Often times, the most painful damages of war occur in the decades that follow the conflict. In Scottish-Sierra Leonean author Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love, the wounds of warfare are ever-present in the people of the capital Freetown. Inevitably, one of the main themes of the story is suffering, but Forna shows that the ways in which people suffer in the story the typical African trope of harm by bullets and bombs. Many of the town’s citizens suffer from not only physical wounds but also from post-traumatic stress disorder. And with the concept of healing and saving, The Memory of Love shows the complexities of what it takes to save an ailing person. Forna manifests these concepts in the contrast between the characters of Adrian and Kai.
Adrian is a psychologist hailing from Britain, acting as the mental healer of the story. And while most medical treatments in Africa at the time were concentrated on healing physical illnesses, Adrian focused on illnesses of the mind. Kai, on the other hand, acts as the physical healer of the story. The fact is that he takes care of people’s immediate problems, i.e. severed limbs and stillbirths, however gruesome they are. As an African surgeon, Kai represents the ugly truth of war, doubting Adrian’s ability to help people.
Adrian’s character, more reserved than Kai, also seems to manifest the internalization of suffering. His repression of secrets like his failing marriage mirrors his patients’ repression of painful experiences. Kai’s outgoingness mirrors the manifestation of his patients’ obvious, external pain. Moreover, these two healers clash in their ideas of saving people, and at one point Kai feels that Adrian’s psychology work is useless because the people of Freetown are so disillusioned by war. And Adrian later realizes this: “People here don’t need therapy so much as hope.” (320) The difference between the two doctors seems to show Forna’s spin on the “white savior in Africa” and the real concept of suffering. In all, albeit a pessimistic perspective, Adrian and Kai show that sometimes healers can’t truly heal the sick, no matter if they come from the outside or within their own country.