Saturday, 31 December 2011

‘Open City’ is…Julius



·         Reviewing Teju Cole's Open City

Open City is more than a book of one purpose streamlined plot and a contrived theme setting; it is further broader than that. With its loosed plot, there is really no story in the mainstream sense. The book is deep with intelligences meeting at different mental ports of the main character's emotional reflexes, intellectual recounts, aimless personal wanderings and physical social interactions. There are allusions of great intellectual stimulations flying off at each page. An important note to prospective readers of this book would be; Open City does not patronize details to you with end to end interruptive annotations of where you may have been confused; it really doesn't. That is one thing I admire about the way the book is written. You are to follow it through rapt study. That is never to submit the sentences are complex. The words are relaxed that you pick them at your own pace. You wouldn't find Open City in a boxed space of what it wants itself to be. In fact, the book never panders to the reader's mindset for a particular interpretation and appreciation; it takes you in, makes you wander amidst your own speculations and direct belief and hopefully takes you to where you say; Oh! This is what Open City is. It is as psychological and mentally stimulating as that. You have the personal responsibility to go on an adventure of discovery with Julius, the main character, as he roves through cities {New York and Brussels}, giving breath to places and things that speak of many historical memories.


***

Julius is the book. Open City is Julius. A sapient character of an observing kind, Julius lights up New York and makes the nerve of the city come alive. He knows everything about it; the paintings in the gallery, the movies in the cinemas, the monuments and statutes that are mundane features of the city, the historical topography and the invisible melancholic voices throbbing from various reconstructed sites. If I had accepted reading Open City without studying Julius; that would simply have meant going through inchoate sentences. Julius is the core of the book. He is the God, for all other things take a minor category in his scholarly world. Nothing eludes Julius' close observations. From music to paintings, cinemas, books and historical facts, he dissects things down to the trivial of details. In his voice, the past is relived. Unlike the normal conversations in novels that carry the distinctness of individual character with sound-bites and quotes, dialogues in Open City are made in Julius internal monologues. This gives him an infallible pristineness. Nobody is as faultless as Julius. When you meet him you would remember I said so.

Farouk almost put Julius' erudite soundness to task. He initially awes Julius as he generously arranges knowledgeable analogies and names into small talks; engaging Julius in academic thinking. He stretches Julius's brilliance to tautness. But when he slipped, Julius nails him and quickly concludes his fatal faultiness in arriving at serious decisions. Farouk has at the first meeting in the cafĂ© coined a word to describe Mohamed Choukri as an autodidact, but changes the appropriation of the same adjective to his self at their subsequent meeting, claiming he had used it so in their previous talk. Julius is a man of memories – triffling and significant; little slips off his memory. Farouk instantly becomes the victim of his own words.

Farouk speaking with Julius at an earlier interaction;

"To be a writer in exile is a great thing. But what is exile now, when everyone goes and comes freely? Choukri stayed in Morocco, he lived with his people. What I like best about him is that he was an autodidact…. He was raised on the street and he taught himself to write classical Arabic but he never left the street. " {p104}

This is where Farouk falls;

"But my deeper project is about what I said last time, the difference thing. I strongly believe this, that people can live together, and I want to understand how that can happen… But as I told you, I am an autodidact, so I don't know what form this other project will take." {pg. 113}

Open City's characters lavishly command meaningful significances in ordinary pleasantries. No attention is given to explanations and apologetic refrains. There is a way allusions are embedded into conversations that you just want to know why they are so important to have been mentioned. An exploratory instance is where Farouk, Khalil and Julius engage themselves in discussion at the bar in Brussels. Historical peoples and places become the very instruments of dialogues which are unfurled in Julius' internal monologues. There is the Holocaust, the 1940s Auschwitz concentration camp, the ethnic rivalry of Delaware and Iroquois, Finkelstein's and Noam Chomsky's dissimilarity. Henri Cantier's Decisive Moment, Nabokov's Pinn, Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello and various relevant theories of; Zionism, anti-Semitic, Piety, Ummah, etc.  Google is your partner in this reading. You wouldn't only be reading Open City as you browse through piles of valuable references. At least, without the Internet, Encarta program will do some assists.

I was more than astonished when I venerated Julius in a side notepad. I asked myself questions and conversed with my thoughts; how did Julius get to know of the various buildings formerly occupying the site World Trade Centre was built on? How was he so informed of the streets that passed through this place; some of which dated back to late 1800s? About music, paintings, books and places; doesn't he seem to know so much? This character must be a genius or his creator, Teju Cole, is.

