The Resemblance of Elias and Adrian
In the novel, The Memory of Love, Aminatta Forna highlights two prominent characters and their similarities. The first is Adrian, a British psychologist, who moves to Sierra Leone to further his professional career. The second man is Elias Cole, who has lived in Sierra Leone his entire life. He narrates the majority of the story to Adrian, sharing his memories from the past. Although they come from different backgrounds, both men share the desire to be loved and fill a void of loneliness.
As the novel progresses, Adrian practices psychology in the hospital, attempting to have greater success with his patients in Sierra Leone than he had in Britain. Even though he was married to a woman back in Britain, he seeks the company and fulfillment of a woman named Mamakay, who happened to be the daughter of Elias. This relationship proves to be the satisfaction he desires to fill the yearning from his lack of professional success. On the other hand, Elias obsessively pursues a woman named Saffia, the wife of his friend and colleague, Julius. Although seemingly innocent at the beginning, Elias’ pursuit of Saffia becomes obsessive and heightened. His constant chasing after her parallels the way that he seeks to fill a void of love in his life. Even when Saffia does not reciprocate her emotions, Elias blindly ignores her disinterest and continues to press forward.
In their pursuit to satisfy their longings, both men still felt empty. As time progresses, they fell into the trap of adultery. Their hearts prove to overpower their minds. Adrian ignores his life back home in Britain, and lives a separate life with Mamakay. Their relationship was not only adulterous, but had a lasting consequence with the birth of their child. Instead of keeping his two lives separate, the birth of this child forces Adrian’s worlds to collide. Similarly, Elias ultimately received what he wanted and married Saffia. He wanted to give Saffia something Julius could never give her, and that was a child. Hoping that this would bring their marriage together in peace, it complicated their relationship even more and led to further struggles.
In the end, both Adrian and Elias had voids in their lives that they desperately wanted to fill. Through their attempts to do so, they found themselves in adulterous relationships. The children born out of these relationships proved to be the physical consequence of their actions. Adrian and Elias provide the reader with an example of what can happen when intense desires are fulfilled in unhealthy ways.
The Fragmentation of Elias Cole’s Conscience
In The Memory of Love, the fragmentation of conscience that occurs in the mind of Elias Cole is essentially the disassembly of his conscience, and the interpretation of this conscience a twisted and dark. This way, Elias can morally justify his actions, both in real time as well as through recollection. He has the ability to shape what has happened in his life into something that will no longer weigh heavily upon him. It is a recollection of the love that he had for Saffia. He purposely leaves out the other side of the equation, which is manipulation. Elias has deceived the people around him. In The Memory of Love, this deception enables him to paint a story that seems to suit his remembrance of his past. This is being portrayed as a product of his sickness and closeness to death. The fragments remained embedded in his life to remind him that, despite his pain, he can still look at the past and reflect on what it means to have the memory of love.
Elias Cole believes that he is a sympathetic hero who did what he believed was justified, but not right. For example, when Elias was arrested, he reveals that he was placed next to Julius in the jail, which contradicted his previous story that Julius was there alone. “He heard and watched Julius’s begin to exhibit symptoms of asthma, but did nothing to help him” (409). Then he blames Mr. Johnson for Julius’s death, which frees himself from culpability. As he lays in the hospital bed, his mind continues to believe a lie. Throughout his entire life, Elias has lived with charm and lies. However, in his old age, his memories have come to light, and this seems to be the moment that he realizes that the life he lived and the stories he told about it were completely wrong. Everything that he has believed to be morally righteous is false. Elias continues to remember his past.
Elias’ relationship with Vanessa is an early indication of the shift in his conscience. When he realizes that Vanessa’s goal is to become his wife, he simply watches “her trying to create a place for herself in [his] life, seemingly absolving himself of any wrongdoing in this relationship” (16). Elias keeps Vanessa around and entertains her hopes of a long-term relationship, even though he knows that they have no future. This inability to end the relationship shows his negligence, even though he knows that he must “stop seeing her,” (16). It seemed a shame really, I told myself, but a time was coming when I would have to stop seeing her.” (15-16). Elias is telling himself that the only he could be happy is if he stopped seeing Vanessa, who could have been the love of his life if he had invested as much love with Vanessa as he would eventually end up with Saffia. However, despite this, we can see in Elias’s mind, he is coming to the realization that everyone dies and becomes a part of the earth once again. This is epitomized by the death of Julius and Saffia, the two people that Elias finds comfort in. As he nears death, he continues to find closeness and he prepares to join Saffia and Julius.
The Memory of Love is rich with the symbols and imagery that compose its characters. It revolves around the memories of Elias Cole. He undergoes a transformation, as he nears death, attempting to recall his memories. We see that his conscience fades and these fragments come with the onset of age and the layers of constant lies and sins. Even though Elias is alive, he continues to fade away, his mind eliciting these memories and his body gives way to darkness. His remembrance of his “love” of Saffia and his envy of Julius secures the narrative that, despite all of the evil in his life, Elias is still a man who is seeking resolution, closure to his dreams, because he realizes that, like Julius, he is coming to the point where his mind, body, and soul will be gone forever. The Memory of Love alters the narrative that the resolution of sins brings the resolution of life; that everything will be resolved, and man will remain alive. Man can be unreasonable and evil, but in death, Elias still remembers the memory of love.
The Love Triangle: Adrian, Kai, and Nenebah
Kai initially introduces Nenebah, a character that is not known to the reader and he speaks of her as though a large distance separates them. Kai and Nenebah maintained a very physical relationship but they began to slowly and painfully grow apart. Although they have gone their separate ways due to different aspirations, Kai continues to dream and have thoughts of previous love scenes with Nenebah. With that, the relationship they had was over, but the memory of love never faded.
After the separation with Nenebah and Kai, Kai and Adrian meet and become very close friends. They randomly show up to each other’s house and help themselves to what they please. During this friendship, Adrian began having relations with Mamakay, an individual he first meets at the hospital. As time progresses, Adrian builds a fascination with Mamakay. He finds himself falling in love with Mamakay, and despite having a family back home, he continues to pursue this love. After some time of maintaining this relationship, Adrian learns that Mamakay’s true name is Nenebah. While this is alarming to Adrian, he realizes that there are things Mamakay has been hesitant to share with him the whole time. Not once during their time spent together does she open up to him or try to indulge in a conversation with him.
Adrian notices that Mamakay never opens up to him as he does numerous times with her, and eventually realizes she is clearly still in love with Kai, or at least the memory of Kai. Regardless of this newfound knowledge he continues to pursue this relationship with Mamakay. After maintaining this dynamic, he finds himself distraught when Mamakay reveals to him that she is pregnant with their child. In the hospital, Adrian is lost and cannot get to the room that Mamakay is giving birth in. In a way, this symbolizes his relationship with Mamakay; he is constantly lost. As complications during labor unfortunately end up in the result of Mamakay’s death, Kai blames Adrian. Although the child survived, Adrian chose to go back home to his original family and leave the child with Kai in Sierra Leone, being that Kai is there. To conclude, Adrian and Mamakay’s love created the child, Kai’s love for Nenebah is why he kept the child, and Mamakay died confessing her love to Kai which never went away.
Silence – Elias and Julius
Aminatta Forna contrasts Elias’ cowardice with the courage and boldness of Julius, and Elias’ refusal to speak up on Julius’ behalf is another manifestation of the dangerous power of silence and complicity. Elias is jealous of Julius, primarily for his achievement and happiness which is symbolized in his beautiful wife, Saffia. Elias desires a relationship with Saffia, and uses his connection to Julius to get close to her. When Adrian asks Elias what he saw in Julius, he replies that he saw “[n]othing but Saffia” (Forna 144). Later, when he realized how much the married couple loved each other, he admits that he began to even “hate” Julius (100).
This hate does not come out in an act of violence, or any physical act at all, in fact. Instead, Elias achieves his self-justified revenge on Julius through a failure to act while the two were in jail. In the middle of the night Elias tells readers he heard coughing coming from the other side of the wall. He thought it was Julius so he knocked on the wall, which lead Julius to knock back in confirmation that he was there. Elias then states, “I did not dare speak, for fear of attracting the guards” (408). On the other hand, Julius had no fear and asked, “Hello? Who’s there?” Elias decided to stay silent, not saying anything and eventually falling asleep. In the middle of the night he awoke and pressed his ear against the wall, hearing the sound of wheezing coming from Julius. Elias knew Julius had asthma problems and that this could be trouble so he questioned in his mind whether or not he should call a guard. Instead, he convinced himself that, “we were in an unforgiving place. I could end up making more trouble for myself, for Julius” (409). Julius ended up dying this night and it could have been stopped if Elias chose to speak up. Instead, he did nothing, and convinced himself that this wasn’t his fault, blaming it on others such as Johnson, and even Julius. Earlier in the novel, Elias described Julius’ death:
Julius dies of an asthma attack. This is the sum of what we were told. By the time he was discovered it was too late; nothing could be done to save him. His medication, it seemed, had been removed from his possession along with other items of his personal effects. An error, unfortunate. In the room he was being held, in the basement of the building, nobody had heard him dying. (250)
This contradicts the fact that Elias himself was indeed present at the time of Julius’ asthma attack, and could have saved him. He made excuse after excuse to rid himself of responsibility. The text talks about the affect this act of silence had on multiple people. Forna states, “A life, a history, whole patterns of existence altered, simply by doing nothing. The silent lie” (410). Elias’ simple act of saying nothing impacted Julius as well as his wife Saffia, their future together, and furthermore anyone associated with them.
Forna, Aminatta. The Memory of Love. London: Bloomsbury, 2011. Print.
Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love encompasses imagery and symbols that serves well to illuminate layers of meaning in Forna’s book. The protagonist, Elias Cole, is just a small part of the larger political system that exists in Sierra Leone. For example, his boss, the Dean, is just a puppet, or more specifically, a political face that is used to ensure that the school is conforming to the standards set forth by the militaristic government. With this description, we see that Elias attempts to get into his good graces. When he first “pursues efforts to meet the dean, he had already pre-rehearsed these arguments” (70). The Dean is portrayed as corrupt and cutthroat because he runs the school with an iron fist, but this aspect is a facade because of the Dean’s lack of authority in comparison to the governing body that is responsible for the regulation of the school activities.
During the Sierra Leone Civil War and even in times of political peace, the government regulated institutions because they felt threatened by intellectual material that exposed the corruption of the government. As a result, censorship was an important part of the government’s objectives. The Dean’s caricature is very important to explaining why Elias gravitates towards him: he sees him as an authority figure, a position that he is aspiring to rise to. Remember, since Elias is just a young professor within the school, his name does not hold much weight with the Dean, which is why he wants to meet him in his office. There, “the Dean was a big man, and his buttocks came up as he was talking” (60). Elias’s description of this specific trait is a application of his admiration for the Dean because his large frame really results in his large stature within the university.
During the civil war, Sierra Leone was possessed with violence and corruption, so when Elias says that “he appeared to approach the world at a trot, he is looking at Sierra Leone from his own lense and trying to figure out what is going on” (78). The government did not seem to fully understand the gravity of what was going on because of the mass killings and exits of many of its people. “Elias sees the Dean is a figure he should look up to and strive to become rather than seeing him as just a face of what the government believes to be the right education for the students” (74). The Dean demands respect from Elias and his professors of the organization because he understands the ramifications of refusing to submit, which include intimidation and death.
Julius’s asthma foreshadows death because Elias makes sure to point it out the reader. At first, it is a small part of Elias’s memory as he lies on his deathbed. Cole seems to recall an incident ”when everybody laughed, Julius laughed so vigorously that he started to wheeze” (35). Then, Cole makes sure to mention that “Saffia’s and Julius’s relationship was defined by this particular incident” (35). Elias is already chasing after Saffia, supposedly behind Julius’s back, even though I feel that he has some idea of what is going on. However, he can clearly see that this relationship is one-sided; that Elias is the one that is burdening Saffia. The asthma is a achilles heel, which is interesting why he brings up this miniscule fact within the context of his entire story because this is being told while he is on his deathbed.
When Elias and Saffia are together, Elias describes “going to the kitchen, opening the fridge door, and reaching for a bottle of water, but instead taking a bottle of coca-cola” (187). This is an important point: that Elias is striving to something that he is not. Based on Julius’s characterization, from Elias’s point of view, it is clear that he is considered a man in the eyes of Elias. He is successful and has a beautiful wife, which is something that Elias covets. Elias’s desire to be like Julius means that he lusts after Saffia; he wants the life with her. The simple scene with the coca-cola shows the simplicity and peace that is contained within Saffia’s and Julius’s life together. The irony of the scene happens after Elias says that he does not want Julius to see him here, because he gets arrested and dumped into a cold abyss.
This is a symbolic way of reminding Elias that Saffia is not his; it is reminiscent of the forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve were not permitted to eat in the garden of Eden. Elias, like Adam and Eve, is “persecuted with a brutal interrogation by a man named Mr. Johnson” (180). He asks Elias purposeful questions, which are meant to slowly break down his physiological resistance, so that they can somehow gain some resolution to the situation. Elias is accused of writing a scathing article accusing the government of abusing its authority, something that he supposedly did not write. However, the thought of going to jail resonates in Elias’s mind. This experience alters his perception of life and its harsh realities because as he sits in jail, he remembers “pinching at his shirt, feeling sticky, and despite hearing people nearby, he is still very much alone” (188). His heart feels empty and he feels as though he has nothing to live for.
Elias is very much alone in the world, despite him believing that other people truly care about him. His ongoing obsession with it has caused him to isolate himself from everyone else that cared about him.
In Adrian and Abass’s conversation, they talk about a sparrow, imagining that the bird lands on a rock, and wipes it beak on both sides until the rock is worn away” (195). Now that Elias is reminiscing about his life, he realizes that the rock represent the constant pressure on his own recollection of events. His mind had been worn down to the point of exhaustion, to where he is remembering certain things that possibly never happened, such as the dream of Saffia or even the incident of the rock. This is more of a symbol of the altering of Elias’s life after the death of Julius and his marriage to Saffia. Since th3e rock has almost worn completely away, Elias is coming to the realization that the life he thought he wanted really was not what it appeared to be, much like the rock, on the outside appearing to be a strong structure, but the constant wear on the outside started to tear away those barriers of strength, exposing a weak core.
The presence of Saffia, the sparrow, is slowly wearing about at the rock’s structure. It is slowly degrading Elias’s to the point of destruction: this death. Everyone knows that everyone dies eventually, and in Elias’s case , his memory of love are his last thoughts before death. Death is not a peaceful process because it involves the complete tearing down of the body structure until it cannot function anymore. In the process of death, which I have witnessed firsthand, the individual begins to have memories or thoughts in their brain that cause them to outburst or to dream even further. They delve into the brain as it shuts down to attempt to drive out those memories in the back of their subconscious. Many begin to recite names of those they remember, even those that have passed on. This is exactly what is happening the life and death of Elias cole. He is remembering the things that he wants to forget, asdn the people that he loved so dearly, and trying to, in his mind, comprehend what he has done.
The mind and body
Elias Cole “is devoting his life, his mind, and his body to impressing her with every little step he takes” (220). This affair is involving everything from showing up to her house at any hour of the day to displaying simple, but inappropriate gestures of affection take its toil on Elias’s ability to live a life without pain or heartbreak. And this point cannot be elaborated more clearly: “Saffia is a married woman” (54). She should be unattainable to him, but that is what makes him really go, so he is accepting the challenge of impressing another woman, even if she is married. But when he is jailed, he is forced to come to the reality of the world he lives in. Elias Cole is nothing, he is just a bottomfeeder trying to move his way up with charm and good graces. He finally feels the wrath under the authority of a headmaster, who can demonstrate who is the headmaster as he sits in prison” (207). The narrative focuses on Elias’s struggle to find a self-identity because he wants to become the man to Saffia. In reality, Elias is a lost man whose advances towards Saffia and fraying relationship with Julius will unfortunately culminate in something either more sinister or tragic that will impact his life.
It is hard to really make out what will come from Adrian and Elias Cole’s daughter. This is intriguing because much like Elias, Adrian is somehow personally involved with another family’s drama. It is ironic that Adrian is completely different from Elias, but yet he is the same, because of his love. Their love is less physical and more soulful, with the tender passion of their bodies colliding. It is another stark contrast from what we see with Elias in his feverish pursuit of Saffia. His love is not authentic because it is formed from lust and desire. On the other hand, Kai’s relationship is significant because the idea of love is different for both men. Kai is more physical, “with a lot of lovemaking and physical contact, which is more desirable” (192). Passion is a big part of Love, but the question remains: what is Love? When Elias and Saffia are married, it is not “Love: but the fulfillment of Elias’s fulfillment of a dream. Elias appears to pity himself with satisfaction. This interpretation of love is a common thread within The Memory of Love.
When Julius is arrested and sent to jail, Elias Cole says “I’d like to reassure his wife” (223). It seems as though the burden represented by Julius has been lifted from his shoulders Then, when Julius is found dead in the jail, Elias now knows that the one man who threatens his manhood and his dream/aspirations is gone, pathing the way for him to be with Saffia. However, it is not as though the clearing of this obstacle was not foreshadowed before. The author subtly referred to Juliu’s asthma, as if to tell us that it will be his downfall. His death is also the symbolic death of the good, noble man, and the flourishing of the evil one. This also brings up the questions of what is just, because how could Julius, who n0one considered a threat or conniving, die, and Elias, the mediocre character of a professor/man, live and go on with his wife, Saffia?
The relationship between Adrian and Agnes is paralleled with Elias’s own struggles to get closer to Saffia. Much like Elias, Adrian seems to be obsessed with her; “Agnes, I am very pleased to see you. I hope you do not mind me coming to your home” (203). It is understandable that being a doctor, Adrian has a unique connection to his patients, but he does not display this type of behavior towards any of his other patients, and they are not described to the extent that Agnes exists in Adrian’s subconscious. Adriana “wants to see her again, which sounds like a level of affection that is above doctor-patient connection” (204). Adrian goes on to say that he is “thinking about the next step with Agnes” (204). This is unusual situation because Agnes is unstable patient, whose conscious is deeply affected by her past experiences (watching her husband being murdered). The idea that Adrian is deciding to open himself up to these externalities again reinforces the parallel narrative with Elias, his patient, who is recalling his past, one that is shaded with his unusual affection for another man’s wife.
Abass is intriguing little boy that really carries to hopes and dreams of Kai and Adrian with him. During one interaction, “Abass, voice juddering as he bounces on the car’s back set that the number of stars in the sky is infinite” (194). This is an allusion to never ending nature of the world, that they are endless possibilities for Abass, Kai, that cannot be realized by the war in Sierra Leone. Kids like Abass are the soldiers on the frontline of this brutal conflict, which drives home the point of his innocence. The children of Sierra Leone are the soldiers of the nation because of the hopes and dreams that surround them, which makes the war and its aftermath more heartbreaking. Families were seated or even completely destroyed, such that the next generation of children and their children did not have an opportunity to be born, grow, and develop. And as Abass asks how big is infinity, Adrian responds with “a never-ending number” (194). Escaping from the war zone seemed dangerous and unlikely, so imagining the world outside of Sierra Leone seems awe-inspiring to little Abass. Kai even sees Abass as a smaller, more vulnerable version of himself because Abass has not yet entered into manhood. He is a young boy trying to navigate the world with the men around him.
