IBIOBARA SPELLS OUT HER MAN: Two-page review of Orlando Dokubo’s The Arm-Twist

 

IBIOBARA SPELLS OUT HER MAN

Two-page review of Orlando Dokubo’s The Arm-Twist

 

Title: The Arm-Twist .

Publisher: Kraftgriots, Ibadan.

Publication Year: 2017

In literature, it’s man that creates gods and goddesses, not the other way round. From the Greeks and Romans through the conservative John Bunyan and the socialist-leaning Bertolt Brecht, to the more mythopoeic-inclined Soyinka, and Osofisan of the modern era, pages of literature have been littered with divinities put up at the whim of man. In many instances, the manner these gods and goddesses are made to work often betrays a script with a vengeful back story, as if they are told, ‘here, clean up the mess you created!’

But in the age of dot com, artificial intelligence and hacking, a recourse to myth and legend needs to have a different kind of rationale. That is part of what Orlando Dokubo has provided in The Arm-Twist, his debut novel. The Arm-Twist makes no claims to myth-making of any sort, but you would have to traverse experiences beyond mythopoesis, beyond the firmaments  framed by Freud and  Jung, to socially situate a character like  Ibiobara who, in a dystopian world that casts moral heroes as   outcasts, dreams up her own husband and goes ahead to imbue him with the full complement of a metabolic and social reality complete with forest imp-to-palace dweller  transformation. But The Arm-Twist is barely about  Ibiobara; rather it traces the trajectory of Jemina’s improbable rise and fall. Jemina is the custodian of the mysterious egg, the wand that Ibiobara waves to achieve her esoteric agenda in this subtle rendering of the sub-genre of magical realism with an unmistakable social message. One point of beauty of the novel is that you would not even know that you were headed in that mythic direction until towards the last set of pages when  apparently insignificant and unrelated matters are tied up and  resolved. Another point, remarkably, is that Jemina’s transition from forest to city/country life and back to forest is so smooth you almost did not notice it. Dokubo transits into the world of make-believe so adroitly, making you rethink your erstwhile notion that perhaps because of the internet and its appurtenances, man had taken a sabbatical from his habitual binge on myth and legends. His ‘goddess’ is so tantalizingly anthropomorphic she gets involved with the minutiae of man’s most mundane concerns.

It takes the apparently insignificant micro sub-plot of the predicament of Adukoba, with whom Opuegberi the village woman, is adjudged to be  in a son-lover incestuous relationship, towards  the end of the novel , to  present  Jemina with the opportunity  to play out his  role as avatar of a new vision,  to construct a platform for the dispensation of justice which, beyond personal motives and with the benefit of hindsight, might have been one of  Ibiobara’s more  altruistic  motives for her  bare faced  man-making magic.

Adukoba is an Achebean Ikemefuna-like character who, in this instance, has multiple Okonkwo-fathers (chiefs Kaka, Ade and Omoni) none of whom, however,  possesses the Okonkwo fiery temper, but each of whom endorses  the young man’s one-way journey to the evil forest even as he protests his incest -and-murder innocence.  Opuegberi herself is not too far from Elechi Amadi’s Ihuoma. She was married, not as in The Concubine, spiritually to a jealous sea goddess,  but to a local farmer who, despite abandoning her for months, still forbade any close contacts with  the men folk.  Still, a fate similar to the one that befalls Ihuoma’s suitors and lovers  trails each of four young men  who “got somewhat friendly to her.”

The Arm-Twist may  have twisted the arms of fate but it is men that end up worsted.  “Men are cruel,”, laments an elder upon learning of the Adukoba-Opuegberi  entanglement, “He sucked her breasts as a toddler,  he sucked her as a man” is the accusation that sticks out like a sore thumb from an impromptu   charge sheet.    But Adukoba is not entirely without  defenders: “she seduced him”, says an elder, “no man can climb a tree with a ladder unless the tree allows the ladder to rest on it.” At this stage, whether or not he is actually her biological son becomes a moot point.

This is the scenario to which Jemina, a magical-social reconstruct from an erstwhile grudge-bearing and  much thwarted visionary must now  impose his moral will and exert his newly found authority.