If I had the chance to converse with Julius, I would vehemently question his anecdotal narrative of Obatala and his creation. There are numerous shades being added to the story of Obatala, Eledumare and iseda omo eniyan daily. I have gathered some, check here, here and here. With the popularity of Internet, these shades are constantly overshadowing the truth of this Yoruba creation story. A day will come, when historians will be left with only doubts and the frustration of tracing the real story. In classifying the cripple and the vehemence they bear against their creator, Obatala, Julius' slide to it amuses me;

"…Obatala did well at the task (creation) until he started drinking… he became inebriated, and began to fashion damaged human beings… he made dwarfs, cripples people missing limbs, and those burdened with debilitating illness… They worship Obatala in accusation; it is he who made them as they are. They wear white, which is the color of the palm wine he got drunk on" {p25}

I love Julius for his ingenuity and dislike him for his egocentricity. He determines what becomes fleeting and what stays on with meaningfulness. Julius' personality is in a messy split. How could he have trodden on Terry's poeticity in that manner? Terry can't have known the burdening blow he suffers from Professor Saito's…? Julius can just be that inhuman at times. Sex is a beautiful thing – a stint of it can't cause permanent forgetfulness as is with Julius. Moji; how I so pity her in the web called Julius. This Julius is so puzzlingly enigmatic.

***

A friend called me during my reading of this book and asked how I was doing with the book. I only had this clipped response for him; Open City is a piece of numerous lateral natures spiraling into the main meaning the reader takes away from it. Everything the book has to get across is at the proportion of the various readers' deep knowledge of the issues as sweepingly alluded to in the book. Yes, my opinion of the book was true then, even when I had just barely gotten farther the middle of its pages' length.

This is Open City. I, Julius, welcome you. Correction; I am Joseph Omotayo. I will never be him. I can't be that complex. Welcome to the review of Teju Cole's Open City.

---------
Bookerbay, a wall-less library is making gallant history in literature. They got this book to me. All I did was to nominate the book with a few friends who supported the nomination. This is a right step in a good direction. Now that I am through with the book, I really need to pass it on to another reader as the rules direct. Thank you Bookerbay, I appreciate the effort, Adebiyi Epistrophy Olusolape.


At CLR, we wish You a Happy, Happy 2012!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Disdaining the Literary Pyre: Biyi Bandele's Burma Boy


Above all, a good review should be informative and deeply reflective of the issues in the book it focuses on. You, the reader, are to conclude on what side this review should be commended for. But most importantly, pertinent questions are asked. Questions not only the readers should provide answers to. The book's writer and editor are questioned too. CLR leaves you here with Oyebanji Ayodele's take on Biyi's Burma Boy. Read and comment.

^^^^

As my eyes meandered with passion through the lane of texts that an author's pen has cleared before them, I was made to put into consideration the level of a pen's potency in bridging the titanic gulf between man and history. The mere understanding of the storyline lands with a thud in my mind the Yoruba proverbial saying that:

If the mountain doesn't deem it fit to move close to Mohammed,
On Mohammed lies the onus to move close to the mountain

Here is a sliver of man's history which has been creeping out of his reach into oblivion being chased back to its dwelling by a writer's pen. Truly, a pen is mightier than a rapier. The novel is a manifestation of Biyi Bandele's refusal to allow issues relating to the Second World War lie on a literary pyre. His culinary adroitness in concocting Tommy Sparkle's, his father's, Burma tales with other historical ingredients which his voracious reading taste produced is also evident.  We are all invited to take a sip from the urn of ages – Literature.

The griot in Biyi Bamidele through this novel seeks to inform the mind that cares to know that there was once a realistic battleground on which the Schwarzenegger simulations of blood, courage and death were better acted out (without rehearsals). The Second World War drama is presented based on the experiences of a fantastic Ali Banana, a young and inexperienced black soldier whose desire to fight for kingi Joji of Ingila (king George of England) results in a situation no reader could have prognosticated. Want to know more about this baby soldier? Hear him speak:

"I'm the son of Dawa the king of well digggers whose blessed nose could sniff out water in Sokoto while he's standing in Samanika. I'm the son of Hauwa whose mother was Talatu whose mother was Fatimatu queen of the moist kulikuli cake, the memory of whose kulikuli still makes old men water at the mouth till this day." (Page 37)
As a strong reminiscent of war, one sees nothing but war and more war…