Symbol: mental ward as parallel of broader society
Part of the beauty of frame narrative as a literary technique is that it allows for several layers of meaning to develop which might otherwise be lost. In The Memory of Love, much of the material presented about Elias Cole and his life is told retrospectively, from a hospital bed in a mental ward. Adrian, the psychologist, becomes the lens through which we hear Elias’ story. Moreover, the mental ward in which these scenes take place become the epicenter of where life and death are each addressed. In his own character and plot arc, Elias interacts with other medical practitioners in an environment symbolic of the larger culture of the time. Recovering from a civil war, Sierra Leone and her children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is symbolized by the individuals at the mental ward who also suffer from PTSD, as well as several other ailments such as schizophrenia, depression, and personality disorders. Adrian often feels overwhelmed by his responsibilities as a psychologist at this mental ward, which is understandable as the place has become the locus of psychological anguish for a nation recovering from the atrocities of war. However, despite this “doom and gloom” atmosphere that develops around the patients and their setting, Forna also manages to sustain an intensely hopeful movement in her characters. Maaza Mengiste, in writing for The New York Times, says that “Forna’s characters… [show us] that the world we inhabit reaches beyond borders and ripples out through generations… at the core of this novel is the brave and beating heart, at once vulnerable and determined, unwilling to let go of all it has ever loved” (96). I believe the reader is able to feel through the symbolism of the mental ward both the egregious weight of loss that a nation after war has suffered, and the vitalizing energy of hope that sustains life through tragedy: despite Elias’ deflections, and the patients’ babbling nonsense, their human hearts cling to life, unwilling to succumb to the whispering ease of death.
Elias Cole was invited to dinner at Saffia and Julius’s house at the beginning of chapter three. Cole finds himself early to dinner and observing the house where they live before he enters the house. He characterizes the house as “The paintwork was pale pink, sun-streaked, with dark-pink recesses and a tin roof. And orange tree, laden with fruit, bent over the house, which was reached through an open gate” (31). The gate that stands as a barrier between the house and the outside world, is a representation of what Julius is to Cole. Cole is deeply in love with Saffia, Julius’s wife, but the issue is that he can never have relations with Saffia while Julius is the iron gate. I believe that Julius does know that Cole is attracted to Saffia and would want to have a relationship with her, but Julius knowing that his wife is trustworthy and in love with him knows that Cole can never have relations with Saffia as long as he is in relations with Saffia, which is his master plan. Furthermore, I believe Julius is playing with Cole in a psychological way. Cole can manage to hop the gate sometimes and spend time with Saffia, take pictures of her, and talk to her, but the gate never leaves, it always there, just like Julius.
Elias Cole wrote a paper for the faculty journal, ‘Reflections on Changing Political Dynamics. This paper seemed to be quite important to him because, despite distractions from himself and primarily from Julius coming through the office looking for spare change and fresh ears to update on current events, Cole was devoted to this article. Whether it was that the topic was of importance to him, he wanted to be published into the journal, or just that the writing brought him out of his own thoughts for a period of time Cole worked hard and long to get it right. Cole “worked late most nights, hitting the keys” of his typewriter until “his fingers ached” (61). By the end of the week, after drafting and redrafting his paper, he typed up a final copy of his work and then submitted it. Two weeks after the submission the paper was returned to Elias Cole with a note from the Dean of the school attached. However, the note was not good news stating that the paper he had slaved away over for a week had been declined for publication. Later, Cole visited the Dean in attempt to appeal the rejection of his work with “arguments rehearsed and ready (70). After a bit of small chat and perhaps some avoidance tactics by the Dean Cole asked him what the problem was with his paper. The Dean cut him off before the full question was even out and simply replied with a “not really your best” (72). Just like that all the work invested was for naught and brushed under the rug.
The paper is Elias Cole because in his life he worked, he fought and really never saw much return. In Cole’s relation with Saffia he continuously puts himself out there and cannot stop thinking of her. He seems to make positive movement in the way he wants the relationship to go and then will hit a wall. Saffia will hit him with a ‘would you mind’ and Elias would get out of the car (77). Elias would get rejected. Not to say that there is no appropriate reason for a rejection but all the same he is rejected. Elias Cole’s life is hard work and passion, no return, and rejection.
Symbol: Volkswagen Variant
A potentially underrepresented symbol in The Memory of Love is the Kamara’s Volkswagen Variant. As Elias approaches Saffia for the first time, the “white Volkswagen Variant was parked up,” and he speaks to her prior to Julius arriving (10). Furthermore, Elias takes it upon himself to record the license plate number of the car, perhaps foreshadowing a future path of Elias’ obsessive behavior. This car often offers Elias and Saffia a chance at some time alone, as Saffia gives him rides. Moreover, Elias admired “the traces of light outlined the arcs of her cheekbones, her forehead, and the bridge of her nose,” building his attraction to her early in the novel (12). Elias also ponders about the interaction with after getting out of the car, as he felt “strangely abandoned” and “felt exhilarated and at the same time [Elias] had a sense of having somehow mis-stepped” (14, 77). The Variant provides an avenue for Elias to spend time with Saffia, which may lead to more opportunities to develop their relationship.
Love and Obsession
Elias Cole, a man on his deathbed, tells the confessions of his love for Saffia. His obsession with her is like no other. He cannot stop thinking about her. The thoughts happen so naturally that they are subconsciously occurring in his mind all hours of the day. Elias goes on to say that “no woman had ever produced such a relentless in me. I have never been in love…I was lost in the darkness amid thunder, blinding flashes, the madness of the wind” (Forna 97). Elias will do anything to get her, despite knowing she is something he cannot have. Saffia never questioned his presence throughout the novel. Hearing the story from the point of view of Elias Cole leaves their relationship up to the discretion of the reader. Elias has such strong feelings for Saffia that he begins to hate Julius, for even his presence or name being mentioned aggravates Elias.
Furthermore, Dr. Cole mentions Elias’ obsession to Saffia in his novel Space and Trauma In The Writings Of Aminatta Forna. Here, “[e]lias’ blindness is a consequence of his addiction, not to drugs, but to Saffia. His level of addiction is so strong that his obsession is out of control” (Cole 190). He brings up an important aspect of this theme that describes Elias’ obsession to that of an individual addicted to drugs. He cannot stop pursuing her, no matter the consequence. This love is so strong that all other thoughts are pushed aside in pursuit of Saffia.
We see love and obsession play another big role in the other protagonist in the story, Adrian. Adrian is a foreign in the country he practices in. He is unhappy with his life and feels like he is not having an impact on anyone through his career as a psychologist. He tends to isolate himself, instead of getting involved in his surroundings and learning about what the culture has to offer. Despite all his sorrow, he has one patient who resembles his holy grail. Her name is Agnes. She was beautiful, as Adrian would describe, and said, “[t]he years were carried not upon her body but in the light of her eyes” (Forna 161). She was a patient of Adrian’s and suffered from memory from the civil war. Agnes left the hospital unexpected and as Adrian went to show up to her house unexpectedly, he got beaten up by her brother in law. He was determined to go back and see her again, despite what consequences might occur. She was his obsession and would not give up on trying to help her, as it made him feel successful in his career for once.
The obsession of Adrian towards Agnes can also be viewed as Adrian’s love for Agnes. The obsession and love that Adrian has towards Agnes is portrayed in another scene just a few chapters later. Adrian, Kai, and Abass, Kai’s nephew, are making a road trip when they had to stop to get gas. When they stop, there is a line. Adrian and Abass walk to the marketplace while Kai waits with the car. In the marketplace, Adrian spots a woman with a cloth covering her head. As she gets closer, Adrian realizes it is Agnes. The obsession over Agnes causes him to seem to not care about anything else going on around him once he recognizes the woman is Agnes. He leaves Abass alone in the marketplace to go chase after Agnes, “[t]he woman with the girl. The woman with the cloth covering her head, framing her face. It is Agnes. Quickly he turns on his heels and returns to Abass. ‘Tell your uncle I’ll be two minutes.’ … Adrian sets off, walking quickly” (201). His willingness to leave this boy so abruptly truly shows his combined love and obsession for Agnes. He has no further regard than to connect with her once again, no matter the consequences to those around him.
PTSD and Trauma
Referencing Kai, the author begins to tell us the impact that PTSD has on him as a surgeon stating, “[t]he memories come at unguarded moments, when he cannot sleep” (184). We learn of patients he has treated and how they complained of feeling pain in their lost limbs, even know they no longer have those limbs. The author states that “[t]he pain is real, yes, but it is a memory of pain” (184). Kai feels these people’s pain and is often reminded of these times through memories. Forna goes on to compare this to Kai’s pain that he has experienced through love saying, “[a]nd when he wakes from dreaming of her, is it not the same for him?” (185). She explains the loneliness he feels every day, comparing his memory of love to the memory of pain people have experienced through the war. This emphasizes how these particular events of love and war can lead to failure of recovery after experiencing traumatic events through them.
Later on, the novel introduced a dream that Kai is having in which he is being pressed up against a railing on a bridge by another person. After his dream, “[h]e wakes with the taste of blood and metal in his mouth, a ringing in his ears, images crashing against the line of his consciousness. Only the sound of his cousin knocking gently on the door brings him back to himself” (237). This shows the difficulty that Kai has to go through to deal with PTSD and how it affects him during his dreams so he has no control over the thoughts he experiences.
