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.

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Posted on October 23, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. While I do agree that many if not most of the actions Elias took and/or chose not to take were overtly detestable, I think Forna did a very interesting juxtaposition between Julius and Elias. Yes, Elias’s silence helped to bring down the wrath of corrupt politicians and end the lives of some seemingly respectable people, but what’s a major difference between Elias and Julius? Elias lived. I’m not condoning the approach Elias took with most of his relationships, but I think his character represented something unique. He was for all intensive purposes, not a very important person in society, but he managed to keep the ones he loved ( his daughter) safe, even at the expense of other people. Elias’s first major encounter with the dean after his release was a conversation in which the dean denounced student aggression against its government, for fear the university would lose control. Years later, when Elias becomes the dean, he allows the authorities to “handle” the student situation. But he still managed to keep his daughter safe, which is what major politicians did with their own beloved.
    As far as telling stories, I do agree that the release of painful information and memories can be therapeutic. However, I think that one aspect of silence that was overlooked in Memory of Love is the strength with which one holds on to such pain. I think that while Forna considers silence to be complicit in violence, she doesn’t acknowledge the courage it takes to live with unthinkable memories and still be able to function, if even barely. As debilitating as the numerous PTSD ailments were, no mentally able person in the book seems like they would have been strong enough to bare the hardships through which the “sick” had endured. Silence is not a clandestine enemy, but a way of survival as well.

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