When two mammoths engage in a free for all, grasses suffer all for free. The reader is made to see the involvement of the blacks in a war which has its causes subsumed in the white clouds of their black understanding. One striking thing about the war as recorded in the novel is that nobody is coerced into the army. Here is the message:

"Kingi Joji, monarch of Ingila is fighting a war in a land called Boma and he wants our help. He wants all able – bodied men to go to Kaduna and join his band of warriors." (Page 43)

What then pushes the like of Pash, Ali Banana, Danja and other Burma boys into joining the army? Love for their fellow humans you say? Never! Fellow humans who before the war and even after subjected them to imperialism. Ignorance is the word! I want to believe these characters are not in any way like the Biblical Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who weren't only impudent at the sight of the furnace but who also strove into it with confidence. The war front is never a kulikuli market as Aminu Yerwa sees it.

"When the OC asked Aminu why he brought so much with him, he said he'd been hoping to keep some for himself and to sell the rest in small portions to the boys when we got to India." (Page 53)
Whereas, the only ware for sale at the warfront is death!

If the attainment of manhood means death or some inane thing, I'd rather be a boy all my life. Samanja Damisa posits that "a boy is a man when he feels he's a man." Imagine Pash becoming a man with one leg; Samanja Damisa himself becoming a man with just one ear and Ali Banana… Why not read that up?

What if I say once a thespian is forever a thespian? The mode of narration of the story is an attempt by Biyi to hide behind a visor – Thespis' palm – which in this situation is transparent enough for the reader to discover that the work is better described as a novel written in four acts with its own prologue and epilogue. The ingenious diction which the author employs can be likened to that of an oral artist. The book is fraught with proverbs, songs and other literary embellishments with which the conflict is doused. Listen to this:

"A man does not run on thorns for nothing: either he's chasing something or there's a snake chasing him" (Page 96)

And indeed, they are running on thorns for something:

"… He is there to kill you or die trying…His commanders tell him that if he's taken prisoner when unconscious, he should stuff his tongue and choke himself to death…Our mission is to insert ourselves inside his gut" (Page 27)


Moreover, as detailed as the narration is, the narrator (or maybe the editor) leaves the reader to puzzle out an instance of contradiction.

Consider this:

"… my tale is long but I'll make it short. That very night, Yusufu, Iddrisi, and I set out on foot and headed as the crow flies, in the direction of Kaduna" (Page 43)

In relation to:

"They didn't ask me to come with them that night. In fact, they laughed in my face when I asked if I could come with them. I had to wait a month before I made my own way to Kaduna" (Page 49)

 Which do we believe?


The misuse of the word "anorexia" on page 179 also calls for notice:

"Quite soon the men began to fall sick, exhibiting symptoms ranging from flatulence to anorexia…"

Anorexia at the war front where there is little or nothing to eat!?

The sincerity of the story is apparent in its characterization. That it is complex is enough to be taken as an attestation to the fact that the stage on which war is acted out is large enough to take a large number of soldier-actors (as far as they can kill and may be killed). The story is one that can be likened to a scalpel slicing through a pregnant woman in labour. A monster is born rather than a baby. Via the convincing voice of the griot, the repulsive story of those who killed and died in the service of a history which is not theirs refuses to be laid on a pyre.


Thursday, 24 November 2011

"Blackbird" by Jude Dibia

John Steinbeck would have to be opposed on this one. I am a firm follower of his analyses, but certainly not where Blackbird is concerned. When Steinbeck opined that only a big book fulfils its mental and emotional obligations to its readers; he surely didn't realise there could ever be a Jude Dibia's Blackbird. In a little more than 300 pages, Blackbird lucidly rolls out an almost forgotten historical setting that could be grouped in the same class with genocidal slaughter. Really, past Nigerian leaders need to be undressed and whipped on their buttocks. Those who especially contributed to the community disintegration the Maroko exercise of 1990 caused should be manacled and pelted with putrid tomatoes before the noose throttles life out of them. That the case has remained unattended to till now, wallowing in the murkiness of crawling judicial processes, clearly portrays our complacency with mucous ills. Few decades from now, I wonder if our society would still be in a good communal grip. There are things to be forgiven; the 1990 Maroko incident which rendered approximately 300,000 citizens of the country homeless shouldn't just be passed under the rug and waltzed on. Blackbird's daring attempt at revisiting that archived scab of ours successfully pulls in our shared political hypocrisy.