Another experience that reiterates the psychological trauma that Kai faces on a daily basis is during a procedure in the operating theatre. Him and some others were performing a procedure on Foday, a patient unable to use his legs, and leading up to using his diathermy wand, Kai is shaking, unable to steady himself. We are told there is nothing he can do to control it. Kai has such a feeling of discomfort, he asks the other surgeons if he can be excused, making up a lie that his stomach is upset from the food he ate the previous night. We are told that, “[t]en minutes elapse before he returns to the OR; the most delicate part of the procedure is over. Kai had spent the time sitting alone in the changing room, trying to locate the presence of mind required to continue, aware he couldn’t stay away too long” (242). He was having thoughts of Foday and of the altered technique he and Seligman, the other surgeon, were performing. Eventually he is able to reenter the theatre but as it stated, he had skipped out on the most delicate part of the procedure as he was not able to handle the thoughts racing through his head, and the pressure they were placing upon him.
In addition, other main characters in the book also suffer from trauma, although it is less obviously as Kai. Adrian has suffered from trauma because his family. Saffia is hurt by the death of Julius. Ileana suffers from unsaddling in her own country.
Forna uses silence throughout the novel to represent a variety of motives. Agnes, Adrian’s patient diagnosed with PTSD, copes with her deep trauma from the war by remaining silent. When Adrian first introduces himself, and begins asking her simple questions, Agnes offers no answer, and was silent even when only asked her name. In a while she begins to open up a bit more, but her story remains a mystery, and thus so does the source of her trauma. Eventually, however, the reader discovers that the rebel leader who brutally beheaded her husband married Agnes’ daughter after the war, and she has lived with them ever since. Such horrifying truths seem better left secret to survivors like Agnes, who would prefer to pretend they never happened at all. As Dr. Ernest Cole writes in Space and Trauma in the Writings of Aminatta Forna, “[i]n the context of post-war Sierra Leone, the hearts of survivors become the space where the atrocities of war are kept secret,” and “the novel suggests that secrets lead to silence” (Cole 199). This silence serves as a coping mechanism for the nation, still in shock from the horrors burned into each civilian’s memory. Adrian’s “talking therapy” from the westernized culture clashes with the survivor’s silence at first, but does ultimately offer relief to those who release the secrets they have been hiding for too long in their minds.
Elias, on the other hand, uses silence, or lying by omission, for manipulation and complicity. If the victims of the civil war use silence to cope with the evil they witnessed, men like Elias Cole used silence to perpetrate them. His daughter, Mamakay, gives a harsh but truthful insight into this part of his character:
“Courage is not what it took to survive. Quite the opposite! You had to be a coward to survive. To make sure you never raised your head above the parapet, never questioned, never said anything that might get you into trouble” (Forna 350).
Elias sought his own success and safety, whether in the form of Saffia, his career, or his way out of prison, by staying silent when he should have stood up for what was right. His cowardice is contrasted by the bold and courageous character of Julius, who made comments about “the first black man on the moon” (348). Later, when Elias does nothing to stop the imprisonment and eventual death of Julius, he still sees himself as a victim, unloved by Saffia and tormented by the ghost of Julius. Forna expands their tragedy to span the entirety of Sierra Leone, which is still scarred by the injustices committed.
Government before war also promote silence in the way of banning freedom of speech. The reason for Elias and other professor get arrested is because the government believes they have done something that may cause trouble. One of the reasons to arrest them is to ensure that they will keep silence later. This point is confirmed with Dean’s advice to Elias: “Be careful with your company”. Even when the Dean knows something, he keeps silent in the way not telling Elias what happened exactly. The Dean also wants Elias to keep silent about the issue as well. In the previous chapter, one of the possible reasons that the Dean rejects Elias’ first paper is that the paper may promote governmental change, which the government does not want to see. With a government like this, it is inevitable that people tend to keep silent because opening up may lead to trouble, and could potentially lead to death.
Overall, silence is so much more complex than simply not wanting to speak. Silence is a multifaceted response that can sometimes even speak louder than words. Silence can mean anything from protest, acceptance, uncomfortability, avoidance, passivity, to even ignoring. In The Memory of Love, Forna is able to use silence as a theme in a plethora of ways to show not only the depth of meanings silence has, but also the depths of each character’s response to a war-ravaged country. From the theme of silence, Forna is able to demonstrate how war tears apart a country in so many ways. Or perhaps, even more so, Forna is able to reveal her belief that in fact the peace after a war is even more detrimental.
Individual Blog Post Written By Zachary Gebben
The Memory of Love, written by Aminatta Forna, illustrates many different variations of symbolism, structure, and foreshadowing. One of the most unique findings that I have come across in this book is the difference in motivation between Adrian and Kai. Both men are in similar lines of work; Kai is a surgeon, Adrian is a psychologist. Keeping in mind that they come from different backgrounds and cultures, I find it alarmingly ironic how different their motivations are.
For starters, Kai is a noble man. He is originally from Africa which makes him extremely comfortable with the surrounding culture in Sierra Leone. Kai, as stated previously, is a surgeon. His passion for what he does for a living is undeniable. Forna illustrates a scene where both Kai and Seligmann, two surgeons, possess similar interests in what they do in a descriptive manner, “Opposites on the surface, the same beneath the skin, both men thrive only in the theatre, a scalpel in their hand, a human body on the table” (Forna, pg. 243). Clearly exemplified here, Kai truly enjoys his line of work. He wanted to help the lives of others through the utilization of the pedestal his job provides him.
Not only does Kai love being a surgeon, but he wants to be the best at what he does. In the scene where Kai is at the bar sharing dialogue with Adrian he states, “To be the best, I guess. Just that. Me and Tejani, he was my friend back then. We never imagined it any other way” (Forna, pg. 105). Tejani had gone off to America and pursued his dreams as a surgeon. In an indirect manner, the author seems to paint an illustration for the reader where it seems as if Kai, too, wants to pursue his dreams outside of Sierra Leone. Excellence and passion are Kai’s two underlying motives as a surgeon.
On the other hand, Adrian is a bit difference. Unlike Kai, Adrian has not lived in Africa his entire life. Originally Adrian was from Britain but wanted to pursue work elsewhere as a psychologist. He left his wife behind in Britain and went to Sierra Leone on his own. In contrast to Kai, Adrian isn’t so sure if he loves what he does as a psychologist. He is ‘okay’ as a psychologist, at best. The motivation behind why Adrian does what he does is the need to find some sort of purpose in this world. His entire life, up until Sierra Leone, he could not find this sense of purpose. “The truth is that since arriving here his life has seemed more charged with meaning than it ever had in London. Here the boundaries are limitless, no horizon, no sky. He can feel his emotions, solid and weighty, like stones in the palm of his hands. Everything matters more” (Forna, pg. 228). It seems as if Adrian has found the purpose he’s been looking for which was presumably his underlying motive.
Agnes comes around somewhere throughout The Memory of Love and as a reader we quickly see that there is some sort of obsession that motivates Adrian beyond his need to find a purpose. It seems that Adrian found a purpose in life through his career, but he wasn’t completed satisfied with being a psychologist quite yet; he needed more motivation. Adrian’s unfulfillment in finding a pure motive to work led to his obsession with Agnes. Not only did Adrian love to observe Agnes in the mental ward, but at one point in the book, chapter 23, Adrian sees Agnes in public and follows her to her house. As a result, Agnes’ son-in-law “walks him home” but really beats the snot out of him. It becomes quite obvious that Adrian cannot help but be motivated by obsession, specifically his obsession with Agnes.
In conclusion, the motivation within each individual throughout life can vary. What stood out to me was the contrast between these two close friends who happen to be within similar fields of work; it is a bit astounding. Kai is motivated by his passion for being a surgeon and the idea of becoming successful like his friend Tajani. On the other hand, Adrian is originally motivated to find some sort of purpose as a psychologist, but once he achieves this, obsession takes over and controls his well-being. Motivation is everywhere, but isn’t it ironic how the motivation within an individual leads them in a completely different path of life than if their motivation were something different? Motivation is the vehicle that drives our lives. Kai is being driven towards success and love for his career. Adrian is being driven towards lack of fulfillment and an obsession that will ultimately hurt himself and those around him.
In the present timeline, Elias Cole is a man suffering from terminal Pulmonary Fibrosis and is on his deathbed reflecting on his past to his psychologist. From his reflections we learn that Elias was a professor of History who strived to be someone he was not. The reader watches him recount the development of a strong obsession with his colleague’s wife, Saffia, and how he went after her in full pursuit. Elias himself admitted that his love for this woman was like “the terror of a storm” (Forna 97). Even his thought patterns were distracted and scattered with the ideas of her. He consistently provides the reader with his perception of the way that she acts and it starts to become overwhelming and almost disturbing as we see his powerful obsession develop.
Through his narration we discover major flaws in Elias’s personality. He is insecure, lonely, and lacks strong morals. He also is very hypocritical of others, especially when it comes to his rival character, Julius (Forna 349). Along with these drawbacks within his personality, Elias proves to be very manipulative in his ways. Elias likes to test the waters in his friendship with Saffia. Early on in the reading, everytime Elias has an encounter with Saffia, he immediately looks to Julius to see his reaction. With Julius not seeing Elias as a threat, Elias continued to push his limits even more. Certain events caused Elias to feel resentment and jealousy towards Julius’ relationship with Saffia and this feeling eventually turns into “a flicker of hate” which leads to disastrous consequences (Forna 100).
