Sunday 24 January 2010

Have [Nigerian] Romance Novels Come of Age?

This week, Critical Literature Review showcases Nigerian writer Sylva Nze Ifedigbo doing a review of Myne Whitman's self published novel A Heart to Mend”. Enjoy! 

Nigerians, and indeed to a large degree Africans, are not particularly known for romance writing. The reason can be attributed to the sense of morality (real or apparent) that seeks to relegate issues of love to the secrecy of bedrooms and treats sex as something to be talked about only in hushed tones like it were some mysterious sacred ritual. We generally carry on like ‘we don’t do sex’ yet we have HIV, or ‘we don’t fall in love’ yet we have marriages.

Myne Whitman’s book, “A Heart to Mend”, makes a bold statement to the contrary. It shows that not only do we fall in love and marry for love, we also use love to conquer a wide range of situations that could have ordinarily been a bit difficult to shoulder alone.

Before “A Heart to Mend”, the closest the Nigerian Literary scene has felt of emotional writings were from a wide range of soft sale publications which were deficient in both craft and quality; both deficiencies that have contributed through a negative feedback to the dearth and ‘distaste’ for romance writings in Nigeria.

A Heart to Mend” comes however as a fresh breath of air. It chronicles the journey of Gladys Eborah, a young female Nigerian graduate from Enugu in South Eastern Nigeria to the commercial city of Lagos, first to find a job and then - in the process - love and ultimately marriage. In the typical romance stories style, this journey is not rosy, but is filled with so much turbulence which combines to raise the suspense and provide the reader a deeper satisfaction for the also typical ‘happy ever after’ ending.

Gladys doesn’t hog the spotlight alone however. Employing a double barreled lead character description approach, the author also brings the reader into the life and experiences of Edward Bestman, the young unmarried head of a business empire. Edward and Gladys meet in the very first chapter of the book but it takes a lot longer for Edward to overcome his mistrust for people (a psychological burden acquired as a result of childhood experiences of betrayal) and profess his love - one which he started feeling on that very first day - to Gladys.

For readers, there is plenty to like In the book.  Those accostomed with Nigeria will find that it is rich with very familiar words, places and things which they can easily relate with. We have for example the popular Peace Mass Transit which every Enugu resident knows. We have Zennon Oil, Terra Kulture, Tuface, Sound Soultan, Securities and Exchange Commission etc. The language utilised in this book is simple, however a reader might find the description languid in some instances. It goes on and on sluggishly, seemingly not in a hurry to get to a climax.

For people who find it difficult to read books without conversations, “A Heart to Mend presents itself as a good New year gift but then some of the conversation is drab and does not add any extra value to the main story.

A novice in the complex workings of the Stock Exchange and the various sharp practices that we often read of in the papers might find this book a worthy and handy learning guide. Exhibiting a good knowledge of the workings of the Stock Market, the author engages the reader in those business languages and mentions terms and concepts only those well schooled in that field would understand. I admire however how Whitman introduces these concepts in conversations which help the reader appreciate what is being said rather than foisting it down the readers in some kind of tutorial essay format.

The absurdities and sharp practices that exist in our business climes in Nigeria are well captured in this book. One of the characters in the book, Mr. Odutose, has developed a dubious way of helping companies get richer illegally. He is persistent in selling his idea even when Edward Bestman is adamant. Like in most things, Odutose finally finds a listening ear in another character, Chief Okrika, who ironically sets out to use the idea against Edward Bestman. It is uplifting to note however that Edward Bestman’s persistent refusal to buy into Odutose’s dubious plan shows that we still have credible and respectable Nigerian Business men and women; a badly needed reminder especially in these times when Nigeria seems popular globally for only the wrong reasons.

There are a couple of other downs for the book. For example, the reasons why Aunt Isioma abandoned her relatives for so long a time does not sound convincing, neither does the author do very well in explaining why Chief Okrika and wife should show up suddenly after so many years and begin to witch-hunt Edward Bestman.  Glady’s initial reactions to Aunt Isioma which are intended to portray her existing annoyance for Aunt Isioma’s unexplained wrong treatment of her relatives seems quite puerile. It also doesn’t ring as true that Aunt Isioma, given her wealth and connection, would leave Gladys (a first time visitor to Lagos) all to her self in her job hunt although she had kindly provided her the service of a car and a driver. In reality especially in Nigeria, such an Aunt (especially one portrayed to be eager to help) would have done much more. But then, this is fiction and I guess the author has the right to the soul of her story.

A Heart to Mend” which is the author’s début offering comes with many more pluses than minuses and gives an indication that this author is one to be watched for even richer outings in the future. Nigerian readers for example can now satisfy their yearning for well written, homegrown romance stories while the foreign readers can treat themselves to a different kind of romance; that made in the highly boisterous commercial city of Lagos, Nigeria.

[Sylva Nze Ifedigbo lives in Abuja, Nigeria. He writes fiction as well as socio-political essays.]


  1. Thanks Nze, this is great!

  2. This captures my heart...I am so glad Nigerians are proving to the world that we are capable ...