Blackbird is an artistic bisque; it goes off the tongue juicing it with a tang that would colonize the aftertastes of subsequent meals. What etches the book on the memory is its near trueness to the details of the subject it dominantly touches. With the 1990 Maroko eviction as the central theme, Blackbird is a colourful pixel of assorted stories heading to an all-clasping resolution. Every chapter is bursting at the seams with demanding issues. Historical novels as this often lack the certitude of conclusion; meandering between opinions and objectivities at mushily prepared intermissions; hiding under the hypocrisy that fiction only plays out the imagination of the writer and as a result should not be held accountable when it doesn't align well with aptly detailed instances. To this, Blackbird is partially not. Blackbird does not suffuse itself with the messianic inclination of a literature that tends towards total healing. It only souses history in fiction to relive one of the country's neglected pasts.

Descriptive languages are wonderful seasonings of enjoyable narratives. Connecting mere strings of words with a lively portraiture of reality could be quite a labourous task. Without breathing imageries of strong senses, the writer would always have the concealed meaning of his piece to himself alone with only mangled appreciations from readers. Blackbird is fast-paced, the plot-construction is never leaden and padded. It is like Jude Dibia makes the very art of penmanship an effortless venture. The mental images are easily connectable with living realness. Adroitness at the creation of mental picturesque sceneries is a quality feature of the fluid descriptive excellence of a word-merchant; Jude Dibia is no less an astonishingly evolving wordsmith.
The imageries are clear and well classified. Some are olfactory:
"Her mother stood at the centre of the kitchen, flipping fish from one side to the other on the spitting hot palm oil. The fumes of the bleached oil hung over their heads like clouds cushioning the ceiling"(p35-36)
Others are visual and tactile:
"Now when her nipples stood erect and cried to be kissed and touched, there was no one to attend to them. When the mouth of her cervix clenched and unclenched with desire, she had to content herself with her fingers..."(p29-30)
"Underground City. A conglomeration of roguishly built shanty homes, it flanked the Sambo creek, a torrid expanse of water twisting like loins to the sea… It had its own lost soul and palpable body; its own vibe, expressed by a pandemonium of car horns, mixed with the cacophony of tired bus engines, overlaid by a multitude of voices that talked, whispered, shouted, traded curses, laughed, cried, sang and sighed… "(p105)

The book is about Nduesoh, the ugly and high heeled wife of Edward Wood. She is comfortable and at the same pace threatened. Blackbird also subplots the wavy path love takes in homes under pressures; Omoniyi and Chimaya tries rescuing marital tranquility in the dire face of economic downturn and stricture. In all, with the 1990 Maroko event being the themes' driver, Blackbird narrates the plights of Nigerians when a privileged minority controls all.

Measuring Punctured Personalities

Nduesoh (Identity Hemorrhage and Emotional Displacement): Even Jude Dibia is at a loss describing the total unfortunateness of Nduesoh. Hers cannot be properly placed using routine adjectives; she suffers from psychological torture than the ugliness a superficial observation would have one believe. It seems her internal scar always outgrows the elite status her matrimony with Edward Wood grants her. More than the troubles and rejections she bears from family and friends, she thrashes about futilely to ascertain who she really is and why she is who people define her to be. She seeks her answers everywhere: in the comfortable loneliness of her wealth; in her decryption of a husband that has changed her social class; in the abuse she suffers at the fingers of the policeman caressing her labia; and in the sexual stint she forces Omoniyi into. Nduesoh's personality and emotion is singed in different crimson traumatic fires. Her unsightliness is just the taproot of the numerous evils she contends with.

Scorpion & Ominiyi (Picturing the real Maroko): Maroko before the eviction was a community to those whose survival technique scares the very harshness they were confronted with. Maroko was a class to motley of livings and aspirations just like as obtainable in any community. Scorpion and Ominiyi are two allegorical sides of that society that must cohabit in great contrast and complement. Maroko's only sin in 1990 was in her adjacency to the high social caste that would only breathe well in the gentrification of Maroko's shanty town. What was understood as a slum was just the simple opposite of the towers and flowers-lined mansions in Victoria Island.