As the story progresses, we see that once Elias achieves the life he once envied, he is still not happy. Even with Saffia as his wife, a daughter, an administrative position at the university, wealth etc., Elias still searches for other happiness. At this point, the reader learns of his long-term affair with Vanessa which further confirms Elias’s selfishness and weak morals. In addition to his affair, we learn that Elias has acquired a promotion at the university, and undertakes more political power. He becomes, in a sense, a spy for the government and patrols the university for activist movements (Forna 336). Elias gets so caught up in this, that he uses his daughter’s status as a student to his advantage (Forna 350). His actions end up tarnishing his relationship with his daughter, Mamakay, and the consequences of his actions are reflected as he approaches the end of his life with no family by his side.
The Memory of Love is narrated by Elias, making for an unreliable account of the events of his life. As mentioned earlier, Elias explains his feelings for Saffia from his point of view; however, from the outside looking in, the questions of reciprocity, oblivion, and obsession arise. Aside from the strong feelings Elias has for Saffia, his actions reflect the objectification of women. On several accounts, Elias illustrates encounters he has with women. He engages in one-night stands and treats the women he dates with aloofness and disinterest. Elias Cole’s true identity is revealed through numerous confessions in the text, yet we find Elias constantly justifying his actions without taking responsibility for the things he has done.
Julius is Elias’s colleague at the university and the husband of Saffia. He is a professor in the engineering department and a political activist. Julius is described to the reader through the eyes of Elias, which holds a strong, hateful bias. He is portrayed as a popular, social, confident and hopeful man and is considered the life of the party since he brings a crowd with him whenever he goes out to social gatherings (Forna 107). Julius seems to be a very strong figure and feels confident in his abilities; however, he suffers from severe asthma, which ultimately leads to his death. He is very approachable and seems to do all the right things when it came to pleasing Saffia. Julius has great trust in Saffia, which leads to an oblivious attitude about the actions of Elias Cole toward his wife. At times, it seems as if Julius portrays an oblivious attitude on purpose in fear of confronting the situation and losing his wife, Saffia to Elias Cole. On the contrary, Julius’ “oblivious” attitude could be a figment of Elias’s imagination since his obsession with Saffia blinds him from reality.
Julius’ political activism is centered around the moon landing, leading to the final straw that results in his arrest, detainment, and death. While Julius’s arrest is never directly explained, it is inferred that he used Elias’s office to write articles and encourage an agenda that spoke out against the government. Ultimately, Julius is a bold, political activist.
Saffia was Julius’s wife, and the object of Elias’s romantic obsession. She was a botanist and put a lot of her time and energy into her exquisite garden, which was full of lilies and orchids. These flowers associate to the tranquil yet fragile life that Saffia lived. The flowers also are depicted in images of love and seduction, playing into the complications between her and Elias. It is up to the reader to decipher her interpretation of Elias’s advances. Saffia showed varying responses to Elias as the novel progresses. She treated Elias as a mutual friend of her husband, engaging in conversation and showing comfort and familiarity around him. At one point, Elias paid a visit to her house and Saffia took photographs of him. These actions can be interpreted as either an acceptance on Saffia’s part, or as a harmless act of practicing her photography. One way of thinking about the motives and mind of Saffia is that she was oblivious to the ulterior motive that Elias possessed. Saffia, for the most part, seemed happy to be with Julius and enjoyed her friendship with Elias. However, it is clear to most that Saffia craved the attention while staying away from the commitment that an affair would hold. With that being said, there are several ways the reader can interpret this unique situation between Elias, Saffia, and Julius. As the novel continued, Saffia’s mood towards Elias became slightly altered as she began to distance herself from him. The actions of Saffia all come from Elias’s point of view, leading the reader to be cautious in developing an opinion about the relationship between Elias and Saffia. After being widowed, she married Elias and had a daughter.
Her daughter, Mamakay, shed more light as to the distance in Elias and Saffia’s marriage. Mamakay talked about Saffia’s activist friends, leading the reader to question if Saffia is also an activist, and Saffia’s drive to hide this side of herself from Elias in fear of him/his position in the university administration (Forna 335). Mamakay also described Saffia as an “extremely composed woman to the point it seemed she was holding something back”, adding even more mystery to Saffia’s character. Saffia never confronted Elias about his affair, and seemingly this was a fair exchange of the secrets they kept from eachother (Forna 349).
Adrian is a british psychologist, as well as a bit of an outsider, who came to Sierra Leone with the intentions to help the PTSD, post-civil war society. Adrian has faced a great deal of challenges in his life, specifically within his professional career. Adrian can be labeled as a humanitarian through his work and personal ideals. As his background develops, the reader discovers that Adrian was a rather established psychologist in England. He owned his own private practice and had a publication about proactive responses after major disasters (Forna 65). Adrian was drawn to the study of stress disorders which stemmed from a fascination of stories about shell-shocked soldiers and from hearing his mother talk about her experience in an air-raid shelter (Forna 64). From the reading, it can be inferred that some of Adrian’s discontent and with his profession was self inflicted by the feeling of his career being at a standstill, with no progress in sight. The reader learns that Adrian left his ‘failed’ profession in England to revamp his practice in Africa. This job was a way of avoiding his former life in England and his crumbling marriage.
Despite this move, Adrian still feels out of place and somewhat lost. But Agnes, a patient at a mental institution who switches from wandering unknowingly and being fully aware of her surroundings, is a character that makes him feel like he is fulfilling his purpose in Sierra Leone. Adrian’s dedication to his field and professional personality becomes apparent when Agnes enters his life. The story portrays him as patient and determined psychologist. He shows diligence in trying to diagnose this woman and goes to many lengths to piece together her story. Adrian diagnoses Agnes and attempts to help her by learning about her background. The work that he does at the mental institution makes him feel like he is making a difference. However, with time Adrian sees how ineffective he is there. The good intentions that he had so much of, have proven to be insufficient. His lack of cultural awareness/knowledge, his social isolation, and his Western views of psychology make his efforts useless. For example, the audience can interpret Adrian as misdiagnosing Agnes due to his lack of cultural awareness. This is clearly seen by his methods of practice. Adrian was trained in a very Westernized manner, with talking and addressing emotions as a way of therapy. The culture that he is currently practicing in, however, believes that silence is the best way to handle distress and psychological trauma. The disconnect between Adrian’s training and the beliefs in Sierra Leone create a barrier between Adrian and his goals of helping those in need of psychological care.
Adrian is hired to be Elias’s private psychologist, yet he becomes more of a human diary for Elias’s life reflections. Through his work with Elias he learns a lot about the culture and political issues that surround the country. He also pieces together that the woman he has an affair with (and falls in love with) is Elias’s daughter and Kai’s ex-love, only complicating relationships more (Forna 343). Adrian and Mamakay get pregnant, but unfortunately, Mamakay dies due to complications during childbirth. After this incident, Adrian moves back to England and ends up living a mediocre life.
Kai is a local Sierra Leone surgeon who works in the same hospital as Adrian. Under unusual circumstances the two become close friends. Kai is able to see a concerning side of Adrian’s presence in Sierra Leone especially when he thinks of Agnes being a “holy grail” or “trophy” for making it big in the psychological practice.
Kai suffers from his own psychological issues. He has treated the medical traumas of the civil war and this weighs its own form of PTSD. The unimaginable, unforgettable things that he saw prove to be mental blocks. For example, he saw victims of machete attacks and gun wounds and the broad effects these wounds had in the lives of the victims. He saw a lot of death too. In one instance, Kai shared the story of when he and a nurse were captured and tortured. The brutality of the torture contrasted with the innocence of the nurse made her death all the more traumatic for both the reader and Kai (Forna 429-434). These memories of war cause nightmares that take their toll on Kai’s mood and his physical well being. Eventually his lack of sleep and complete exhaustion disrupts his surgeon abilities, shown when he had to excuse himself from the middle of an important surgery to calm his shaking hands (Forna 242).
Kai is not a religious man despite his family’s practices. Whether this was due to his PTSD, his education or some other force the reader does not know, but it is clear that Kai is unhappy with his life in Sierra Leone. He reflects on how he stayed in the country while his best friend, Tejani, left to participate in the American Dream. Kai begins the process of applying to move to America and start a new life there. He also reflects on Nenebah, his love that got away, and the reader senses guilt in both of these relationship losses. He experiences dreams of time with Nenebah, often marked with lust and pleasantries. These memories come to him when he cannot sleep or at other unguarded moments. When he wakes up from dreaming of her, he compares it to amputees that had limbs removed but can still feel pain, not real pain but the memory of pain. Every day when he wakes up he experiences something similar, not love, but the ‘memory of love’ which is constantly on his mind (Forna 185).
In order to distract himself from the loneliness he faces, Kai keeps himself quite busy. He is always doing something. He’s either working, cooking, volunteering, or spending time with Adrian or his young cousin, Abass. Kai can think more clearly when he cooks and that’s why he likes to spend time in the kitchen. According to Kai, “keeping busy is the one way he knows to keep things under control” (Forna 92). Kai has a special relationship with Abass and their times together show a Kai’s gentle side. Abass brings joy and hope to Kai in ways his life otherwise lacks. Kai is given another sense of hope when he sees Nenebah, but is then stricken with heartbreak and pain as he sees the emotional connection between Adrian and Nenebah. He holds back and becomes distant from Adrian as he internalizes the pain he feels. Kai is in the hospital when Nenebah is rushed in and Kai, being the doctor, has to deliver her baby. Complications during labor result in Nenebah’s passing and Kai blames it on Adrian. Through the death of Nenebah, Kai and Adrian are able to heal the wounds of their friendship. Nenebah’s baby survives and is left in Sierra Leone with Kai as Adrian returns home to England.
Forna, A. (2011). The memory of love. London: Bloomsbury.
