Notes from Admiring Silence by Gurnah Abdulrazak

Also known as:
Reading Note Convention

This is the convention being followed for all reading notes exported after January 31, 2023 (and some previous exports):

KOReader/Exported Kindle Meaning
Lighten/Normal Yellow Quotables, concepts, and general ideas.
Underline Orange Further thought is required on this for clarity.
Highlighted/Bold Blue Something strikingly novel/Deeply moving/Highly thought-provoking.
Strikeout Pink In discord with this opinion.

Admiring Silence

Gurnah, Abdulrazak

Part One: 1

Time: 2021-10-09 21:43

Three rums and three fags, one after the other, until all of life seems to last only the few minutes behind and ahead of me, and everything else turns into impotent gurglings in a far ditch.

Time: 2021-10-09 21:46

‘I’m not a failure,’ I shouted at the closed door. ‘I’m a tragedy. This dead-pan world is full of chaos and I am one of the lost.’

Time: 2021-10-09 21:50

Emma glaring at me! Demanding that I take the blame for my ineffectual love for a daughter willingly overwhelmed by the gloating self-assurance of the culture that had nurtured her. It was like blaming the hole in the ozone layer or the disappearing rain forests or leaking nuclear reactors for all the troubles which beset our stumbling world. Well, it wasn’t me who did all that, nor was it the North African migrants in France or Tadjik horsemen thundering across the plains of middle Asia or Winnie Mandela or a passing comet. How is the rottenness of Amelia and her generation to be passed on to me? Did I glut them with enriched vitamins and mushy love and fairy tales of the world and a self-importance beyond their means? Was it me who filled their heads with the beastly plebeian hubris which makes thought, art or principle equal to eating raw offal in public or indulging petty sensualities? What part did I play in persuading them that there is something witty in degradation and perversion?

Time: 2021-10-09 22:00

And our part of the deal was to be colonized, assimilated, educated, alienated, integrated, suffer clashes of culture, win a flag and a national anthem, become corrupt, starve and grumble about it all. It’s a good deal, and we perform our parts to the utmost of our humble talents, but not adequately enough to satisfy over-sensitive patriots who feel put upon by hysterical strangers squatting dangerously inside the gates.

Time: 2021-10-09 22:09

‘Hasn’t it been lovely these last few days?’ Mrs Willoughby said. ‘I hope it lasts, though I don’t expect it will. Have you been in England long?’ Long enough to know how to respond to intimate small talk of that kind. Murmur audibly, smile brightly, say nothing.

Time: 2021-10-09 22:29

Everything went into abeyance with Amelia’s arrival as we all abandoned whatever else we were doing to cluster round the baby while it shitted and screamed. She screamed a lot, so much that I sometimes felt that the revulsion she felt for what she had been landed into was tragic. Everyone said it was normal, or she had colic or whatever, but I could not help feeling that she was raging with self-pity. It didn’t do her any good, of course. She was here, she was wanted, she was loved, she didn’t have a chance. Whenever she was given the opportunity, she clung to her mother’s breast as if to freedom itself. Life’s like that, clinging futilely to the very objects that imprison us.

Part 1: 2

Time: 2021-10-09 23:05

Later, much later, when times became harder under our own home-grown bullies, Uncle Hashim diversified. He changed money into foreign, knew how to satisfy shipping regulations and customs restrictions, could be relied on to smuggle in whatever was needful: an electric oven, a toilet bowl, a consignment of cement. He was able to do this because he procured these things for the mighty but impoverished officials too, the very ones who might have stopped him in his affairs. They had to live as well, and cook and flush toilets and build houses for themselves and for their mothers and sisters, even though they were the ones who made and upheld the idiot laws that created scarcity. But that was what they were there for, what they had put themselves there for: to make laws and issue decrees which would be seen to be obeyed by everyone – on pain of some barbarism or another –while they, the lawmakers and the bullshitters, squatted over everyone’s faces and issued their wastes on them.

Part 1: 3

Time: 2021-10-10 08:31

But politics also brought shocking things to the surface. We liked to think of ourselves as a moderate and mild people. Arab African Indian Comorian: we lived alongside each other, quarrelled and sometimes intermarried. Civilized, that’s what we were. We liked to be described like that, and we described ourselves like that. In reality, we were nowhere near we, but us in our separate yards, locked in our historical ghettoes, self-forgiving and seething with intolerances, with racisms, and with resentments. And politics brought all that into the open. It was not that we did not know these things about ourselves, about slavery, about inequalities, about the contempt with which everyone spoke about the barbarity of the savage in the interior who had been captured and brought to work on our island. We read about these things in our colonized history books, but there these events seemed lurid and far away from the way we lived, and sometimes they seemed like self-magnifying lies. So when the time came to begin thinking of ourselves in the future, we persuaded ourselves that the objects of this abuse had not noticed what had happened to them, or had forgiven and would now like to embrace a new rhetoric of unity and nationalism. To enter into a mature compromise in everyone’s interest. But they didn’t. They wanted to glory in grievance, in promises of vengeance, in their past oppression, in their present poverty and in the nobility of their darker skins. To the nationalist rhetoric of their opponents they proclaimed a satirical reprise of their despised Africanness, mocked the nationalists for their newfound conscience, and promised them an accounting in the very near future. All of which came to pass with incredible promptness.

Part 1: 4

Time: 2021-10-10 09:03

He told us that I was young enough not to have to pay any tuition fees for a year or so, and that if my family could find a way to send me money, he’d help me out in England until I’d sorted something out. It was a madly generous offer, but in the general secrecy and misery of that time, people took risks to help each other out. I like to think it was some kind of assertion of human care, a sort of tribute to what had been lost, and perhaps the only way there was to protest against our impotence and cowed submission.

Time: 2021-10-10 09:09

Armed with my grant letter, my university applications, glowing references from my college, a letter from a JP whom one of the graduates in the house was related to, and a letter from my local GP (Ahmed’s idea), we went to London for an interview at the Home Office. Ahmed came along, and discreetly but firmly insisted on being allowed to sit in. He was, after all, my guardian, he said. The plan was that I was to be calm for the first few minutes of the interview, and then, as soon as was decent, I was to break down in a flood of tears and Ahmed would do the talking. The man who interviewed us was in his thirties and wore dark-rimmed spectacles which made him look like Clark Kent before he changed into his Superman gear. I found this reassuring, and so it turned out to be. I don’t think it was the tears that did it, or Ahmed’s wheedling account of my diligence and utter brilliance, but Clark Kent’s innate sense of justice. Here I feel free.

Time: 2021-10-10 09:10

He neglected his own work to sit and revise with me. He gave me endless advice and hectoring speeches, invoked God, my parents, a luminous future. I didn’t stand a chance, and passed brilliantly.

Time: 2021-10-10 09:14

It was towards the end of the second year of her PhD, around August, that Emma became pregnant with Amelia. It was a time when the first delighted reception of the Pill was beginning to be replaced by gloomy forecasts of cancer of this and that (breast and cervix, I think) and unspecified damage in old age. Emma was converted to the new austerity and came off the Pill, saying she understood her body better than anyone else and knew how to prevent herself from becoming pregnant. But after too many ciders, or whatever we could afford in those days, the result was Amelia, and the end of the first Arcadia, although we did not know it at the time.