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.

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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.

 

 

THE MAN AND HIS BOOK – Abidoye Oluwaseyi Gideon

Inseparable from his classic, Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe can never be forgotten. He was clearly a man that walked on the rocks and took his time to etch his footprints on them. On Things Fall Apart, the simplicity and care he employed in the delivery of the story, yet not losing its underlying meaning, political, historical and cultural contextual essence is explicitly valuable and exemplary. The text has become a reference point for the mode of African prose delivery and experience.
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Chinua made himself a world literary citizen. Even to generations unborn, Things Fall Apart would always be a right of passage into modern African Prose and Literature. His overwhelming influence and mark on the African literary world cannot be under emphasized.

On my last walk with him through the pages of There was A country, I endlessly imagined for several hours the great hope that laid in the hands of the educated Nigerian Youth during Achebe’s growing time. I can never stop to imagine that really, there was a country, Nigeria in her full glory and pride.

After the reading, i somehow reached a conclusion that Things Fall Apart grew out from the part of Achebe’s heart that loved his root, yet embraced the western culture. As a child he loved reading so much he had read most English Literature Classics for the fun of it… No wonder he finally gave Nwoye, Okonkwo’s son to the missionary,killed Okonkwo, and gave room for a new beginning.

Despite his embrace of western education, the African in him never took it well with Conrad’s description of Africans. In essence, Achebe abhorred discrimination, racism, and down to his roots in Nigeria, marginalization. On specific accounts, Achebe has fought for Africans, Nigeria and the Igbo nation. He seemed to have taken grounds to boldly stand for every layer of his black identity, right from the top, continental, to the bottom, local. Achebe was proud of his origin to the very end.

His loyalty to the African nation, Nigeria (when there was a country), Biafra & the entire Igbo nation is admirable, and undoubtedly courageous. More than a great loss to the entire world, Literature and Nigeria as a whole, Achebe is an irreplaceable great loss to the Igbo nation. In all that could have been written to describe him and his relations in this world, this words should also find a place among them, Chinua Achebe : A Man of His People, A Citizen of the World.