Aminatta Forna is the award-winning author of the novel, The Memory of Love. She was born in Bellshill, Scotland. Her father, Mohamed Forna, was from the village Rogbonko in Sierra Leone and her mother, Maureen Christison, was from Scotland. She spent time split between the two countries, due to her parent’s divorce. She has also lived in several countries, including Thailand, Iran, and Zambia, because her stepfather was a UN diplomat. This multiculturalism has become a crucial part of her identity and influenced her writing in many ways. She says “…when I’m talking of both cultures I use ‘we’ for both. I say ‘we British’ and ‘we Sierra Leoneans’ because I identify with both. I feel black in one place and white in another, which tells you a lot about human nature”. In an interview with BBC Africa she says, “my ideas for books really come from what I see… it isn’t books that inspire me, its life.” She certainly was influenced by her father’s death, as well as the civil war in his country. Her father, a doctor and the finance minister of Sierra Leone, was hung for treason while trying to bring democracy to his postcolonial country. Her background gives a keen look into the issues between Africa and the Western World which is reflected in her writing. She says “I was very much a tomboy and passed as a boy for a very long time…” which explains her somewhat masculine identity depicted in her works that often center around males.
Forna pursued a law degree from University College London and continued her education as a Fellow at the University of California Berkeley (Aminatta). However, she quickly discovered that she disliked law and began a career in journalism working with BBC for ten years. Her works include: The Devil that Danced on the Water, Ancestor Stones, The Memory of Love, The Hired Man, and The Angel of Mexico City. The Memory of Love is notable as the winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book and a finalist for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Ancestor Stones was the 2007 winner of the Hurston/Legacy Award for Debut Fiction. Her memoir describing the political demise of Africa, The Devil that Danced on the Water, was a finalist for the Samuel Johnson Prize. Aminatta’s books usually include themes of war, betrayal, memories, and how those effects unfold. However, she tends to end her novels with a glimmer of hope. Echoing her multicultural experiences, her writing reflects multiple cultures. In fact, her works have been translated into sixteen different languages worldwide.
Today, Forna continues to be a prominent member of society. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a member of the Folio Academy. In 2003, she established a charity to help with “…the education, sanitation, and maternal health” in Sierra Leone. In 2014, she was awarded the Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prize by Yale University. Forna is married to Simon Westcott, a British furniture designer. She splits her time between London and Sierra Leone, and holds the position of Lannan Visiting Chair of Poetics at Georgetown University as well as teaching creative writing at Bath Spa University. She is prolific on social media, particularly Twitter.
Aminatta Forna strongly dislikes labels. Being born to parents of different countries, cultures and languages, as well as spending her childhood traveling back and forth between Sierra Leone and Scotland, she never fit under a single label. She labels herself as both African and European, which makes her works difficult to classify. In The Memory of Love, she writes a fictional story, however it is set in Sierra Leone, and has connections to Britain just as her life did. Her background with both countries makes her novel much more powerful as the struggles and problems that come about in the book could occur in real life.
The Memory of Love is told from the perspective of two main characters, and bounces back and forth between the two from chapter to chapter. To make matters more interesting, there is about a thirty year difference between the two storylines. Elias Cole is an elderly man and a patient to Adrian during Adrian’s chapters, and is a younger man working as a professor during his own chapters. Having the entire story told from the perspective of two characters makes it interesting as well as we assume the narrators are telling the truth about the experiences they are having. In reality they could be lying and telling it as they want to see it, not as they truly do. This makes the narrators unreliable as the reader is unsure if what is narrated on is an accurate depiction of the other people’s thoughts/feelings. This is especially important when talking about the relationship between Saffia and Elias, as the reader only gets Elias’ thoughts on the relationship and not Saffia’s. This ultimately leaves the reader wondering how she truly feels. For example Cole says, “She had not told Julius of my visit, I felt certain. And that meant something. What possible reason could there be for her to keep the fact of it from him, but that she intended it to happen again” (70). These assumptions could be wrong and she might have told Julius (which we find out she does end up doing). As the story evolves, we begin to see connections between the two, and Forna does a great job of foreshadowing the consequences. For example, when Elias is young, one of his “friends”, Julius, suffers from asthma, and Elias allows Julius’ sickness to kill him, so he can take Saffia as his own. Later in another chapter, we learn Elias is suffering from a lung condition as an elderly man. The style in which this book is written is unique in the sense that the reader needs to be actively engaged in the book in order to see how the stories coincide and the foreshadowing of certain moments that will later affect the story.
The Memory of Love is a dualistic novel that primarily focuses on the life of Elias Cole. One half of the novel focuses on Elias’ love triangle between Julius, Saffia, and himself. The other half of the novel focuses on Adrian, a psychologist, and his friend, Kai, a surgeon. The novel is destined to intertwine the two halves of the story together, but for now this provides a preface to begin with the summary of The Memory of Love.
Chapter 1 begins with the illustration of Adrian sitting at the edge of Elias’ bed, listening to some sort of story. The story begins with someone who he’s fallen in love with based off of their whistling. Babagaleh, his servant, brings the whistler to Elias so he can see this woman who has swept him off his feet. Coincidentally, the ‘woman’ was indeed a man; specifically a builder. From there, Elias goes into deep description of Babagaleh. The story continues on with Elias Cole’s narration of his recollection at the faculty wives’ dinner. He continued to dawn upon the recollection between some man, Julius, and some woman, Saffia. They would both quickly become his main focus, regardless of the fact that at the time he has a girlfriend.
The story then transitions into the life of Adrian. The focus of Adrian begins with a somewhat awkward conversation between Adrian and one of his patients, then there is a ‘crazy woman’ who approaches him in the street and he seems a bit flustered because of it, and finally there’s a scene where Adrian receives a letter from Elias Cole. From here, Adrian is quickly woken up from the screaming of a woman giving birth. This is where Adrian’s friend, Kai, comes into the novel. They quickly got along and shared a large part of their lives with one another.
The dilemma between Elias, Julius, and Saffia quickly gains some ground. Elias just shows up to their house without Julius home and welcomes himself in. Shortly after, Julius and his friends, Kekura and Ada, come back home. They all partook in conversation, some casual drinking, and dancing as a result of the drinking. After this eventful night, Julius, Saffia, Elias, and Vanessa all went for dinner and drinks together. Throughout this scene it became quite obvious why Elias was there, stating “Saffia watched the blind man and I watched her” (42). This clearly portrays Elias’ obsession with Saffia regardless of the situation. In addition to that, Elias asked Saffia to dance with him as Vanessa and Julius watched them.
Transitioning back to Adrian and Kai, Chapter 5 begins by describing Adrian’s brief lack of success in the workplace on this apparent day. From there, Kai welcomes himself over to Adrian’s house as they have drinks and hangout with one another for the night. As the author Aminatta Forna states, “So a new friendship is formed” (51). After this welcoming night, there is a brief scene where Adrian is doing some therapy with Elias, asking him what a kite means to him. Elias goes off thinking about his hatred towards his brother as a child. The narration of the story converses back towards Elias’ thoughts and experiences with Julius, then to Elias’ thoughts on Saffia, specifying the moment when Saffia captured a picture of Elias. Elias wanted to be loved like Saffia loved Julius. In fact, he slept with a stranger after breaking up with Vanessa to fill this lonesome void he feels. Chapter 6 hints at the little bit of delusion Elias has towards life. In this specific instance, his delusion towards his writing capabilities. His writing had been denied publication. Around this same time in the novel, Adrian is spending quite some time thinking about his memories with his mother and father, his move from England to Africa , and ultimately how his wife, Lisa, was taking this all in.
Chapter 8 begins with another scene between Adrian and Elias. They have decided to meet once a week now. At the university class is out and on break. Elias meets with the Dean to discuss his paper and how he can switch things up. Later that night Elias goes to Banville Jones’ party. While he’s there he sees Saffia, Ade, and Kekura, but no sight of Julius. Saffia gives Elias a ride home from the party. They were stopped by a soldier then continued on. Saffia randomly stopped the car in an awkward manner and had Elias walk home from there. Forna describes Elias’ emotions as such, “I stood and watched the tail lights of the car shimmer on the wet road, grow small and disappear. I had a sense of having somehow mis-stepped” (77). Forna relays back to a scene at the mental hospital where Adrian beings his journey there. Adrian met with Ileana, Attila, and Salia. He was introduced to many different patients who needed help. In specific, Adrian had met Agnes on this day. From there, the novel goes on to expand on Kai’s line of work as a surgeon in the theater where he performs surgeries on those who need amputation because of the war.
There was another encounter between Adrian and Elias at their meetings, hinting at a picture of Elias. But that picture was from 30 years ago. Elias then goes back in time to his encounters with Saffia. He expands on the tension between the two of them after the party scene back a few weeks ago when she randomly dropped him off to the side of the ride to walk home. Julius comes storming into Elias’ office, not to yell at him but to rather smother it in his face that he knows he’s pursuing his wife. Julius implies this in only a way that Julius can, he just hands him the picture of Elias that Saffia had taken some time ago. Elias has begun to build up some hatred for Julius. There is then a scene between Adrian and Kai where the two of them are at the bar after work. There is a girl pursuing the two of them but they seem to ignore her. Rather they are in deep dialogue discussing Adrian and his wife Lisa, and then they discuss Kai and his ambitions with his friend Tejani, who is now pursuing his dreams in America while Kai is “stuck in Africa.” They are both in Africa.
