A SHORT REVIEW OF UZODINMA IWEALA’S ‘BEAST OF NO NATION’

‘​It is starting like this’… And that is how we get drawn or drafted into the wonderful story of Agu, a school boy who got torn away from his regular life of family, school and church and grew rapidly loosing his innocence and childhood to war.

For me the strong points of this novel are in its imagery use, story telling and the language use. 
Uzodinma’s power of description is spelndid, and very graphic, and asides from the fact that it makes the story come alive, it also lays emphasis on the memory of Agu. It is said that children never forgets  and Uzodinma put this into Agu’s story. It us a perfect recollection, wonderfuk use of memory. And it authenticates the story. 
The story is told by Agu, the protagonist of the novel, and apart from the fact that he was telling of things that had happen, he talks in present continuous tenses. I think the writer is trying to tell us that in as much as this is Agu’s story it is still happening. More so, I think in Agu’s mind, nothing is over.

Photo Credit – @zaynabtyty

The broken English in which the author wrote is kind of strange for a modern reader, and people including myself have complained about struggling with it. Also, I think it is very contextual and a strategy. One, to reveal the locale of the story, and two to add a bit of humour to the horrendous story that Agu has to tell.
The fact that this war happened in an unknown African nation points to the fact that war is not a citizen of any country, also this has happened in some part of Africa which the author didn’t want to mention.
The debut is a good one. The author did a nice work on it, it came out fine. I will give this book a 6 on a scale of 10. 
It is an African story, that will literarily have you at the edge of your seat, and dig a lot of pity and sympathy out of you for children whose childhood were eaten up by war, and their tales of survival, which poke the question of how hard is it to talk about war, especially when children become victims.

Books That Stood Out For Me In 2016.

Hello to my 12 or so followers and every other person that will read this post. I should have publish this earlier this year, but my day job happend to it. So about this time last year I started this docu-blog to write about the books I am reading every month. 

Well my followers know how that turned out, how my steam went from hot to warm, and warm to cold. I am so sorry for that. My day job never gave me much chance to sneek in on here. 

But all in all, 2016 was an amazing year for me as regards reading, I read more books in a year than I have ever done. I joined two book clubs, The Port Harcourt Book Club and the online twitter The Read Club. These book clubs, they were among the best things that happened to my reading life.

I made new bookworm friends, both online and in physical. I learned new perspectives, learned others point of views, and their approach towards books especially fiction, and did I mention that I am bias towards African Literature, Nigerian Literature in Particular.I had an amazing, amazing experience.

So last year I read over 60 books, both hard copies and ebooks. The amazing thing is that I was able to break beyond just Fiction a bit. And truth be told it felt good. I read the good, the bad and the ugly. I mean some writers sure know how to ruin one’s reading bud for weeks in some cases. Don’t mind me, I hope those writer get better at their craft. It is not easy, I know.

So out of all the books I read These ones stood out.

1. Season of Crimson Blossom – Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

This is was my best book of last year. In fact I could not write a review on it until weeks after I had finished reading it. I kept churning  the theme flushes, the writing style, the context, the plot and how really importantly urgent what the book discuses is. Wonderful wonderful book. Find my little say about it here.

2. Blackass – Igoni A. Barett

This is another wonderful book that gripped me in 2016. How one creates a story and infuse it with a spalsh of colour (Both aesthetically and in real form). This book takes a trivial and turns it into an open endeded discourse that pokes discourses which transcends the words, plot and the story itself. The humour, the highs and lows, the mature handling of characters all improved for Igoni in this one.
3. Under the Udala Tree – Chinelo Okparanta

This book captures a topic that challenges the ‘norm’ ( whatever that is and whoever defined it), and rolls it into a historical period in Nigeria.
Fantastic story of a leasbian who grew up to know herslef, and also to know that her type were not acceptable as normal. She danced from the solitary pleasures of her sexuality to the rejection by her guardians, mother and even her first gay partner. 