 The Arm-Twist is a fine book with an unhurried story. It offers a variety of treats from the culturally rich, bio-diverse Niger Delta. It also flows nicely, except for one or two moments of grammatical unease (‘he had never partook in the celebrations’), which in no way hinder the savouring of the vintage offering.

JEMINA was an Exile from the community of men, pitching his tent, literally, with forest denizens, a neo-early man living on the proceeds of hunting.  It was a life best-forgotten until his path crossed with Ibiobara, the local version of  queen of fairies. From the moment he heard the soft, enchanting  ‘Ibote’ from Ibiobara’s seductive lips  deep in the forest, the  greeting that  culturally hypnotises him to her meals and ways, Jemina  would remain  under Ibiobara’s spell until another magical moment when he relapses into forgetfulness and utters the forbidden e-word…

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, man creates  a monster he could not control, but  in The Arm-Twist Ibiobara keeps her man under her spell, perhaps for all the right reasons. But then, as in this novel, who can tell the final flight of fate’s arrow until the very last pages of one’s life?

Anaele Ihuoma.

Review type: Two page version of the normally  one-page review series. Other novels reviewed under the series include: Lola Soneyin, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives; Binyavanga Wainaina, One Day I Will Write About This Place, Teju Cole, Open City; Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, I Do Not Come to You by Chance; Eghosa Imasuen, Fine Boys, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americana. Publishers with just-off-the-press mints can reach me via email:  aihuoma@hotmail.com or inbox me at facebook.com/anaele Ihuoma.

 

 

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IBIOBARA SPELLS OUT HER MAN: Two-page review of Orlando Dokubo’s The Arm-Twist

Title: The Arm-Twist

Publisher: Kraftgriots, Ibadan.

 

Publication Year: 2017

In literature, it’s man that creates gods and goddesses, not the other way round. From the Greeks and Romans through the conservative John Bunyan and the socialist-leaning Bertolt Brecht, to the more mythopoeic-inclined Soyinka, and Osofisan of the modern era, pages of literature have been littered with divinities put up at the whim of man. In many instances, the manner these gods and goddesses are made to work often betrays a script with a vengeful back story, as if they are told, ‘here, clean up the mess you created!’

But in the age of dot com, artificial intelligence and hacking, a recourse to myth and legend needs to have a different kind of rationale. That is part of what Orlando Dokubo has provided in The Arm-Twist, his debut novel. The Arm-Twist makes no claims to myth-making of any sort, but you would have to traverse experiences beyond mythopoesis, beyond the firmaments  framed by Freud and  Jung, to socially situate a character like  Ibiobara who, in a dystopian world that casts moral heroes as   outcasts, dreams up her own husband and goes ahead to imbue him with the full complement of a metabolic and social reality complete with forest imp-to-palace dweller  transformation. But The Arm-Twist is barely about  Ibiobara; rather it traces the trajectory of Jemina’s improbable rise and fall. Jemina is the custodian of the mysterious egg, the wand that Ibiobara waves to achieve her esoteric agenda in this subtle rendering of the sub-genre of magical realism with an unmistakable social message. One point of beauty of the novel is that you would not even know that you were headed in that mythic direction until towards the last set of pages when  apparently insignificant and unrelated matters are tied up and  resolved. Another point, remarkably, is that Jemina’s transition from forest to city/country life and back to forest is so smooth you almost did not notice it. Dokubo transits into the world of make-believe so adroitly, making you rethink your erstwhile notion that perhaps because of the internet and its appurtenances, man had taken a sabbatical from his habitual binge on myth and legends. His ‘goddess’ is so tantalizingly anthropomorphic she gets involved with the minutiae of man’s most mundane concerns.

It takes the apparently insignificant micro sub-plot of the predicament of Adukoba, with whom Opuegberi the village woman, is adjudged to be  in a son-lover incestuous relationship, towards  the end of the novel , to  present  Jemina with the opportunity  to play out his  role as avatar of a new vision,  to construct a platform for the dispensation of justice which, beyond personal motives and with the benefit of hindsight, might have been one of  Ibiobara’s more  altruistic  motives for her  bare faced  man-making magic.