Elias describes the beginning scene of chapter 13, as he and Julius went out for drinks and to the casino for the evening. One of the very few occasions they are together alone outside of the professional setting. The story line then shifts over from Elias, back to Adrian and the mental hospital. Here the reader again gets a glimpse of Adrian’s commitment to his patient Agnes as he again attempts to work with her. Through a conversation with a local, Adrian here’s that Agnes is believed to be “crossed” for the first time. Adrian briefly mentions Fugue as a possible diagnosis and describes it as a condition in which the body and the disturbed spirit are joined together. Kia, has just received a letter from his brother, Tejani. In the letter, Tejani extends an offer to Kia to come live and work with him, and Kia is considering jumping at the opportunity. The reader gets a glimpse of Adrian’s relationship with his wife as they read of phone conversation he has with her. The conversation is very minimal, business only, as Arian simply needs her to send over literature from his library back home. Through this interaction, Forna makes the tension between the two, and within their relationship extremely evident.
This leads to another chapter revolving around Elias. As Elias enters Julius’ house to deliver the chairs for the party, he hears a moan come from Saffia from the other room and instantly retreats through the front door. The reader then sees how strongly Elias struggles to get that experience out of his head. Adrian then finally receives good news that Agnes has come to and is “back in the real world” (137) to begin chapter 18. Agnes is overall coherent and responsive, however, she cannot remember why she is at the mental hospital, or how she got there. Forna then leads the reader back into a flashback of the moon landing party, as she gives a bit of insight to Elias’ character. As Elias is leaving the party, he sees his “date” with another man. Elias is intoxicated, and is infuriated by this, and proceeds to get in the man’s face. Elias then admits that he does not remember if a physical altercation ensued, or how he got home. He did however make it home safely, and the next morning, Saffia is at his house telling him that Julius has been arrested, and that is how the chapter abruptly ends. The reader then finds themselves learning that Elias has also been arrested in chapter 22. He has been taken in by the police for questioning, and has not the slightest idea why he is there.
On their way back to town from a nice day trip with Kia and Abass, Adrian sees a familiar face. He sees Agnes at the local market. He follows her and her daughter back to their house. Agnus eventually comes to the door, unfortunately for Adrian, however, she claims, “I am better now. The problems are gone” (204). Then she thanks him and walks away. Adrian then goes to leave, it is now dark, and on his way he gets knocked in the back of the head and kicked in the back. He falls to the ground, attempts to get up, crawls around on all four, and passes out. The book then switches the focus back to Elias, and the fact that he has been arrested. The chapter involves more interrogation by the man who arrested him, this time he brings up Ellias’ journal publication, Elias gives him an overview of the article, yet Johnson is not satisfied and sends him back to the holding room. The next day the Dean is there to speak to Elias, he says “Really, it’s a matter of coming to some arrangement with these people. No more than that” (213).
Finally, Forna pans back to Adrian, Kai, and Abass. Kai is searching for Abass and Kai, he finds Abass at a corner vender, but Adrian is nowhere to be found. They begin walking, yelling his name down every street. Kai hears Abass’ cry, and Adrian is lying before him limp on the ground. He comes to, and they arrive home safely, however, all Adrian seems to be concerned with is Agnes. He shows very little concern with the fact that he was just attacked, he feels the strong urge to return to the city no matter what the cost to continue working with her because “she is ill, and it’s his job” (219).
This chapter starts with Elias being released from Jail. Elias tried his best to transition back into his daily routine after his two restless nights in jail. He returned to work only to go back to his office and find his typewriter missing. He then found it in the Dean’s office. The Dean seems to know something and is withholding information from Elias Cole. As Elias leaves the Dean’s office the Dean seems to send out a passive aggressive threat to Elias. The text says, “[h]e was standing reading a document. He looked up fleetingly. ‘Be careful of the company you keep, Cole’” (223). The Dean is alluding to something, but is not telling Elias what he knows. Elias is out of custody, but Julius continues to be held in custody. Saffia is worried about Julius’ well being. Elias and Saffia talk about how to get Julius out over coffee. She explained her concerns and didn’t want Elias to upset Johnson anymore, for fear that Julius could be put into further danger.
In chapter 27 opens with Adrian and Ileana talking. Ileana tells a story about a patient that was under her supervision at the hospital. The next day when Ileana went in to work the patient was gone. She later found out that patient was moved to higher security, because she was being held for political reasons. “I’d been set up. She was a political detainee. From us she was transferred to a high-security psychiatric hospital, where she was diagnosed paranoiac” (229). The continue to another bar. Where Adrian becomes intrigued by a band member that is playing at the bar. After the show he meets her. Her name is Mamakay. He continues to think about her and sees her the next couple days.
Chapter 28 starts with Kai descriptively about his love-making with Nenebah. Kai and Nenebah’s love is a very sexualized love that is physically motivated.
Chapter 29 opens with Elias talking about dreaming of Julius. Elias and Saffia arrived at where Julius was being held and were hoping to pick him up and leave with him. “We waited on the third floor where the desk clerk refused to accept the valise, which served to graft another layer upon our thin hopes. So we sat, staring at the grey scuffed walls” (246). We later find out by the end of the chapter that Julius has died. Apparently of an asthma attack. His medication had been taken away from, which induced an asthma attack. “Julius died of an asthma attack. This is the sum of what we were told. By the time he was discovered it was too late; nothing could be done to save him” (249).
This chapter opens up about Adrian and Mamakay being together and getting to know each other. He talks about everything he knows about her and enjoys spending everyday with her. “She walks swiftly, picking her way along the uneven pavement. He will see her the next morning, maybe, when he delivers water. This small hope is enough to carry him through the afternoon” (254).
We come to find out in chapter 31 the Kai and Nenebah two years later have split up. He claims that she is envious of him and he thought she had quit and not given herself enough of a chance. “Nenebah left soon after. Life on the campus became untenable for her, so she said. Kai thought she’d given in to easily” (261). Kai then goes to see Foday in his ward. Foday and Kai catch up, and Foday tells Kai about his new girlfriend. Her name is Zainab. He asks Kai for advice on whether he thinks it is a good idea for him to go meet Zainab’s family. Foday goes on to ask Kai to stand in and come meet Zainab’s family as his elder brother.
Chapter 32 begins in Elias Cole’s room. Doctors are discussing Cole’s need for an oxygen concentrator, but Adrian has noted that he’s asked Mrs. Mara for one three times with no luck. Elias is getting worse, his body is thinner and “his face worn almost to the bone” (265). The scene changes and Cole continues telling Adrian about his past. At this point, Saffia is almost eligible for remarriage after Julius died. Elias talks about watching Saffia kick into survival mode, while he similarly thrusts his energy into his research paper for the Native Affairs Department. At the end of the chapter, Elias proposes to Saffia, and she accepts. To him, it seemed as if his tirely pursuit and manipulation was beginning to pay off.
In the next chapter, Adrian is on his way to the mental hospital and winds up in front of the pink house. Later, at work, Ileana and Adrian talk about Mamakay. Illeana warns Adrian to be careful with how close he gets to her. One of Adrian’s patients, Abdulai, is released from the hospital. Later on, Adrian meets up with Mamakay, noting the physical details of her appearance. Clearly, she is beginning to consume Adrian’s thoughts. Several hours later, Adrian and Mamakay are spending time together in her apartment, drinking wine. The night continues on, and Adrian sleeps with her overnight. The end of the chapter ends with a bit of a surprise; Mamakay is Elias Cole’s daughter.
Chapter 34 goes back to Abass and Kai. Tejani and Kai talk on the phone for a while about Kai’s future plans and what’s happening in America. After that, Kai helps Abass with his science homework. Kai notices the way that Abass craves love, and how he has stepped in to fill that role for his mom. There is a flashback, next, to Kai and Nenebah making love. The chapter ends with Tejani announcement of his departure.
In the next chapter, the reader is taken back to Elias and Saffia. Elias mentions that the way he is dying is very similar to Julius’, and that bothers him. Elias continues to be obsessed with Saffia, but that love is not reciprocated. She’s withdrawn, and cares for him more as a friend than as a husband. Cole is jealous of Julius, even after his death, and jealous of Saffia for keeping her secrets inside her mind. Next, Elias notices that Saffia has been continually leaving the house to go somewhere. He follows her one time and realizes she is going to the house where she used to live with Julius. At the end of the chapter, Elias narrates that in 1972, their daughter was born. He loved her passionately. The story zooms back to Elias and Adrian, and Adrian realizes that this little girl was Mamakay.
In Chapter 36, Adrian and Mamakay are at a bar called Pedro’s. Adrian has an unpleasant encounter with at the bar. Adrian is falling more in love with Mamakay by the minute. He says, “he wants to share her world” (297). Later on that evening, Adrian asks if Mamakay has ever seriously loved someone else before. She wanders around the question, but then finally answers that she had, just once. Adrian asks if she would have married him. She responses yes, without hesitation. Adrian is hurt, despite the fact that he is a married man, and Mamakay says nothing more at all.
Chapter 37 begins with Kia returning to the city where they had first seen Agnes. He runs into a colleague, so introduces him to his wife. A while later Kia is at a house and being told story after story about Agnes life. Forna then gives the reader a glimpse of what Kia has learned. She vividly describes the scene that is the root of Agnes trauma. She was at the market, with her friend Binta a few feet away, when a man came speaking through a megaphone telling everyone to sit down. It was then that Agnes has to watch her husband brutally murdered in front of the whole market, and he wasn’t the last. It was the day after his death that Agnes disappeared for the first time, and all the issues began. She survives through Red Cross tents that are set up to help, and eventually Naasu is able to send her a message through one of them. They are reunited, and Naasu informs her mother that she is pregnant, and invited her over to meet her husband. This is how Agnes learns that the father of her grandchild, the husband of her daughter, her son-in-law, is the man who killed her husband. Chapter 38 is awkward, yet intriguing, it is a paragraph long, and only consist of a scene where Adrian walks up to Elias Cole’s door, see’s a sign asking for no visitors, and walks away hesitantly.
