Redecoration and oxygen supplies

For much of this class, we have discussed many of the erroneous assumptions and ignorant perspectives held by white Westerners in regards to what they think of every-day life in Africa. This thought really jumped out at me over the course of a couple pages roughly one third of the way through the novel. Specifically, it was the juxtaposition of two scenes that highlighted the discrepancies between the two societies and very different realities that the two races live in.

The section I am referring to is on pages 126 and 127. The first half depicts Adrian engaging in a fairly routine interaction with his family, his wife Lisa and daughter Kate. His topics of conversation on the phone include a reminder to shuttle Kate to her orthodontist appointment for the purpose of fixing a chipped tooth, as well as discussing a possible redecorating they may look at. The disengaged, monotonous tone used throughout indicates the boredom Adrian has with his life, his disregard for suspicious circumstances, but also in a way an ignorance with real-life problems that are revealed in the other half of this section on page 127. Adrian’s thought process follows trivial aspects of their conversation, such as when his wife gives an answer as to what she did the other night with, “Dinner the night before with some friends of theirs, some of whom had asked after him, had asked what he was doing.” Adrian’s mental response is that, “The way she reports this makes it clear she was unable to come up with a satisfactory answer,” (126). He also concerns himself with ordering certain texts from his bookshelves to be brought down. Obviously, these topics carry little substance or meaning, and the section itself seems a little randomly placed in the middle of the novel in Adrian’s narrative section. I feel that the main reason it’s here is to provide backdrop and a contrast for the following setting on page 127.

Adrian then begins conversations with Kai in the section following his memories from back home, describing the dire situations of a man in need of oxygen when there is none to be found. He makes comments such as, “In another country they would be looking for a lung donor. Impossible here, it goes without saying,” (127). He even notes that even if he himself found oxygen somewhere for Elias Cole, Elias would not rank high enough on the hierarchy of the meek to merit any. The drastic juxtaposition of this hospital scene with Adrian’s family memories give a stark perspective as to why white Westerners are often criticized so much. I really think Forna meant this as a criticism of the Western world, who often concern themselves with trivial issues that demonstrate their luxury, such as orthodontia, books and redecoration, as opposed to oxygen stocks, hospital conditions and the survival of patients. I don’t think that she really criticizes Adrian specifically and wishes to cast him in a negative light, simply inspire a self-reflection on the part of Westerners. I come away from this scene feeling pity toward Adrian more than anything. Feel free to discuss what your feelings for Adrian were after this, as this was what I was most conflicted about originally.


Posted on October 17, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I think this theme you speak of really becomes more complex as we get further into the book, especially when we are finally able to understand Agnes’ story through the fragments told by the people of the town. It becomes not just a comparison of Westerners versus Africans but of entrapment versus freedom. As some of the closely-held secrets of the violent past of the country are revealed, the hypocrisy of the Westerners, is revealed. While the Sierra Leoneans deal with the physical and mental trauma of being trapped in a nation that was “devouring itself (342,), the Westerners fulfill their own purposes of feeling fulfilled, yet are ultimately free to return to their lives when it all becomes too much. I would really like to explore this concept more, perhaps in next week’s blog, to analyze how this theme is produced not only in the visuals, language, and juxtaposition, but in the various ways each of the characters are trapped. I think it’s very interesting to see the relationship of Kai and Adrian, because by way of the status quo it is Kai, the African, who should be trapped and Adrian, the European, it is free. However, the more time Adrian spends in Sierra Leone, the more he is attached, whether that be by his work or by his relationship with Nenebah. Meanwhile, Kai is finally struggling to break free and follow his dreams of going to America. I think it’s interesting that Forna inverts this relationship in a really poignant way.

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