Adukoba is an Achebean Ikemefuna-like character who, in this instance, has multiple Okonkwo-fathers (chiefs Kaka, Ade and Omoni) none of whom, however,  possesses the Okonkwo fiery temper, but each of whom endorses  the young man’s one-way journey to the evil forest even as he protests his incest -and-murder innocence.  Opuegberi herself is not too far from Elechi Amadi’s Ihuoma. She was married, not as in The Concubine, spiritually to a jealous sea goddess,  but to a local farmer who, despite abandoning her for months, still forbade any close contacts with  the men folk.  Still, a fate similar to the one that befalls Ihuoma’s suitors and lovers  trails each of four young men  who “got somewhat friendly to her.”

The Arm-Twist may  have twisted the arms of fate but it is men that end up worsted.  “Men are cruel,”, laments an elder upon learning of the Adukoba-Opuegberi  entanglement, “He sucked her breasts as a toddler,  he sucked her as a man” is the accusation that sticks out like a sore thumb from an impromptu   charge sheet.    But Adukoba is not entirely without  defenders: “she seduced him”, says an elder, “no man can climb a tree with a ladder unless the tree allows the ladder to rest on it.” At this stage, whether or not he is actually her biological son becomes a moot point.

This is the scenario to which Jemina, a magical-social reconstruct from an erstwhile grudge-bearing and  much thwarted visionary must now  impose his moral will and exert his newly found authority.

 The Arm-Twist is a fine book with an unhurried story. It offers a variety of treats from the culturally rich, bio-diverse Niger Delta. It also flows nicely, except for one or two moments of grammatical unease (‘he had never partook in the celebrations’), which in no way hinder the savouring of the vintage offering.

JEMINA was an Exile from the community of men, pitching his tent, literally, with forest denizens, a neo-early man living on the proceeds of hunting.  It was a life best-forgotten until his path crossed with Ibiobara, the local version of  queen of fairies. From the moment he heard the soft, enchanting  ‘Ibote’ from Ibiobara’s seductive lips  deep in the forest, the  greeting that  culturally hypnotises him to her meals and ways, Jemina  would remain  under Ibiobara’s spell until another magical moment when he relapses into forgetfulness and utters the forbidden e-word…

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, man creates  a monster he could not control, but  in The Arm-Twist Ibiobara keeps her man under her spell, perhaps for all the right reasons. But then, as in this novel, who can tell the final flight of fate’s arrow until the very last pages of one’s life?

Anaele Ihuoma.

Review type: Two page version of the normally  one-page review series. Other novels reviewed under the series include: Lola Soneyin, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives; Binyavanga Wainaina, One Day I Will Write About This Place, Teju Cole, Open City; Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, I Do Not Come to You by Chance; Eghosa Imasuen, Fine Boys, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americana. Publishers with just-off-the-press mints can reach me via email:  aihuoma@hotmail.com or inbox me at facebook.com/anaele Ihuoma.

 

I’ m god

I

  • (For the Bleeding at home, in London and in other lands)

I‘m god

I’m Mobutu Sese Seko

Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga

you must pronounce my name in full, else you breach

my democratic rights

I’m the herr to the fuehrer’s reich

Ich spreche in diktat

You must pronounce my name in full

or go the way of all heretics

I speak not yet of infidels.

I’m god.

I’m baban bajimi Sani Abacha

ka chi bura ubanka in  ka manta suna na

the one for whom the sun-and-moon had to stand still

so he  could  distance himself  far enough

from the cashless society

you must pronounce me pious

to avert a fate of pregnant  fatwahs.

I’m god.

I’m  the blurb of intoxicant books

the blade of  ethnic  bigot fans

the razor end of all reason, marching

like nitwit armies to the beat of Beethoven,

along the  icing on caking cliffs

I’m god.

It is the season of recompense, and

I have followed the slime of the slug around the homestead.

I have tested the axe head of the hurricane

I have peeped at sacred groves where

men have drunk  and hung their gourds

I have searched the thatch hats

atop the huts trodden out by the muddy feet of men

But I have found none

of the hunters who did their  target practice

on the softest undersides of diaper-ed babies

I have found none

of the signatories on the cheques of  bleeding cities

none of the source rocks of the flow of red Thames

I’m god.

I have searched the password hunting limits

of wikileaks’ idealisms. Today’s gatsbys surfing

on foamy peaks of romanticism

topless riders on freedom trains

stopless past the very last busstop

on the bigot’s expedition

to perdition

I’m god.