This book is about denial and acceptance. Very graphic,lyrical and poetic. Chinelo style is not new, but she adds a touch of touché to hers that make her writing stand out. She pens like a bard. And l love the way she recalls stories withing stories without getting the reader lost and bored up. This one is a reader people. Definately one of 2016’s best.

4. Born on A Tuesday – Elnathan John

Have you ever wondered what life is like for an Almajiri. Google that word, if it is new to you, because that is one of the strongest point about this book, that I give the author a big thumbs up for. Superb story, written with no particular audience in mind. No spoon feeding with italics of local words and footnote. I mean who rebels the publishing world like that. Elnathan of course. Baba!
It tells the story of Dantala an almajiri that discovers the way the world works from his own side of the planet. Despair, hope, loss, love, discovery, and a sense of strive and survival are all over the pages of this one. 

The platform for the presentation of this is religion and politics, cooked in a territorial context that exposes the unique life of the Northern Nigeria. It is an exposé kind of. I love this book. Find my review here.

5. Nairobi Heat – Ngugi Wa’ Koma

I don’t know how I have escpaed reading this book up until now. I personally, am tired of diaspora writings of Africa, not that they are bad, but writer shot us many of it that I got filled at some point. But this one gave me a different thought.
An American-Afican finds his work as a detective take him back home. He feels foreign in his own skin and root. And he finds a whole story that is bigger that the death of a blond girl ropped around a certain black man. 

Beyond the race discourse and the integrity of the black race in US police force, the author takes us through a flash of the Rwanda genocide and opens up the evil that men do and perpetrate during war. The trick about this one is the twist on a supposed hero.

Please people, reaf this book. I dont want to be a spolier. It is a good one.and one of my non Nigerian read of last year. 

6. Easy Motion Tourist – Leye Adenle

‘Fast and Furious’ are the words that open one of the good reads review of this book, and true that is what this book is all about. A lunch into the crime scenes of the city that never sleeps in Africa, Lagos. 

So when we see bodies mutilated, dropped off in the streets and we think  of ritualist as the only ones that do such, this book gives a new perspective about it. Organ harvesting and exportation has become more organized than we know. This book is an exposé. 

The media, the police force, journalists and the internationa mediall take a chunk of this fast paced triller. Find it people. Leye nailed Lagos to the pages of this book.

7. Sarah House – Ifeanyi Ajaegbo

Thank heavens for book clubs, that is how I came across this book, it was one of the books of the months at the @ThePHCBookClub last year.

Just like Leye’s EMT, this is debut and a crime fiction. But this one tugged at my chest particulaerly because it is set in Port Harcourt. I grew up and still live in this city. 

The story of Nita is not new among that of girls rescued from prostituion, but Ifeanyi adds guts and vividness to this. Beyond prostitution is child trafficking and organ harvesting ring that exists right at the heart if the city. 

The images in this book come alive in your mind many days after reading it. It detailed, but I must say that the end is quite someway. I want to believe there is a sequel coming up. Fantastic book by the way.

8. Walking Shadows – Jude Dibia

The word ‘Gay’ gets eyes squinting, ears twitching and heads turning when spoken in certain spaces especially in Nigeria. It however has become more heard of than it used to be. This novel is a bebut, and the first of its kind in narratives, to openly engage a discourse about Gay people in the Nigerian Literary scene, some credit goes to baba Wole Soyinka for this, but this book takes it all up and throws it open.

And that was at a time when it was uncommon in the world of Nigerian Narratives. It is about the discovery, denial and the seeking of a acceptance in a society that sees less of queer people. 

If you are interested in the story of the becoming of a gay man who, as friend says, tries to con the system about his sexuality and got shot at the foot, read this one. It is a expository though the writer went for a comfortable end. It is still a good one.

So there my 2016 was outstanding with those. Thanks.

A Little Review of ‘And After Many Days’ by Jowhor Ile

This book kicked off my 2017 reading and I like it very much.

