I die, but my Memory lives on

By Henning Mankell. RandomHouse 2008.

!</public/images/covers/englisch/youth/shadows_on_Africa/I_die,_but_my_Memory_lives_on._By_Henning_Mankell.jpg! “Since the earliest times of African rock paintings, there hasn’t been a more moving contribution to the history of mankind than Henning Mankells account of memory books,” says German television’s “queen of books,” Elke Heidenreich.

Since its outbreak in 1978, the AIDS virus has become a plague of biblical proportions throughout Africa. In 2007, an estimated 40 million people were infected with the HIV virus, and 14 million children, most of them south of the Sahara, were orphaned as a result of the disease. Many political actions, as well as private initiatives, have begun since that time, in an attempt to keep the epidemic under control – though lack of education and ongoing poverty both perpetuate the problem.

One of the most important of these efforts, begun five years ago, was that of the organization Plan, and of Henning Mankell, who encouraged diseased parents to write “memory books.” One of these memory books, by African teacher Christina Aguga, who died of AIDS, has become part of Mankell’s book I die, but the Memory lives on.

This project is about the power of storytelling, and writer Henning Mankell knows from the very bottom of his heart all about that power. When he travelled to Uganda to learn more about the project, he encouraged the ill to engage in the process of memorizing their lives as a way of aiding those they would be forced to leave behind. His passion for sufferers of the disease and his anger against those (especially in the pharma industry) who could ease the pain, but refuse to effectively help the poorest, can be felt in every word of his account.

The memory book he includes is that of a highly literate nurse. It was left for her son, Peter Kanyi. She reminds him of her family’s tradition and values, that he should respect his elders, support the needy and work hard to make a living. She closes her letter by instructing him to “keep away from AIDS,” and by telling him how much she loves him. Because illiteracy is rampant in this part of the world, the memory books also contain photographs, drawings, a crushed flower – anything that the orphan will relate to, and that will inspire him or her to try the best they can to create a future.

At the end of the book, worldwide charities and organisations working to fight the spread of HIV/Aids and their contact details can be found.