The Implications of Silence
Aminatta Forna’s novel Memory of Love explicitly considers the implications of silence through the actions of many characters. On Tuesday, we also were given a quote of hers from 2006, four years before she wrote Memory of Love. In response to a diplomat who said he kept quiet rather than spoke up and criticized the government, she “said I was sorry that an entire generation did the same thing. I don’t think people have recognised (sic) this yet, but that form of silence is as complicit as any action.
Elias Cole, one of our protagonists and certainly the most deplorable character I’ve encountered in a long time, uses silence for personal gain. He never speaks out against the government, or the university administration, and ends up turning in his friends. But the ultimate moment where his silence can be thought of as complicit is when he hears Julius having an asthma attack in his cell and does not call any attention to him. I see this as one of Forna’s more direct appeals to the reader about the dangers of silence and the fact that remaining silent does not make someone an innocent bystander.
Memory of Love moreso than the other novels we’ve read has concerned itself with the political details of the country it’s set in. It has been an incredibly illuminating experience at times, and at other times baffling, because, as Forna points out, the civil war which began as a ‘haves’ versus ‘have-nots’ dissolved into “a mindless rage of those who had nothing against others in exactly the same situation.” This can be hard to swallow, but Memory of Love shows us the importance of telling uncomfortable stories. Professor Green-Simms pointed out that one of the themes throughout the novel is the importance of not being able to forget the events that transpired during the war. Characters like Kai are plagued by wartime events, and literally carry painful memories with them as a burden. But in the larger picture, the I see the importance of sharing stories like the characters in Memory of Love is to hopefully understand where Sierra Leone lost its way, as Forna puts it, and hopefully prevent future conflicts.