Adah begins by stating that she has “decided to speak.” Orleanna, by contrast, has seemingly lost all interest in communicating.
It takes a lot for Adah to say anything—so it’s a real milestone for her to begin speaking normally once again.
Adah explains that she and her mother traveled back to the United States, where nobody could understand what they’d experienced in Africa. Orleanna began to work as a farmer, living alone and tending crops. At this time, Adah applied to Emory University; she rode the bus to Atlanta and interviewed well. Although Adah didn’t have a traditional education, she proved herself to be a brilliant student, getting good scores on standardized tests. Shortly after returning to the U.S., Adah was accepted to Emory.
The fact that Adah is able to gain admission to Emory so easily is a testament to her own intelligence, but also to Orleanna’s commitment to educating her children: she made sure that Adah and Leah continued studying during their time in the Congo, so that they’d have a way of keeping up with their peers in the U.S.
In college, Adah relished the study of zoology and genetics. She didn’t communicate with her mother very often, except on occasional weekends. Adah noticed that Orleanna put a lot of love and attention into her gardening—something she never did when she was living with Nathan.
We could have predicted that Adah would end up studying biology: her thoughts on ecosystems and complex interlocking life forms shows that she has a biologist’s turn of mind.
Adah backs up to explain what happened when the family left for Bulungu. Orleanna gathered her remaining daughters and told them to pack immediately, as life was no longer safe in the Congo. In Bulungu, Orleanna found a truck that would take her and Adah to Leopoldville. When the truck canceled, they were forced to walk for two days to reach the city. In Leopoldville, they were able to gain admittance to a U.N. hospital and arrange a flight back to Georgia.
As always, Orleanna is motivated, first and foremost, by what’s right for her children. Ruth May’s death is a wakeup call: she realizes that it was always a horrible idea to keep her family in the Congo, especially now that the country is in such chaos. In order to protect her children, Orleanna has to stand up to her husband, showing that she’s overcoming some of her fears and insecurities.
When Adah returned to Georgia, she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. After more than a year of living in the Congo, she couldn’t process the sight of cars and straight, smooth roads. Adah noticed that her mother was now quiet and strangely calm.
Adah can tell that Orleanna is still haunted by the death of her youngest child.
Recently, Adah went through Nathan’s old things, still in the family house in Georgia. She discovered that Nathan’s military decorations were not, as he’d always claimed, for his bravery, but were simply for being wounded. Adah realized that Nathan ran away from danger in Bataan. Perhaps for this reason, he couldn’t force himself to flee the Congo when things became too dangerous.
It would be hard for Adah’s opinion of Nathan to sink any lower, but when she realizes that his reputation as a brave leader is just as bogus as his modesty and his kindness, she seems to hate him (but also to understand him) even more.
Adah thinks back to her last days in Bulungu, just before she and Orleanna left for Leopoldville. Adah was convinced that Orleanna would leave her behind and travel with Leah, but just the opposite ended up happening. Adah decides that taking her out of Africa was Orleanna’s “last living act as a mother.”
Adah’s relationship with Orleanna has always been difficult to gauge, but she’s realistic enough to recognize that Orleanna sacrificed a great deal to get Adah out of Africa alive. Adah recognizes Orleanna’s love for her, even as she herself displays little real affection for her mother.