Category Archives: CONTEMPORARY FICTION

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.