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.