Category Archives: ANAELE IHUOMA BOOK REVIEW SERIES

TWISTS EN ROUTE A TALE Two-page review of Michael Afenfia’s Don’t Die On a Wednesday

TWISTS EN ROUTE A TALE
Two-page review of Michael Afenfia’s Don’t Die On a Wednesday

Title: Don’t Die On a Wednesday
Publisher: Origami Books, Lagos (Parresia imprint).
Publication Year: 2014

If Michael Afenfia’s idea of writing his third novel, Don’t Die On a Wednesday aboard*a supersonic jet was to speed up the pace of the narrative, he’s right on the Mach! What a smooth, fast-flowing prose!
Rather than a grand central theme, the novel tickles with several sub-themes each with its own brand of strip-tease of surprises. Much of it though, is looped around the central character, the English premier league professional footballer Bubaraye, whose fortunes and misfortunes on and off the pitch populate the pages from beginning to end.
Perhaps the sub-themes can be summed up by way of plotting the x and y axes of the other characters. Step up, Nikiwe, Bubaraye’s hard-won wife, an expensively assembled South African ex-beauty queen who still sees the world as a runway. Still basking in her pageant exploits she leaves much more on the reader than her haunting proportions. Niki is a chip off the old romance block, a whiff of Nadege in Teju Cole’s Open City, hard to pin down to any social habitation. After missing out on a starring role in Footballers’ Wives television series following her husband career-ending injury, she still gets herself film auditions in London’s innermost social circuits with an agent that ends up casting, not Niki, but her husband, in a big-time role of a cuckold. For real! Still, the reader would equally remember her as the dotting mother of a four year old boy whom she so loves that she has to engineer his kidnap, a feint that goes as horribly as it possibly could, putting the combined security apparatus of Nigeria, UK and South Africa in a frenzy and, finally, drawing her into the coolest corner of the darkest prison cell, way beyond the script of the consummate artiste that she was.
Next up is Tivovo, Bubaraye’s just-reconciled half-brother who with Niki plots his kid nephew’s fake kidnap with the help of a gangster who, in hijacking the ‘kidnap’ plot and making it real, exposes the naivety of Tivovo and Niki.
Don’t Die On a Wednesday would be much tighter without the encumbrance of multiple sub-plotting or, if such sub-plots were more tightly woven into the Bubaraye central narrative. One such sub-plot throws up the Reverend Onari D’Aziba, a new generation church General Overseer whose soon-to-be-estranged teen son, Sese, with restless loins, nurtures his belle’s teen pregnancy into a scandal that threatens to consume the General Overseer and his church. A stillbirth appears to have resolved the problem for the moment only for the presumed stillborn child to turn up, years later, a big girl, spicing up Buba’s intriguing matchmaking efforts. With a family reconciliation saga of its own, this excess luggage could easily constitute its own, separate storyline.
The twists and turns come aplenty. The romp between filmmaker Nareej and Niki ends abruptly after the author had build up the reader’s appetite for a longer haul. Bubaraye visits the hospital for his routine physiotherapy only to find himself entrapped by his own smooth talking. Before long he and his young female doctor and therapist, Pelumi, suddenly have the hots for each other and all roads lead to a revenge affair for Niki’s infidelity (think Richard, Kainene and her twin sister in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun) when a tryst with Pelumi suddenly veers off route, ending in the bizarrest of matchmaking efforts to nuptially rope in his star footballer, Sese and Pelumi! Similarly, you thought there was more to the late-into-the-night chess games between Buba’s wife and Brother Tivovo, but no, Afenfia is indeed a master of the red herring game! The greatest of the twists is Sese’ flight into oblivion for which nothing could have prepared the reader.
The kidnap episode – or rather – Niki’s rationale for it, constitutes some of the few episodes that beggar belief in this turbo-paced cliffhanger that sits somewhere between literary fiction and genre fiction.
The novel reads like it was originally conceived as a film script and subsequently fleshed out to provide the ‘novel’ dimension of depth, authorial perspective, character delineation, etc. Much of this though, is truncated by the multiple sub-plotting . The author appeared too eager to imbue each character with a mission that he often forgot his characterization kit and left his characters all ‘work’ and little ‘self’. There is a sense of a missing quotidian. The quirks and foibles, those little undefinables that the reader recalls and savours over and over, or which make a reader pause and reflect, are only sparsely in evidence. There is also the infusion of a couple of Shakespearean dramatic episodes that, because they do not fit into Shakespeare’s well constructed drama and his Elizabethan sensibilities, stand bizarrely out of place like a sore foot. An instance is the implausible reliance on Pelumi’s eavesdropping to unravel Niki and Tivovo as the kidnap conspirators. Which would perhaps raise fewer questions if the novel were mere genre fiction, an abbreviated whodunit rather than literary fiction.
This and a few lexical faux pas aside, (lightening for lightning, for instance), Don’t Die On a Wednesday has, through its own twists and turns, much like the silky skills of its footballer hero, earned for itself a nice little corner in a refined mind’s shelf. It is a brilliant read, particularly for connoisseurs of pacy suspense.
Anaele Ihuoma.
Review type: Two page version of the normally 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, 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.
*aboard a supersonic jet: Please make that fictional.