But those were the udder days that breastfed today

now I’m a mere clothes line

on which men maim and hang their horrors

But google them you find the hidden knives.

 

 

The chief priest and a nay-tion’s infidelities

When the infidelities of this nay-tion  are told to salivating  divorce lawyers

when the long chaplets and masking hijabs are finally  unmasked

when  dizzying digits seized

or said to have been seized

in sleaze cash haul of shame,

still leave  lacunae of grains and couscous in dinner tables,

when  the lava of long celibate stomachs

suddenly erupts,  without the funfair of lightning

when the chief  priest comes with his ofo-n’ogu

a vengeful scalpel piercing the resistance of thick-skinned maladies

when  he takes in the visual gauntlet of saturated farts

spreading like the coily hide-and-smoke of illicit hemp

as you hear the chief priest’s s broken voice

may your own voice not then be found

to have been silent.

WALLS

grammar joke 3

 

W A L L S.

From the birth pangs of the first farting man

to the last drop of his kin’s dust-to-dusts,

walls have served only to buy time

but even the hours of ‘dying minutes’ extracted from complicit refs

have been nothing but fading embers of false dawns

light years away from their architects’ wet dreams:

dreams on glossy paper

like sleek sketches of galloping thoroughbreds,

reined in by dark fears walking on all fours

festering, like the ferns of graffiti

that separated East and West Berlin

Walls.

if Jericho could capitulate at the echoes of a mere shout

What  was the wisdom of the stone walls?

The plot of hydrogen sulphide that leaked out of the anus

with émigré-emitting consequences

was actually hatched inside the stomach walls

walls fed with rotten remnants of sacrificial egg,

left uneaten at crossroads by satiated gods

Walls.

Walls. We have seen roundtable conferees make their points in implacable knuckles,

In battle cries of clenched teeth

we have seen graphics of Power-

point presentations of live jugulars

populating pages of pathos.

It is that weather again,

of wind-aided insights into fowl anus revelations,

of cracks in walls touted maximum

security.

Walls.   Cracking now like the spirits of albumens when yolks have already been

readied for omelets.  So much for impregnable defences, of egg shells.

Walls.

The bend of Beckham’s ball beat a mollusk whorls closeness of stonewalls

walls. Many saw it but not the handwriting on the

walls. Not the moral of the mural

now staring Nebuchadnezzar’s scions in the face

like warning teasers from the midday sun.

When rams are on heat – the rams embedded inside the denseness of the sun

who can count the colours of their bleating lenses at noon?

Who would have thought that the deli of Delilah termites

packed enough seismic ammo

to expose the underbelly of Samson’s granite cast

for what it really was –

red mud

Walls. They that build walls

make geckos of men.

you could comb the farthest forests

of walled history

with a tour guide of Wollof dancers

pointing with their rising nipples to the curve of fallen civilizations,

you can listen to the lament of the cremator

as wayward winds stake claims

to the recycling rights of his own cremation dust

you can study history

from hieroglyphs to hash tags of in-vogue memes

you will not find sturdier grounds for walls

than the ego of the emperor.

Continue reading

A CUCKOLD’S HONOUR: Two page review of Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives

A harem keeper is much like a bee keeper; enjoy the honey, but brace for the sting, one day. For Alao, a.k.a. Baba Segi, the eponymous highfalutin husband in Lola Shoneyin’s debut novel, the sting did not come in a day; it happened every day of his married life. But in this well-knit social satire, it needed an unlikely help in the form of a fourth wife, for the portly polygamist to unravel it, to himself and to the reader, and that is served only in the last set of pages. Now that’s the stuff of page-turners. You emerge at the last page scared: if Bolanle, the odd ‘acada’ type among that motley harem had not happened on the scene, or if the senior wives had agreed to co-opt her into their well-guarded scheme, everyone would have lived happily ever after, and the putrid pus of the scandal might never have burst into the open!

The novel reads like Moliere except for its strong tragic echoes. Its 245 pages pack quite a punch: Baba Segi practises being dead; Segun, the ex of one of the wives goes to great length to abort someone else’s foetus he thought was his; a character enjoys reading a love letter she wrote to herself, which is the next best thing; mothers and daughters, long emotionally estranged, reunite in a Graecian dramatic setting, and much more.

