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.