A story of love and pain, trust and distrust, guilt and remembrance, And I will like to call it a book of forever memories too.

There is the imagery of light, its coming on and off, which signifies the disappearance and eventual discovery of Paul. There is the strong use of call backs, what some others might call flash backs or stories within a story, which motions the reader into the found dation of the story and how Paul and the Utu family evolved.

I always like it when a story touches on current issues that bears the plight of the society. There is police brutality, grassroot politics, economic involvement and evolvement and the consequences of it as it affects the Niger Delta. The beauty of this is in how Ile wraps this into the story of a missing child. It shows how contexts reveal the acutual and in many ways than one tell that stories are a product of the society as much as they are the shapers of it. 

And this story is a of contextual 90s in Nigeria, especially in Port Harcourt.

The book is an excellent debut, and I like the way it reads. I’ll give this one a 7.

Check it out.

A Review of Abubakar A. Ibrahim’s ‘Season of Crimson Blossom’

We find love in strange places. The moral compass of the society tends to make us look behind our backs when rolling on the adventure of love. The spotlight in this novel is on Reza a young thug in his twenties falling strangely in love with a widow old enough to be his mother. The setting is in the puritanical Northern Nigeria, obviously this love will raise eye brows. Abubakar examines the society through the lenses of the characters and setting, he pokes how people live under the influence of approval or certain standards of the society. Hajiya Binta and Reza find themselves in this situation and they are grilled by religion, family and communal influences, and placing all these above their emotions, feeling and preferences holds the high points of the book.
The book is politically charged and it opens up a conversation that delves into seeing the human side of the characters, asides all the violence, religion, politics and societal norms. With subtle humor yet very strong themes this book beams with rays that penetrates how the society works.

This is in part what Abubakar A. Ibrahim sought to explore with his debut novel Season of Crimson Blossom. SCOB lays bare a vivid example of how we live to meet up society and norms. This novel is very contextual and it represents a new voice that is telling ignored stories in a recent and up to date voice that is Familiar.

In this book, the characters pop up and come alive with serious feelings of love, loss, grief loneliness and sex. Yes, sex.

Who puts sex in the same book that has Northern Nigeria and religion in it?Abubakar! He joins a new voice that is emerging in the Nigeria Literature that is telling, re-telling the Northern Nigeria story and breaking stereotypes.

The beauty of this book is in its ability to place contrasts side by side and in an objective manner. It lays bare the characters, leaves them to the mercy of the society while silently questioning the reasons why they cannot choose to live the way they want without the prying eyes of the society and family.  Hajiya Bintu and Reza are both adults, who can have sex, and also be in a relationship, while we see this in post modern view as okay, Abubakar puts a question mark on it with the allegory of the mother and son. Reza sees his mother in Hajiya and Hajiya see her lost son in him, this make it look like incest, he presents a context that alienates the act.

Sexuality is explored in a an unusual manner. Sex is pop culture, which often neglects the aged in the society, as against general belief Hajiya’s sexuality is brought alive, ‘awakened’ of sought, by Reza. Sex often paints as a total masculine affair, that often obscure the female form as a participant rather than an object. Hajiya was an object to her formal husband, she can’t control the act nor play a apart in the act. It was as if her sexuality was dead till Reza made it ‘born again’. Let’s face it, old people too crave sex, just as much as tyoung people do.

The awakening that this theme deploys washes up the sociocultural and religion facbrics of the locale and that of the contextual backdrop of the story. This is the beautiful thing that the contemporary writings of the new generation Nigerian writers are contributing to the literary scene. And in my opinion it is very interesting, because they genrate real time coversations, which in tunrn creates awareness. 

As for style, Abubakar pens like a god, he holds his character and puts life into them with vivid descriptions that carry the reader along, and make him want to forget he is reading fiction. He writes in such a way that the characters presents the society, and the society contain them. His language is good and strong, he has a special use if language that evokes imagery as tools of expression and communication, this gives the story a proper spine. I give him a plus on this one.

