African Books Are Awesome.
Strike has finally been called off. I do not have the luxury to write about books or my random musings anymore. In fact, I’m writing this post from my reading table because I miss my blog! Took a break from company law.
I have read all the books there. I read five of the books during the strike and I couldn’t be happier. I know I said I was going to do reviews on Fishermen and Fine Boys and others but I don’t know when I’ll find the time. So I’ll just put down a thing or two.
What I particularly loved about this book was the author’s way of methaphorizing every character, with the use of animals as analogies.
Mother was a falconer, the one who stood on the hills and watched watched, trying to stave off whatever ill she perceived was coming to her children. She owned copies of our minds in the pockets of her own mind and so could easily sniff troubles early in their forming, the same way sailors discern the forming foetus of a coming storm.
Ikenna was a fragile delicate bird; he was a sparrow. A thing with wings, able to fly out of sight in the blink of an eye. Little things could unbridle his soul. Wistful thoughts often combed his melancholic spirit in search of craters to be filled with sorrow.
Ikenna was a python:
A wild snake that became a monstrous serpent living on trees, on plains above other snakes.
Father was an eagle: The mighty bird that planted his nest high above the rest of his peers, hovering and watching over his young eagles, the way a king guards his throne.
I, Benjamin, was a moth : The fragile thing with wings, who basks in light, but who soon looses it’s wings and falls to the ground.
David and Nkem were egrets: The wool-white birds that appear in flocks after a storm, their wings unspotted, their lives unscathed. Although they became egrets in the midst In the midst of the storm, they emerged, wings afloat in the air, at the end of it, when everything as I knew it had changed.
When asked in an interview about the use of animal metaphors by the narrator, Ben; Chigozie said :
I loved animals as a child, ever since my dad took us to the Ibadan zoo. I was fascinated by all animals, especially wild ones. They have their own language, and have their own universe. I especially loved birds and watched them everywhere I found them. I think the love of animals is a figment of my personality in Ben, the narrator. The conceit was based on my philosophy (and it’s a very plain one): I believe that what makes for an effective work of fiction is that the writer must have a definite something thing to say. The philosophical ground or platform on which I wanted to set the story led me to the conceit employed in the novel. I wanted to have Benjamin tell the story the way the memory of human beings work; in remembering the past, it doesn’t always come in a linear form; it comes in leaps and bounds. Some things are foregrounded, some things are back grounded. You remember the most poignant thing or event, and then that can lead you to remember certain other details. Benjamin, being fascinated with animals, is able to rationalize the world with what he is fascinated with. And that is, that everything can be understood through the prism of animals. So, by equating his brother who has died to a sparrow, he is able to actually make sense of the tragedy, he is able to understand it in a way that is manageable to him. By Ikenna transforming into a sparrow, that sense of tragedy is trivialized in a way that he can manage. That is what made for the conceit of the animal metaphors in the book.
He also used very unique names. When I came across BAJANONIMEOKPU I ran to my Facebook page, asking those who had read the book if it was an Igbo name and what it meant. When we asked and rattled our brains, we realized that Chigozie Obioma formed the name himself. I loved that ingenuity.
But I have a serious problem with this book!
WHY WOULD CHIGOZIE OBIOMA SEND BEN TO JAIL AT THE AGE OF TEN!
Maybe it’s the lawyer in me screaming but I know that no competent court would sentence a ten year old child to eight years in jail – no matter the crime (not even for killing a mad man). Note that this wasn’t a juvenile prison but a real prison with old men. A lot of things go into passing judgements and I’m pretty sure if Chigozie Obioma had done more research or study into the Nigeria Legal and Justice System, he would have come up with a better story or excuse for Ben going to jail. On a second thought, one might ask : Was he trying to showcase the harshness that was the then military rule?
FISHERMEN IS A BOOK THAT WOULD MAKE YOU ANGRY. BRACE UP!
A book that toys with the themes of psychological and physical transformation. The main character in this book is a 33-year-old Lagosian Furo Wariboko, wakes up one ordinary morning and…is white. I would also see in the novel, a writer named Igoni who changes into a woman. But like Helon Habila noted, these transformations are not straightforward ones. Despite his Caucasian features, Furo’s eponymous ass remains BLACK. And despite her big boobs and womanly curves, Igoni, now known as Morpheus, still retains her/his penis.
Some of my favorite quotes :
Womanhood comes with its Peculiar burdens, among them the constant reminder of a subordinate status whose dominant symptom was uninvited sexual attention from men. I hadn’t foreseen this fact of my new identity. Bus conductors whistled at me on the street; drivers pulled over to offer me rides to bars; and when I went shopping for my new wardrobe in Yaba market, the touts grabbed at my hands and laughed off my protests. All manner and ages of male called me fine girl, sweet lips, correct pawpaw, big bakassi. Landlords wanted to know if I would stand surety for me. A woman is not expected to live alone, to walk alone in peace, or to want to be alone.
No one asks to be born, to be black or white or any colour in between, and yet the identity a person is born into becomes the hardest to explain to the world.
Nobody can tell me that they like living in Nigeria. Except that person doesn’t have any sense at all, at all. Even if you have all the money in the world – you see that pothole, you see why I mean, where are the good roads?… OK, let me ask you this one, what about light? You like NEPA, abi. Is it because you have money to buy generator. So what about petrol? Tell me now, how can you run your generator when fuel scarcity is everywhere? And what if armed robbers? Kidnappers? Ah, OK, what it Boko Haram? You like them too? Police, nko? Apart from standing on road to be collecting money from innocent people, who work are those ones doing?
A. Igoni Barret. A winner of the 2005 BBC world service short story competition, the recipient of Chinua Achebe center fellowship… Founder of the book jam reading series in Lagos and a former editor at Farafina Magazine, he has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
You see, African Literature is awesome! And the positive energy from the Nigerian scenery is contagious!
From my pile of books :
East (Adichie, Udenwe)
West (Lola Shoneyin)
North (Helon Habila)
South South and Niger Delta (Eghosa Imasuen, Fr. Uwem, Akpan, Igoni Barrett) – the energy is real!
This gift of stringing words to create beautiful stories has no barrier. We all have our stories to tell.
African Literature is Everything!
P/S : One day, I’ll blog about FINE BOYS!
If you love African Literature please share! And I strongly recommend every single book!
*crawls back reluctantly to company law*