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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.

 

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.

ONE PAGE REVIEW OF TRICIA ADAOBI NWAUBANI’S I Do Not Come to You By Chance

One page review series No. 3:

 MUGU MAKING: MOTHER AS CASH COW: A One Page review of Tricia Adaobi Nwaubani’s I Do Not Come to You by Chance.

We have seen it before: the brother taking up residence in that part of his sibling’s heart  reserved for the father, [e.g. Jaja in Kambili’s in Purple Hibiscus]. It’s almost norm in the absent-father households of  Black America where, for instance, in  Maya Angelou’s  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya sees  a father and defender in  her junior brother  Bailey more than her real father whose name, as it were, is writ on the wings of migrant birds.

In Tricia Adaobi Nwaubani’s 338-page novel, I Do Not Come to You by Chance.[Cassava Republic, 2009], this pseudo-filial engagement  is taken to  desperate dimensions. Kingsley, who must be the protagonist [Cash Daddy’s large, even gross, presence must still be seen only as the sour grape that sets Kingsley’s teeth on edge], foists a large responsibility upon himself. His is a flight from a hunger epidemic that had ravaged his family, rather than a quest for a loud life, the sort epitomised  in his uncle Cash Daddy.

But he was to embrace that loud and ostentatious life with gusto, as supporting cast to Cash Daddy, against the over-my-dead-body objection of his chaplet carrying mother, the austere, husband-dotting  Augustina.  The result is a mugu-making  and mugu-milking enterprise that  easily makes the 4-1-9-business a pure art, albeit one with a warning label for the fainthearted.

Nwaubani’s characters are carved in concrete, and traverse nonfictional settings: Isuikwuato, Aba, Umuahia, London, etc,  complete with street names. The idiom-spiced language is not an add-on, it’s an out growth, unpretentious, natural.

In Nwaubani, neither mugus nor 419ers are your run of the mill, all-smart, all-greed constructs; they have their dainties and vulnerabilities. Kingsley’s commitment to the welfare of his siblings is so real, you find yourself almost extenuating, even forgiving, of his despicable means. On the other level, his comrade,  Azuka, vanishes, lured to his life’s abyss by his Iranian mugu; now who is the real mugu?

To me, the real challenge of the novel is how to situate the author. Is she treating yahoo yahoo boys with kid gloves, rationalizing their behavior by way of appeal to a doctrine of necessity, eg Kingsley’s numerous failed job search efforts? Or is she simply holding up the mirror?

The final mugu is Kingsley’s mother herself, Augustina, that hitherto implacable  moral colossus. But here, his prize is not the usual dollars and euros, but what he needs most to continue his cold-blooded exploits: her love and acquiescence. How he managed this is as intriguing as how the author, a young female, could settle comfortably into the mind of a man to ably portray the worldview of the character itself.

Augustina may not bring the cash like other mugus, but given the size of the guile and dubiousness that went into obtaining her acquiescence, she carts away the top mugu prize.