As for me I will give this book a nine. It is an excellent work. Well worked and written. Season of Crimson Blossoms was shortlisted in September 2016 for the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature and it was announced winner in October 2016. Find it people and read it.

You can oder for it on Amazon. And if you are in Nigeria, check out Amab BooksRoving Heights and Bookville or any choice bookshops near you.

Book Review : Smithereens of Death by Olubunmi Familoni

This one is a sharp thrust into the short stories culture in Nigerian Literature. It is unusual for a debut, it is brilliant, intelligent and very driven into the superseding theme that dominates the stories in the book – death.  Familoni’s style of writing is somewhat new to me, he does not beat about in his narration – which is mostly done in the first person – it is like he wants to tell you a story and he does not want to look up from the script, and after the story he abandons the reader with thoughts and after thoughts to make of the story whatever s/he wants.

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The theme of death might seem unattractive for a debut, but in Smithereens of Death, Familoni presents a romance with the unusual and dumps different emotions and perspective about death on the reader, hence smithereens, little pieces of what Africa is slowly dying of. The stories are localized but they bear humanist spirit to the reader in vivid, figurative and expressionist form. Familoni is creative about this collection in a strange way, his narratives are not calling for attention, yet he expresses, he seems not to be asking the readers to discourse the intention or the whys behind his writing and stories, he just simply wants to state the facts and move on. Like in ‘Enough’ the response to how a person was killed is not emotional but blatant and plain, like some being chopped up and cooked is not new, the emotion runs in the reader while the characters are almost unreal and almost not there about it.

Familoni also employed local English, the Nigerian English flavored with pidgin and dialectic-ally  infested. It makes the reader who is a Nigeria fall in perspective with the character and it eases the mystery and the absurdist mode that Familoni engulfed the stories in. The language also helps break down the imagery employed in the stories and create familiar locale and contexts for the Nigeria reader. This is not to say that a non native reader would find it hard to read this book. The narrative are more human than local. They disrupt every known perception about death and make it look less horrible than it is.

Familoni’s imaginative strokes are rear and I think that is a plus for him. Little wonder the book won the 2015 Abubakar Gimba/ANA Prize for Short Stories. For a debut, I rate Familoni above average on this one. The book reeks of intellectualism and it is unique in the pool of the short stories cliche.

Breaking Silence: A Reading of Elnathan John’s ‘Born on A Tuesday’

Northern Nigeria googled, cannot come up without a tag of violence, the BokoHaram Sect in particular. for Nigerians and many foreigners, the lives and stories of the people who come from the northern part of Nigeria are mostly nothing but the ‘pieces’ of news that we gather from the media. Just a very few have had first hand experiences of how life is in the area, and many of the few have not had the opportunity or are not ready to tell of their experiences.

I am not sure about calling BOAT a Northern Nigerian Literature, but I am sure that in the Nigerian Literature Scene, literature from the North are not many, and even the available ones are not of much interest of study or are not available or known. So, what Elnathan John has done with BOAT is to bridge this void to a  great extent.

boat

BOAT like ‘Season of Crimson Blossom’ by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim delivers current and vivid stories of the north into the mainstream of the Nigerian Literature. Other than steady news of violence, we are able to see, read and feel though in fiction, some close to real experiences of life in the north, that there are people living there excluded from the violence, survivors or victims who still have the capacity to live, love, bear pain, make decision and interact with the outside world, a normal process of life with ‘normal’ people.

BOAT transcends and projects beyond violence. The story is told in the voice of Dantala, the protagonist in the story, of how he lives on the streets, blends into a gang that gets employed by a small political party to fight its opposition. The attack on the opposition’s headquarters office turns ugly and Dantala escapes to another city where he finds solace (food, shelter, education, mentor-ship, love, betrayal, loyalty) in the hands of the Sheikh of the Mosque. He maneuvers through the story with the background of his sick mother and his brothers who have joined a rival sect considered extreme and dangerous, a point where his loyalty and quest for self finds expression.

