Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr is a collection of five short stories, all written in Doerr’s beautiful and ponderous prose. “Tall Man in the Yard” is the first and longest story. It centers on seventy-four-year-old Alma Konachek, who is a widow with severe memory loss. She lives in Cape Town, Africa; her servant, Pheko, takes care of her during the day. Pheko uses his pay to try to care for his son, Temba, who lives with him in the slums of the city—he is a hard-working man just trying to help his son.
A new medical procedure allows Alma to extract her memories and put them on film so she can watch them like a movie. She spends most of her days watching her memories. Just before her husband died, he discovered a rare dinosaur fossil; however, due to Alma’s faulty memory, no one has been able to discover where that fossil is.
A local con artist, Roger Tshoni, reads the article about the fossil in the paper and is determined to find out where it is. After observing Alma’s trips to the doctor, he realizes she is undergoing the memory treatment and that the memory containing the fossil discovery might be on her cartridges. He sneaks into Alma’s house each night, hoping to find the one where her husband discovered the fossil. He recruits a local orphan, Luvo, to watch Alma’s memories. Luvo is young and underwent an operation to be compatible with the machine that plays the memories. Through Luvo’s viewing of the memory cartridges, Alma is revealed to have been a discontented character who held to class distinctions and a bit of racism. She was just about to leave Harold, her absent-minded husband who seemed to love fossils more than he loved her, when he died. Luvo gets lost in her memories, and they become part of his own dreams at night.
Alma’s memory loss makes it such that she never remembers that Roger, a stranger to her, daily breaks into her house. Each night she is startled, goes downstairs, and sits and talks with Roger while Luvo searches her memories for the right one. However, one night, Alma is so startled by Roger’s intrusion that she grabs a gun and shoots him—killing him instantly while Luvo is upstairs watching her memories. Pheko arrives with Temba shortly after and reports the death.
During the evening, Luvo finally discovered the memory of the fossil; he manages to escape out the back. As he is running through the backyard, Temba sees him. They have a...
(The entire section is 1793 words.)
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