would have to make it up to please you. What my eyes say has never been true. All these years of my life are in my hands, not in these eyes or even in this head.
Well you can't help but
Mark Bell
Others have given the essence of the story, a subject that I am familiar with. My comment concerns the author's writing style. Precision and command of language are his clarion calls. A style that is worthy of praise and adulation.
Difficult to understand at the beginning, but enormously rewarding if you can get past that. The subject matter (slavery) is something I personally haven't read about in a novel before, so I had no idea what to expect. The story is pieced together by various characters who are or have been tied to the 'Whitechapel' plantation in some way. You therefore come away with multiple perspectives about what it's like to be a slave, societal attitudes towards slavery at the time, and the chain of events ...more
Putting aside the subject matter (which is "compelling" and all that) for a moment, it is hard not to admire the way that the author successfully uses a jigsaw approach to build up the total story.[return][return]D'Aguiar patches this together using everything from first person memoir to poetry to newspaper editorials to construct a story in which the reader is left with some (limited) options as to what they think about things.[return][return]From the perspective of finding books which are a us ...more
I liked it because it is so different from the type of book I would normally pick up.

Written as a first novel by a young man from Guyana, although the book is published in England in 1994, the novel chronicles life and death in a slave family in Virginia around 1810.

Using a variety of different writing styles and methods, D'Aguiar explores the conflicts and tensions between generations of slaves and between slave and master, and slave and son, and slave's son and master's daughter.

Worthy of a
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A short book about slavery, told from various points of view. But what makes this one different from others is the way it's told. It is not narrated by a disconnected source, but instead by an old gentleman, reflecting on his actions towards his only son, who is in love with the owners daughter. It is also told from his mothers point of view, the owners daughter, and other characters, ending with the thoughts of the old man once again. It's a book told with a breath of poetry similar to Toni Mor ...more
This novel is definitely worth a read.. very short which makes it a simple quick read. Based upon slavery among African-Americans. The only downfall for me was a tad confusion - constant flashbacks and I am quite sure it's not structured chronologically which you need to get your head around. Otherwise I would definitely recommend it to gain a version of one's perspective and appreciate how lucky you are in a developed country.
I shall have to spend some time thinking about this and absorbing it. I can say that D'Aguiar is clearly a poet, and perhaps first a poet. I was intensely moved by the introduction, entitled Remembering. This is how it concludes.

'I don't want to remember. Memory hurts. Like crying. But still and deep. Memory rises to the skin then I can't be touched. I hurt all over, my bones ache, my teeth loosen in their gums, my nose bleeds. Don't make me remember. I forget as hard as I can.'
Maureen Lovewell
Just as good this time as the last time I read it.
Wilde Sky
A slave in 1810 Virginia runs away, is caught and whipped to death.

The book was well written and the plot evolved from a number of different points of view and in varied writing styles. It explores the conflicts and tensions between generations of slaves / masters / family members.

Most of the book worked well and was moving / thought provoking – the only section that didn’t work for me was the newspaper editorials.

A good read.
Enjoyed this read very much.
Wendy Chard
A truly astounding novel; tender, moving, sad. Offering an array of voices, the story is an insight into love in all its incarnations. It is also an insight into utter helplessness.

I was tangled in the emotions of this story. I was enraged by the inhumanity.
Read it as my English assignment. To be honest, slavery isn't my thing but this book is decent enough to keep me going until the last page. It's rather confusing, and the ending is anti-climatic. I really have nothing to say about this book :|
This book was one of the reasons I became an English major. We read it in Intro to Literature and I loved the story and the discussions about it so much I added a second major. I will have to re-read it again to remember why it struck me so much.
D'Aguiar has the most amazing ability to script together words. Metaphors run harmonious and free in his shifting prose. I picked it up randomly browsing through my library shelves and it was a very worthwhile find!
I wish The Longest Memory was longer! Written simply and poignantly, this book was so easy to read. The writing was a bit amateur but I'm curious to see what else he has written.
Dan O'Neill
One of those books that will stick with me for a while. Great story told in a novel way. Easy to tell the writer also writes poetry, lots of the passages flow off the page.
I think once you get past the beginning, this is a good book. Some may say it's too short, but I felt it conveyed so much meaning in such a short time.
A moving, multilayered tapestry of tales weaving the story of one family's multigenerational experience of slavery. Evocative and compelling.
Neil Munday
an interesting view on the South in 1810 and the depth that culture and belief affect "our" world views. a very relevant book for today.
Amanda Moloney
This was on my Year 12 English List, I have re-read it every couple of years! Still my favorite book of all time!
Opens with the whipping of a slave...beautifully told torture. a short but effecting and effective book.
Barely remember anything about this book, it was a book I read for a university entry exam.
Katie M.
This book deserves so much better than a pithy commentary on Goodreads.
Hard to stomach read about the cruel treatment of African slaves in Virginia.
David Vanness
My copy is hardback. This was a Five-Star.
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Poet, novelist and playwright Fred D'Aguiar was born in London in 1960 to Guyanese parents. He lived in Guyana until he was 12, returning to England in 1972.

He trained as a psychiatric nurse before reading African and Caribbean Studies at the University of Kent, Canterbury, graduating in 1985. His first collection of poetry, Mama Dot (1985), was published to much acclaim and established his reputa
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