Elnathan writes this story in a mixed tone, sometimes humorous, sometimes sad, sometimes funny and sometimes tragic. His writing is very vivid, it describes to the letters, takes us to the scene of events and ropes us into the live of the characters and their environment which is of particular concern and interest. The language of Dantala is Nigerian, and many other instances there are code mixing and switching without any foot note or hyphenated explanation. This in some way project an inquisition into the cultural essence of the book, it draws the reader to find out, to explore and get into the language, cultural setting and experience in the book. A plus,I think, for the editor for the careful abandonment of trying to spoon the reader.

Elnathan story telling skill is superb. He writes in a linear way, the events roll into each other with a careful commitment to memory by the use of Dantala’s journal (a journal which also helps focus on his evolving process and integration). This style I think is close or similar to Achebe’s, in a more particular way of holding cultural essence in African Literature. BOAT offers a front row exposition into the burning issues of violence in the northern part of Nigerian, as a way to present the everyday lives of the people who live and base there, along religion, politics and culture. It presents them as a people not as victims only. For example, a reader can have a close imagination of what an Almajiri passes through and how they survive.The narrative is clean and a good debut for the two-time Caine Prize finalist.

BOAT breaks the silence and mono view that surrounds the Northern story.

 

 

April Bloom, Book Cases and Music

Okay, cheers of the new month. Since the last update for March, between you and I, I have not finished reading James Marlon’s ‘The Brief History of Seven Killings’. It has not been easy, keeping my day job which I have had no break from everyday since March. I am now on Page 150. Please clap for me jare. Sure, I am still reading it.

I found and joined The Port Harcourt Book Club. It has been very exciting. The book club had been existing under my nose for a while and I never knew. As usual, I stumbled upon its existence on twitter. They read a book every month and meet for the book discussion and some kind of review every last Sunday of that month by 4pm at a venue of choice in Port Harcourt. For the month of April, they, or should I say we are reading ‘Love is Power or Something Like That‘ by A. Igoni Barrett, the book is available at Bookville Bookshop, Mummy B road, Port Harcourt. It is an open book club, so if you are in Port Harcourt or passing by you can join. Find them on twitter, @ThePHCBookClub

Between March and now, I have knocked down two books, and both are short stories collections. The one for The Port Harcourt Book Club, ‘Love is Power or Something Like That’ by A. Igoni Barrett, a Port Harcourt boy himself and ‘Smithereens of Death’ by Olubunmi Familoni an Ibadan base writer. I am unto the third book, ‘We Need New Names‘ by NoViolet Bulawayo, the 2014 Etisalat Prize for fiction winner. It is a good progress on my reading habit if you ask me. And of course, their reviews are coming right up, maybe this month too.

Next on the blog should be my short review of Elnathan John’s ‘Born On A Tuesday‘. I have managed to finish the last two chapters which the pity that flushed me up for Ahmed did not allow me to read. Watch this space.

THE OTHER THINGS…

Nigeria in suffering from fuel scarcity. I know it is no news. But guys, it is not easy, the money I have spent on fueling my car since this brouhaha started is already double my monthly usual and mounting. It is not funny anymore.  I just hope that this week shall be the end of it, if not maybe what happened in 199somthing will happen again.

Among other things, I love music and of all kinds, so far it sounds good to me and fits my mood per time. There is this beautiful Nigeria  female sensation Aramide. She sings Afro Soul, and I came across her last year. She has a new music video out for her single Love Me, in which she featured Adekunle Gold, another Afro Soul sensation I will say.

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A shot from the video – Aramide & Adekule Gold                     Courtesy : BellaNija

I love the feel of the song, its mixture of Yourba and English Lyrics, the flush of the African feel in the instrumentals and the lush video shoot and quality. It has been on replay on my music player for a while. Enjoy the new video here.

Catch you later guys.