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Adrian and Langston

Now that we are deeper into the novel, we are beginning to get more insight into each of the main characters. As Adrian’s character develops we start to see a more confident side of him emerge. When we were first introduced to Adrian he seemed quite average, nothing special, perhaps even boring at times. But as the novel progresses and Adrian becomes more comfortable in Sierra Leone, I think we begin to see a man with much more substance. Furthermore, I believe that his change in character was due in part to Mamakay.

Now bear with me as I try to draw parallels between Adrian in The Memory of Love and Langston from All Our Names. 🙂 In All Our Names we watch Langston go from living in Issac’s shadow to living in America on his own. Additionally, as I noted earlier, in The Memory of Love Adrian makes a transition from a timid psychologist to a brave and passionate lover. So, the first parallel can be seen in that both Langston and Adrian develop into more assertive and complex characters as the novel progresses. Yet another parallel emerges between the two characters when one notes the women they had relationships with. Both Adrian and Langston seek out nurturing yet passionate relationships despite knowing that there is little change for a future. Langston and Helen come from two different worlds and only have an allotted amount of time together while Adrian is married and will likely return to Britain soon. However, both men still allow these relationships to persist, which also illustrates their maturation and evolution as characters in the novels. I hope these two parallels helped you to see the same correlation that I see between Adrian and Langston, as I struggled to put into words the parallel that I saw.

Anyone have any thoughts on an additional parallel we might draw?

Unsettled distinction.

“’And then we ran back here so we wouldn’t have to look at what we had done.’
His right foot was buried past his ankle. I understood now why he was doing that.
‘How deep is this hole?’ he asked me.
‘Not very deep,’ I said.
He pulled his foot out of the ground and shook the dirt from his shoes.
‘Good,’ he said. ‘It’s already more than they deserve.’” (234)
This passage is striking when one considers that these bodies are the dead of ‘their’ side, not the enemy – and that their fellow soldiers could not rest unless they buried them in their own village. The relationship that Isaac has to these bodies reflects self-hatred and search for distancing from the evil that war brings. Was he not, earlier that day, ‘with’ these men buried now beneath him? By scorning his troop’s actions he scorns himself, indirectly. The image of shaking dirt from his shoes reflects Isaac’s efforts to rid himself of the weight and ownership – metaphorical ‘dirt’ – that rests on his murderous consciousness. So quickly does he shift from being a part of a ‘we’ to placing them apart as ‘they.’ For in reality, he is still alive to make such a distinction. Does his hatred come from ‘their’ failure to make it through the violence? Does he see himself as better for surviving? Or does his expressed distaste shield a weakness and insecurity for what the next day… evening… or hour will bring? The end of the above passage is the final line in the chapter, resting within the reader’s brain. Isaac’s words do not sit well, not for you, me, him and presumably, the narrator. Both Isaac and the narrator lie on both sides of that grave; one who saw the events previous to their death, the other who was forced to face the bodies after death. Even if the action of the fighting remains at a distance from the narrator, one can sense the violence coming closer towards the forefront. What will be next?

“Single-page story”

All Our Names is a novel that traces identity. While it obviously traces the identity of names, such as stated in the title, the novel also highlights a topic particular to this course, the danger of a single story.

First of all, the story is told from two perspectives, regarding one character, Isaac. While both Helen’s story and Langston’s story is told blended into the story telling of present and past Isaac respectively. Both Helen and Langston share the extent of their history, telling about their family and often sharing anecdotes, while Isaac rarely opens up. When Helen finally reads Isaac’s file, there was only a single piece of paper with his basic information: name, birth date and why he was in the United States. She claimed, “In comparison, Isaac’s single-page life story had seemed like a blessing when I first saw it” (98). Similar to the fatal single story referenced at the end of Things Fall Apart, Helen goes on to describe Isaac’s file, “The only solid fact was his name, Isaac Mabira, but even that was no longer substantial: any name could have filled that slot, and nothing would’ve changed” (98).

Helen knows that there is so much more life to Isaac then that is presented in the file. But just as many of those represented from Africa are today, their stories lack individuality and identity when presented in the western world. Most of the western world’s perspective is that all of Africa is war-torn, violent and poor. Chimamanda Adichie highlights these issues in her TEDtalk “The Danger of a Single Story” and the website, Africa Is a Country, published an article about “Telling ‘the African story’” ( can be found here: http://africasacountry.com/the-responsibility-of-journalists/).This theme is essential to understanding this course and African literature as a whole. While every story may be different, and more complicated than others, everyone has a past and a story to be told.

All Our Names- Identity Lost

One of the major themes that stood out to me in this novel is the theme of “lost identity.” This theme is important because not only does it apply to the novel, but also used by the author to critique modern society. It applies to the novel because the main character Isaac suffers from a lost identity. He mentions in the book that

I had 13 names. Each name was from a different generation, beginning with my father and going back from him.”

In this quote Isaac is already alluding to the fact that he suffers from a lost identity because his names are just a reflection of his family not him. There is also a more explicit case in the novel when he goes to the diner with Helen, and he is served with paper plates and plastic utensils. The diner attempts to strip his identity as a person by treating Isaac like a 3rd class citizen.

On a larger scale I think the author uses this theme of “lost identity” to critique the way Westerners view black people. In America for example, we use the ‘politically correct’ term to describe all black people as African Americans. A major problem with this is not all black people in America are from Africa. Some people are from Central America or South America. As Dinaw Mengestu grew up in Illinois, he might have experienced some of that first hand. Another way to look at this theme in a more current view is how there can be a tendency for westerners to imitate some of the black culture (Miley Cyrus) through personal style, music, and dance.

I also could be completely wrong about this and somehow talked myself into this making sense. Your thoughts?

Long-cherished desires of Ugandans

The circumstances of Uganda and behaviors of Isaac draws parallel in this novel. Uganda gained its independence from the Great Britain in 1962. This noble takes place in post-colonial era of Uganda where newly independent state, Uganda, was trying to construct its own social and governmental structure. It had the right to reorder their basic format as a nation but after being ruled by British, Uganda lacked in resources and technical expertise. It was a time of confusion and Uganda have not yet made any significant progress at this point of time.

This situation of Uganda is similar to what Isaac goes through as an African man. He mentions how no Africans were allowed to live near the university because it was considered to be the space of the White people. After independence, restricted properties for White lost its purpose and restrictions on Africans living near university have been removed. In post-colonial era, Isaac wonders around the university pretending to be the student there. From the outsider’s view, there seems to be nothing wrong with Isaac being in university and it is quite believable that Isaac is a student at the university. However, in reality, Isaac is just pretending to be university student and in fact he wished to be the student there someday in his life.

How Isaac portrays himself is different than how he really is and the image that Isaac is pretending to be is how he wants to be rather than how he really is. Same applies to Uganda. Uganda, on the surface, seems like a nation which gained sovereignty through independence. However, in reality, Uganda have not fully escaped from their colonizer but pretending as if they are completely apart from the British now, hoping it will become true someday. The impact of telling a story of post-colonial experience was as powerful as portraying colonial times because this parallel between Uganda in 1970s and Isaac on university campus captures desperation and pertinacious hope for new way of life that Ugandans had after their independence.