Next, the reader reads of a quick scene of Adrian working with, or consulting, another patient, talking him through his dream. He then goes and speak to Attila about the diagnosis he is hoping to give, and believing is correct. Attila listens, responds, and then asks Adrian if he’d be willing to take a drive with him. Adrian agrees. Little did he know, he was agreeing to a wake up call. Attila bluntly calls Adrian out for coming into this country simply thinking he had the ability to fix everything, and that he was going to be the one to come and save the day. As this is not the case. Adrian does not understand this country or it’s culture, and that is what Attila, and Forna are getting at through this conversation. He says to him after Adrian expresses he is trying to help things return to normal, “Whose, normality? Yours? Mine? So they can put on a suit and sit in an air-conditioned office? You think that will ever happen?” (Forna, 319) Chapter 39 ends with Adrian getting a little bit of a continued glimpse into Mamakay’s history. Chapter 40 begins with Kia having a nightmare, a dream of someone chasing him, while he is in the break room. Kia then contemplates the current issues in his life. Whether or not he wants to leave and go work with his brother, and his recent experience and increased knowledge regarding Agnes. Neither of which has he mentioned to Kia yet. He imagines the conversation with Adrian, and thinks back to what he has told him about Agnes. He realizes that currently Adrian thinks Agnes is running to something, however, he believes she is fleeing from something.
Chapter 41 shifts back to Elias Cole, as he is in dire need of an oxygen machines, yet none are available. He knows he is about to die. The reader then drifts back into a flashback of Elias’. He is reminiscing on the time he was promoted to Dean at the university, and his marriage with Saffia. He then describes a scene of a car crash, Saffia was on her way to deliver flowers, and as she was making way for another vehicle, lost control and rolled 30 feet down a hill. Elias then begins to ramble and make little sense, however by the end of the chapter it is spelled out for the reader. Elias was having an affair, and had been since year four of their marriage. He was at his mistress house at the time of the accident, and it is there that Babagaleh delivered the news to him. He was at Vanessa’s house. Vanessa was his mistress.
Chapter forty-two begins by showing the relationship between Mamakay and Adrian and further progresses by giving us insight into the relationship between Mamakay and Elias Cole. Adrian has decided to speak to her about seeing her father. Adrian and Mamakay are at the Ocean Club where she plays her clarinet. Adrian realizes he is in love with Mamakay and understands the complicated relationship he has started. Adrian then encourages Mamakay to see her father. For the first time Mamakay gives us an outsider’s view towards Elias’s past and motives in saying “you don’t understand about my father” (333). In this way she addresses not only the ignorance Adrian has from Cole’s bias, but also the reader’s because we have been forced to understand only Cole’s recollection of the past. As an example she explains the distant relationship between Saffia and Cole using Kekura’s visit. She says “around my father…[Saffia] was…much more reserved” (334). There is also a small hint of Adrian’s ignorance towards who Mamakay really is when she asks for a cigarette and he admits to himself that he didn’t know she smokes. Mamakay continues to reveal “the point is…she told me not to tell my father…she didn’t trust him” (335). Mamakay explains that Elias is sneaky and often untrustworthy, so that Adrian must question all the information he has received from Cole. Mamakay also shares another significant story. She explains that the university students, including herself, signed a petition to force the Vice Chancellor’s resignation. Cole used information from Mamakay to betray and arrest her friends. She exposes a more ruthless, ambitious, and power-hungry side of Cole that he seldom presents.
Chapter 43 follows Kai and his experiences at the operating theatre. We see the common theme of cultural ignorance as a Swedish doctor incorrectly associates an injury with a suicide attempt. Kai says “survival was simply too hard-won to be given up lightly. Perhaps the Swedish doctor imagines himself trying to end it all if he lived here” (341). Kai also imagines his future with Tejani and compares his current situation to a more Western hospital. Kai seems reluctant to voice his plans to Mrs. Mara even though it is essential to his departure. On his way to Adrian’s apartment Kai addresses the incredible differences between the United States and Sierra Leone and how Westerners can be ignorant to the issues of other countries. Finally, Forna reveals that Mamakay is really Nenebah at the same time Kai recognizes her affair with Adrian. This happens when Kai sees Nenebah and Adrian leaving Adrian’s apartment together.
Chapter 44 bounces back to Adrian at the mental ward. Adrian attends the morning meeting and prepares for group therapy. Adrian reflects on the confrontation between Adrian, Mamakay/Nenebah and Kai. Again we see him recognizing how little he knows about Mamakay when he says “he’d thought he knew so much about her. It turned out he didn’t even know her name” (345). In this way Mamakay represents Sierra Leone and Arian represents outsiders’ lack of understanding. Adrian briefly returns to the present group therapy and then again to Mamakay and Kai. Adrian diagnoses Elias Cole as a purist pathological liar. He visits Cole and sees that he has received the oxygen concentrator. Adrian decides to confront Cole with his decisions. He revealed his discussions to Mamakay who confirmed that Cole had a tendency to betray friends. She explains that history is being written by the wrong people as the survivors are not the noble ones. Mamakay states that it is the ones that kept quiet that made it. Adrian realizes that it was those that were silent and survived did so by lying: lying by omission. At the end of this chapter Mamakay nonchalantly reveals another secret: she is pregnant with Adrian’s child
Chapter 45 begins with Foday’s surgery. Kai has told Mrs. Mara of his plans, but not Seligmann. Later, Kai returns to his old home. He takes inventory of the dismal place. Kai pains at the memory of Nenebah with Adrian. He goes to his cousin’s house to discover that Abass is in big trouble. Abass swore at his mother without understanding the meaning. He had locked himself in his room. Abass is upset by Kai’s plans to leave for America. Kai realizes the boy’s innocence that he does not understand loss or death.
Chapter 46 shows a meeting between Adrian and Ileana. He confides in her about Mamakay’s pregnancy. He reviews Agnes’s file and goes to visit Cole. Cole has had a bad night so he leaves. Adrian spots Kai, but he avoids him. Later he calls Lisa. He realizes the large cultural differences, and he does not miss his home. After, he calls his mother and encourages her to visit. Finally Adrian contemplates the meaning of love from a scientific view and realizes his strong feelings for Mamakay.
To begin the chapter, we find Kai in the United States Embassy pursuing the first steps to get a green card to move to the United States. Afterwards, he decides to visit his friend Mary again, and later he recounts dragging dead corpses out of the streets during the end of the war. The chapter closes with Foday discussing the Terra Cotta warriors with Kai and asking if he needs to return the radio, Kai denies as he took it from Adrian’s apartment, and has no interest in returning it.
Next, we return to Adrian as he tries to cure a child soldier of his trauma and to break him of his emotional triggers. We then find him listening to Elias confess about how he handed over the evidence which eventually led to Julius’ death, and he now feels he is suffering for his choice. Finally, we end with an intimate scene between Nenebah and Adrian, in which she rejects his offer to return home with him as she wishes to raise their child in Sierra Leone.
We again return to Kai and learn that while he is at the Library he runs into Nenebah and plans to talk to her, until he notices she is reading pregnancy books and is holding her belly. At this he is sick and returns to the hospital, where he finds Foday’s foot has become infected and needs emergency surgery to save his life.
Adrian returns home to his mother and finds solace in being there. He stays for a few days and helps her build a new deck and a few other household chores as they discuss his time in Africa, his father’s struggles with a disease, and the future about what he is going to do.
We end with Kai sitting in a doctor’s office reading through letters from Tejani while waiting his turn to receive his medical to complete the green card application process. He received his medical, and the chapter closes while he waits at the Embassy for his case worker.
Chapter 52 begins with a narration of Adrian’s thoughts. He is back in Sierra Leone with Mamakay now; he adores her. Adrian has grown in his interest to draw different pictures. He not only draws pictures of Mamakay, but he finds great delight in drawing pictures of bats so the two of them go on an adventure to a cave and see a bunch of bats. Shortly after, Forna brings us to the day where Adrian meets with Elias once again. Elias was well aware of Adrian’s relationship with Mamakay and made that known immediately. After the awkward interaction with that, Elias went into great detail of his day being held captive under Johnson, presuming it as if he truly is innocent.
After Elias’ meeting with Adrian, Adrian left to go home and saw Mamakay on the couch in serious pain. They rushed to the hospital where Seligmann and Kai operated on her, but it was too late, she died. Kai and Adrian got together shortly after and wrestled with some internal emotions with one another; Kai was furious at Adrian and questioned why he ever came to Sierra Leone. It was a bad remedy.
Adrian proves his point of why he came to Sierra Leone, which was to help people, and he tries to help Kai and his nightmares. Adrian performs some psychology on him and talks about the bridge and why Kai is afraid of it, which is where Kai goes into a flashback. The story begins back when Africa was in major conflict and war was everywhere. Kai and a fellow nurse, Balia, were running around the hospital helping whoever looked like they had the potential to actually live. While helping others, Kai and Balia were taken captive and forced into doing some awful things. They ended up leaving this facility and were taken onto the bridge where they were going to get shot and killed. Kai grabs Balia and they both fall off the bridge into the water. Balia is shot and Kai is alive.
Transitioning from the epic flashback on Kai’s life, chapter 56 skips ahead two years in time. Two years later, Elias Cole is dead, Adrian is back home in Britain with Lisa, Kai has stayed in Sierra Leone where he has overcome his fears, and Tejani is coming back home. In the end, all this ever was is a memory of love.
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