The novel projects love in all its convolutions, real and pretended, sometimes a mere crush, often filial, and erotic, and, in at least one instance, LGBT compliant. But my top pick is the love that steadily grows between Bolanle and Segi, daughter of the matriarch of the family and unrepentant hater of Bolanle. The Bolanle-Segi rapprochement has enough ingredients to sideline Alao and his harem tales into a few paragraphs and generate a love story of its own – the love-across-enemy-lines variety.

For those who wish to be transported into a deeply Nigerian, nay, Yoruba, cultural milieu with locally- flavoured language, rustic mannerisms, idioms and nuances, yet conveyed with the ease of a first language user, here’s your book. The likes of Lola Shoneyin are children of Fagunwa and Tutuola in the age of linguistic sophistication. Village-bred philosophies and cultural memes are melded rather than merely built in. That was my joy as I savoured page after page until – well I don’t know if this is a female Nigerian ailment – these lines seized the rove of my eyes: ‘He emptied his testicles as deep into my womb as possible. Such graphic lines suggest not just a pandering to the goddess Erotica, but an afterthought, to satisfy the cravings of a certain readership clique – those who sit abroad with the yam and the yam prize. But Shoneyin, daughter-in-law of Soyinka, who spurns her more illustrious surname ( at least in literature terms) in favour of her maiden name partly to underscore her indebtedness to her father for his encouragement, is not just about local flavour. … The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is far more than the refined equivalent of Aluwe, Baba Sala and the Fuji House of Commotion that routinely regale Nigerian TV audience with stories of similar cultural DNA. Shoneyin writes with the ease of a first language user. The language does, in fact, on occasions, rise to hypnotising levels, as when the author imbues the wind with teeth to convey its coldness, and when ‘Iya Femi picked me up with his eyes and threw me to the floor’ .

It s equally well laced with sarcasm. Like the drop of a tiny pebble in water, it leaves you with ripples of home grown philosophies. And that includes when the characters construct maledictions.

A lineage of female writers has treated the subject of love, polygamy and childlessness (Buchi Emecheta, The Joys of Motherhood, etc), but none has done so with such basket-weaver’s dexterity and flair. Perhaps a few readers may not need to be crystal ball artistes to guess how the old wives tales would finally resolve, but medoubts if any could crack the code until they get way beyond the hospital scenes where Alao is cold-bloodedly exposed to all the elements in the medical universe. The author first fattens him with delicacies from his own recipe so that the goddess of retribution would find him meat enough for her dinner. Shoneyin must have partly modelled Alao on the character of Baroka, the serial polygamist in Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel, for whom, elsewhere, Shoneyin confesses a deep distaste. And so she has Alao set himself up nicely: the occasion of receiving a lab results becomes a momentous one. He is the faultless, family-supporting husband, the generous sperm donor extraordinaire who suddenly runs into the misfortune of a barren fourth wife with whom he is about to lose his patience unless she sorts herself out quickly at the hospital. By the time the medics get to the bottom of the matter, conveying the balance sheet of his sperm account to him becomes both a medical and moral dilemma. But the needful has to be done even if someone has to fall from the high horse of his self-praise. And what a thud!

Except perhaps for a hanging dependent clause [P.220], the book makes for a smooth, easily digestible read. I have issues with the manner Alao’s health matter was allegedly resolved, and with certain other threads that were rather left loosely around the nebulous character called Teacher.

The candor with which book treats the subject of family and infidelity borders on recklessness, yet the last pages are invested with a depth of sensitivity and pathos that can only come from a compassionate heart. Perhaps Alao invited his own cuckoldry. With a massive, massage-seeking ego and a lack of introspection, the wives were hard-pressed showing him any pictures other than the very one he wanted to see. It is a tribute to Shoneyin’s savoir faire that, after orchestrating that great fall, she manages to sew up Humpty Dumpty’s honour together again.

The author acknowledged that the story grew out of an anecdote told her by a friend; one wonders how much of the novel now translated into French and produced on several stages around the world actually owes its brilliance to that original anecdote and how much grew from the author’s fertile imagination.

Book: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives. 

Publisher : Cassava Republic, third edition, 2015                                                            Reviewer: Anaele Ihuoma.                                                                                                         Review type: Two-page review series. One page-version available on request.