Ominiyi is educated and full of hope of the opportunities immanent in education. In Shiloh, he constitutes a group that thrives to maintain some standard in a community purportedly populated by hazy citizens. Scorpion (Deji) is a foil to whom Ominiyi is. For Ominiyi to subsist in a time labour market is being bloated; when industries are winding up and workers being downsized, Scorpion must act the deux machine to his mystery. Scorpion is a rogue, a hirer of blow-jobbers and a one-man suzerain of decadence. When Underground City is similarly cleansed and unbarnised; Ominiyi must now pay Scorpion in the same favour Scorpion has always shown him (Ominiyi) since childhood. With the destruction of Shiloh comes another definitive terror, exactly like the aftermath the displacement of Maroko's inhabitants to neigbouring communities of Ilasan, Ikota, Maroko-Beach, Aja and Okokomaiko did set off.

Edward (Neo-Colonialism): Edward Wood is different from what his colleagues are. He is pure of heart and humble even though his skin gives him unfair advantages from the groveling blacks. Edward is not thoroughly the kind of character Jude tries to depict. In his shallow differentness, he appears too smarmy. He combines the trait of neo-colonialism with unmatchable rectitude. In the way the colonial masters would today ensure their role of the Big Uncle is constantly played, his every step and attitude passes quick judgment on what are wrong with the country. Edward is too impatient to comment on the things that are not being done in the upright norm. His unchecked leaning to the allure the female black skin gives him does not end with his marriage to Ndeusoh. He soon becomes tired of her and always wanting to extend his trident to fish for other black roundedness. Females' blacks' beauty becomes the artifacts he must acquire, feel and possess.

Plucking the feathers off the Bird

   The insolvability of the issue in the prologue sours the book for me. An issue as complicated and historically relevant as the Maroko eviction exercise can't just be given to the random indecisiveness of writing to ruin its tangibility. The uncertainty of the rationale behind the assassination of Katherine sides against the very excuse that brought about the Maroko incident initially. Katherine's massacre is projected to be one of the characterizing frequencies plaguing the slum. Katherine's case can't just be fobbed off in that manner; Scorpion carries out a contract killing, that isn't a blitz attack that the absence of its resolution in the book shows. Blackbird might not have been written as a thriller, the indetermination of its prologue doesn't seat well with the brass tacks of an historical novel.

Maroko's event cannot be properly recorded without the Oniru's royal family role clearly stated. Maroko is an important history revolving around numerous unresolved conflicts. Any subtraction of core details thins down the essence of the retelling. In the Oniru's instance, the dynamic characterization of the Arebi's family would have been a perfect depiction of the Oniru's contribution to the whole scenario in 1990. The passivity of the Arebis is a big wasted material in the book.

With the editing flop in the book, I should be hiding my head in shame, having once praised Jalaa Writers' Collective here. Now, only the silent spirit would know what the cassava tubers and its paraffin fellow would be saying in whispers, chortling in the glory Jalaa's professional sloppiness has given them.



Used sources:


Monday, 7 November 2011

Between Lola Shoneyin’s and Abimbola Adelakun’s Stories

In this essay, Adebiyi Rasheed is never in a rush, he takes good time in outlining the parallels and differences that exist between the two books of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives and Under the Brown Rusted Roofs at close comparison. CLR hopes you find this review on these books informative. Read as CLR features Adebiyi Rasheed's offering.


Relish!


****

 

 

Two stories. Two women writers. Two slightly different settings. Similar issues addressed. These are the similitude between Lola Shoneyin's The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives and Abimbola Adelakun's Under the Brown Rusted Roofs. While the similarities do not end there, the differences are many too. The only way to cast a comparative appraisal look on the two books is to examine them through their StorylinesCharacter DevelopmentMode of Narration and Cultural Portrayal.

 


Storylines


Shoneyin's book centres on Baba Segi, his four wives and the dark secret that envelopes his household. To partake of the 'family feast', Baba Segi's wives ford the shoreline of the despicable to marital grimness at swift will. To keep the family whole under Baba Segi's roof, vows are betrayed and sacredness defiled. However, the coming of the fourth wife, Bolanle, bells the cat. Being well-educated, Bolanle's coming is never well-received by the other three wives. They see in her a threat to their hold on their husband. This marks their undoing as the wives' long concealed secret begins unfurling its rinds at the medical trial of Bolanle's reproductive ability.


Adelakun's story documents the travails, pains and intense relationship that exist in a traditional polygamous family in Ibadan. It focuses on the marital, social and political journey of Alhaji Arigbabuwo and his family. It narrates the attempt of the man to manage a home made up by Iyale Agba (the hurt first wife), Afusat (the sociable second wife), Sikirat (the troublesome third wife) and their children. The narrative captures the ups and downs of rearing a big family in the midst of other extended relatives. Under the Brown Rusted Roofs is not a story of an individual but a narration of a city and its attempt at the survival of its inhabitants.

