SCARS, SCARCE MEN AND HONEY
One-page review of Molara Wood’s Indigo
Publication Year: 2013; Pagination: 164
The place of women in African literature has never failed to generate impassioned arguments. Whether they are characters in novels or the authors that assign these characters their roles/status, the amazons, or their presentations, have frayed tempers often along gender lines, from the oral heritage through the written text to the era of cinema/video. Molara Wood might not have intended entering the fray, but that’s exactly what she has done with her short story collection Indigo.
If the encounters that have generated controversies over the years are cast as conflicts between the sexes, and if the men have been having the upper hand, what Ms Wood has done in Indigo is expose the hollowness, indeed, the pyrrhic nature of these supposed victories. The evidence cuts across the seventeen stories that frame Indigo, but is most tellingly so in ‘Kelemo’s Woman’ where the oft-deprived wife of an activist extracts a sweet revenge from the men and their anomalous society that would ride roughshod over her and her feminine sensibilities.
The stories range from some glorified micro-fiction (‘A Small Miracle’, ‘Girl on the Wall’, ‘Fear Hill’) to 5K and 10K worders, among them, ‘In the Time of Job’ and ‘Night Market’. Not all the stories depict a character of Iriola’s brilliance, (Kelemo’s Woman), one who deftly sucks the sweetest honey from a bee-guarded honeycomb. But in their own way, each story situates the woman within a social conflict zone, and dares resolve such conflicts at the whim of the woman herself, even if she sometimes turns out worsted from it. She is thus an active participant not a marionette pulled by invisible strings. A preliminary reading of some of the stories (‘Gani’s Fall’, and perhaps ‘Written in Stone’) might suggest that the womenfolk – writer and characters included – are now mocking their erstwhile conquerors; this might not necessarily be so, but each story in some way represents a dimension of the celebration of freedom way beyond the dream of the early generation female writers (Maryama Ba, Buchi Emecheta, etc). Whether it is the freedom from race-induced belittlement (The Last Bus Stop), from a water curse (Trial by Water), of from economic bondage, each woman throws her liberty party in her own peculiar way. Some tales resonate with now familiar themes; ‘A Small Miracle’ instantly conjures up heart-rending images of Alek-turned-Joyce in Chika Unigwe’s On Black Sisters’ Street. For me the beauty of this collection is the manner each story’s underlying aesthetic is distilled – not in copious verbiage or even minimal words, but in some nifty literary footwork out of which crystallizes the story’s salient message. But the stories are not all gender battles; ‘The Scarcity of Common Goods’, for instance, builds up a complex web of marital infidelity but ends up a lavish festival of dirty linen laundry complete with trado-biological warfare. Agreeably so, for the weave of tales of wayward waists was getting way too unwieldy for Ms Wood. A purist’s lens would pick out an inelegant punctuation (mistress’ hand: some controversy here, admittedly) and AmericanEnglish intrusion in a BrE environment (‘snuck’ rather than ‘sneaked’). Molara Wood might have been bred in England but should that justify a rather patronising, out-of-Africa, neo-Tarzanist, exhibitionist treatment of traditional African religio-cosmogony in ‘Indigo’? Still, she serves up a delicacy of tales good enough to get an ascetic on a binge! They project young men and women, mostly, in dire situations. They augment our meagre existentialist resources, they speak to our age, our social consciousness, our conscience. They seek to connect, or reconnect to our ebbing memories, receding hopes, intangible presents, uncertain futures. They test our resilience, personally or vicariously, in the face of mounting odds. ”This country of ours cannot be helped, no matter what the likes of Kelemo do, no matter the sacrifice, this country can come to no good” says one character. Yet from another ambience the stories are hands outstretched, an embrace of future endeavours and victories: if we faint not.
Review type: One-page review series. Other novels reviewed under the series include: Orlando Dokubo, The Arm Twist, Lola Shoneyin, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives; Binyavanga Wainaina, One Day I Will Write About This Place, Michael Afenfia, Don’t Die on Wednesday, 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: firstname.lastname@example.org or inbox me at facebook.com/anaele Ihuoma.