From the summary of the two stories, a discerning reader can easily see a trend in the narrations of the books. The two writers tell their readers a single story of family life. They both focus on polygamy and the revelations that emanate from polygamous families. While Shoneyin uses the big dark secret to drive her story, Adelakun dwells on the family interaction and culture to take her work to a meaningful end. Shoneyin picks her characters individually and bares them open to the readers; Adelakun uses the collective thread to weave the story in her book. However, kudos should be given to the writers for stories well told. A conscious reader should be able to locate the likeness in the stories and at the same time pick out their differences.

 


Mode of Narration


The writers, despite the parallel of their stories, use different Narrative Modes. Shoneyin opens up her book with an omniscient voice but reverts to a self-confessional style where each character tells their stories. That is why she titles each chapter after a character and gives the concerned character the room to narrate personal ordeal. This aligns well with the secret she uses to drive her plot.


Adelakun leaves nobody in doubt that she will play the Supreme Being in the lives of her characters. She opens the story with a reference to the early life of Alhaji Arigbabuwo and his own dad before coming to reveal his adult life as well as his family. She knows her characters thoroughly. She understands what drives them and the fear that gnaws their heart away. She sees it all and does not hesitate to expose them as well. Observant readers will know Baban'sale and his habit of being at every fight no matter how ridiculous within the compounds. They will discover that Afusat has a hold on her husband and that most of Alhaji's decisions have Afusat's inputs. They will understand without much difficulty that each woman in Alhaji's household operates from behind a facade and how individual woman longs for the companionship they are in deprivation of by the presence of other women in the family. Adelakun truly plays the god.


Despite the difference in the narrative modes of the books, the authors understand their styles well and make use of them almost to faultlessness. The total omniscient narrative technique Adelakun utilizes fits the plot she develops while the self-confessional method adopted by Shoneyin gives interesting appeal to her plot development.

 


Character Development


Closely related to their narrative approach is their Character Development. The two writers develop their characters to a point. Shoneyin caters for her characters on individual basis. Adelakun fleshes out her characters from the community of other characters. Through the self-confessional method Shoneyin exercises with, one is able to appreciate the individuality of the characters and the story that each has to tell of their lives. In Shoneyin's piece, we are introduced to each character singularly. This makes enough information available to the readers and we are able to interact and empathise with the characters. A good instance of this is the revelation of each wife on how she finds herself in Baba Segi's house. With her glowing searchlight on each individual, readers are able to see through the characters and why they act the way they do. Readers are also privy to their thoughts and the reasons behind their actions.


Adelakun's god-like narrative mode contributes to the development of her characters too. She picks on the characters and divulges a lot about them. She knows the reasons behind their actions also but reveals them in the third person. This maintains a kind of distance between the readers and the characters. We look into the world of the characters from the eyes of the author. But the style suits the story. It makes her authoritative. For example, she reveals Afusat's hypnosis on Alhaji Arigbabuwo through her authoritativeness into the intimate time of the two characters. She is also able to justify why Afusat will be the most successful of Alhaji's women: Afusat has the first son with a university education in the house hold; she deserves it as she works hard for it; shielding her sons from unhealthy influence in the compound. The use of the omniscient way of revealing her character shows she has a good grasp of the people involved in her narration.


The two authors carefully choose to build up their characters in a manner that goes down well with their different stories.

 


Setting


The Setting of the two narratives is seemingly alike but slightly different. Shoneyin sites her story in the urban educated area of Ibadan. Adelakun locates her own story in the rural part of the ancient city. There is a boundary between these two parts at KS side and Total Garden in Ibadan.  This is reflected in the kind of characters they portray in their narratives. In Adelakun's story, the characters reside in agbooles which can literally be interpreted as rural compounds. Shoneyin's characters stay in a superficially enlightened environment. In Under the brown Rusted Roofs, decisions are influenced by a horde of relatives and inquisitive neighbours. Shoneyin's characters are secluded from the inquisitive eyes of neighbours.        

 


Portrayal of Culture   


Adelakun scores a first when it comes to Portrayal of Culture. Granted that the two books are set in Ibadan and that Adelakun's work is more on the rural side, yet, Shoneyin's book cannot stand its side when it comes to how culture is used in the two books. Adelakun employs proverbs, folktales and songs. It does not stop there. She uses legends and myths as well. In short, she deploys local culture to a fault. This is what Shoneyin's lacks. It should then be mentioned that even though the deployment of culture gives shinier colour to Adelakun's work, the absence of it in Shoneyin's book does not take anything away from its aesthetics.


The two writers are deft at story telling. They tell their different stories in distinct styles. They look at an issue with two unlike eyes and each could be said to be right in their own ways. They use simple language to tell the world of the experiences of women who find themselves in a polygamous family without giving judgement of any kind. They leave the rest to the readers to decide. Being women, they talk about one of the plights of women without being seriously sentimental. It is a rare feature of mature writers.  



·         Adebiyi Rasheed could be reached through biyicrown@yahoo.com 

Saturday, 15 October 2011

African Roar 2011 (An anthology of 14 short stories)

© Joseph Omotayo


In a protean undulation of writing mastery, African Roar 2011 guides you through the labyrinth of issues its collective fourteen African writers are laden with. Africa is a complex geographic mass of confusing and diverse matters that cannot be relayed by the artistry of a single pen and African Roar 2011 draws on the unequaled strength of literature in varied contributions to orderly piece together the mosaic of African realities. African Roar 2011 is not a demagogic rabble-rousing endeavour gearing towards hypocritical promises of political equality. It isn't also the misdirected restlessness of some literati's drool. This collection of fourteen short stories is a race-card of matters; rotting and stinking, and problems; beguiling and catastrophic.


Real stories are told. The views are bloody and grim. None is suffused with nothingness of opinion. The writers assuredly balance their canvasses on the tottery situations the continent is perennially plunged into. Their words are the paints. The colours are blacks. Africa may not be as dark as in the myopic journals of misinformed research buffoons, but truth be simplified, her leaders still delight in the evil their accused heads revile the governed with. In this collection, the reader navigates from commonplace seriousness to routine issues written in a refreshing perspective. En route the horrific instances that lie behind each author's nation's shroud, you are riveted to the pages by the succinctness of words that clearly express human struggles with life, societies and untamed forces.


It is a literary constant; anthologies of this nature are invariably known for flecks of imperfections that can only be accorded to the shades of individual writing techniques. African Roar 2011 can't be said to be perfect in its array of masterpieces. There are flaws that are only caused by the artistic degree some submissions sequence their stories to. Nevertheless, what engrosses you most is the aptness that goes into each work. A composite of catholic sort, the collection may arguably be the best compilation I have read so far this year.


In the African tradition and sacredness of figures; 'one' connotes a promising attempt, 'two' paves the path for certainty. African Roar 2010 was well manicured. This 2011 edition comes with the impress of certitude and unmatched exhibitions. The annual African Roar anthologies are not just a flash of a welcome development to African writing, it has mainstreamed itself to be a voice that melds the howls, echoes and cackles African writers use to bare their complaints about human disorder.


The African Roar 2011 anthology is a wreath placed at the tomb of Ruzvidzo Stanley Mupfudza, a Zimbabwean writer who died in 2010. In this collection, an epitaph is raised for his departed soul in Memory Chirere's tribute of him and in 'Witch's Brew', a piece written by him before his departure. Rest in Peace Ruzvidzo Stanley Mupfudza. You will still be remembered even as we read this anthology.

 


Snapshots:


"Longing for Home" – Hajira Amla

Grace is from an extended family in Zimbabwe. Hers is a kind of family structure that shows African communality within families. She is bright and sound. Her A-level result is astoundingly excellent. Grace Chirma begins studying in England. The frostiness of race-segregation she witnesses in England is the initial problem she combats with. As her country back home is ridden into Armageddon, her responsibilities pile up. In the first instance, her family's wish is to see her bring pride home to the family from England. But as Sekuru's – her sole sponsor and grandfather – health starts failing; she becomes the breadwinner of the family as she also struggles for her personal needs.

 


"Main" – NoViolet Bulawayo

This author's eye for details is uncanny and gruelling. She draws with words the austerity that once befalls the Zimbabweans. Main is the account of a country's citizens under the harshness of their leaders and the economy. The reader easily relates with the gory pictures this story portrays. It is simply the battles the common people are left to fight while their leaders face other selfish ventures aside governing. Meaningful brevity is good for a short story. Main is brief but moving.

 


"Silent Night, Bloody Night" – Ayodele Morocco-Clarke

Morocco-Clarke's piece's title is suggestive of what is to be expected in the story. You know it will be gloomy and that the storyline will be doom filled. In this piece, no word is wasted. Osadolor is a liege over his family and kinfolks. The whole Benin town (his hometown) always awaits his homecoming. Every festive season is filled with grandeur by his visit. He cuts a typical image of an African privileged class. The last visit Osadolor pays home becomes the story Ameze Obaze, his daughter tells. In his last visit, he faces karma. He is compelled to live with the consequences of a despicable act the robbers force him to perform.

 


"Water Wahala" – Isaac Ncequaye

Necessities are not the trivialities of human affairs. There are our breath and life. This work enhances the indispensability of water. The scarcity of it is the conflict Kweku Kyere and Agyapomaa confront at Adentan estate. The Kweku's household and neighborhood ration water. In Kweku's family, roles are performed as to who monitors water usage. When it is Agyapomaa, Kweku wife's turn, things could get messy. In the weekend that leaves Kweku's family dependant on two buckets of water, the survival of his family will be dictated by the caprices of Danso, the water tanker driver and water deliverer.

 


Writing; as it should be


I wouldn't want to read creative works that preach the way religion mundanely does. Some authors in this collection fall fault to this. Morocco-Clarke's piece reels lessons at a rushed pace. It doesn't work. It only bores. Whatever lesson needs to be impressed shouldn't be foisted on the reader. The revelation the robbers made at Osadolor's house is laboured and too instant. The lessons should have been in an implied lining. This will still reel in the reader's attention.


The art of imaginative writing is messianic. It is to pass whatever bugs the writer to an imagined audience/reader. It couches message(s) in the creative embroidery of expressions. Creative writing is a didactic trident that dips into the cauldron of human living. It is always a medium to advance, to redress and to sustain societal structures and human evanescent cycle. African Roar 2011 mixes fourteen short stories of high substances in the height of the concerns they are written on. How they solve their individual conundrum will be left to the readers to judge. African Roar 2011 is a collection to read if one would really want to feel the pulsating power of various budding and moulting African writers.

 

Friday, 7 October 2011

"The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives" by Lola Shoneyin

CLR showcases Oyebanji Ayodele's analytical review of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives, a novel written by Lola Shoneyin. Savor!

*****

Set in the ancient and 'complex' city of Ibadan alongside Ayilara (where both wisdom and promiscuity are on sale). Just like the city in which the story is set, there is a link to something as ancient as the city – Polygamy; the complexity of the story (unlike the city) which is as conspicuous as a soup stain on a bridal gown is also toned down by the simple language the author employs.

The Alao household is the crux of the whole story. Baba Segi, a rich and illiterate polygamist who is also confident of his libidinal ability decides to make his harem larger by adding Bolanle, a learned lady to his list of wives.  This makes the universal commodity of the wives – Baba Segi – very 'scarce.' Thus, envy crawls into the hearts of two of the older wives – Iya segi and Iya Femi – and they resort to showing Bolanle the exit route. Baba Segi who doesn't see beyond his insensitive nose does not know this. All he needs is a child from Bolanle. He 'screws' as hard as he can but the lady's stomach would not heed his sexual incantations. Then, Teacher, Baba Segi's friend gives his piece of advice – that Bolanle be taken to a hospital.

The quest for the cure for Bolanle's barrenness results in a revelation that rocks the Alao household. 

The conflict is resolved by Baba Segi's wisdom but perdition doesn't fail to pinch Iya Segi for indulging in so many horrible acts: 

The story is that which bothers on betrayal, innocence, promiscuity, triumph, hypocrisy, lust mingled with love and joy concocted with sadness.

What sense does a story make without apt characters? Or what sense does a character make without the story?  Lola's novel brings into limelight what suitable characters can make of a story and vice versa.

For a character like Baba Segi, illiteracy pervades all he does (even in bed). Despite all he goes through, he causes the reader to laugh and smell the stench his life produces. His wives present to the reader how plausible it is for the feminine folk to swim against the most violent storm their immediate niche triggers. Each of the wives has a reason for venturing into Baba Segi's household. The only reason that evokes in the reader a sort of pity is Bolanle's. Hear her speak:

'I chose this family to regain my life, to heal in anonymity…'

Really, she needs to regain her life after a traumatic experience.

The situation of the first three wives of Baba Segi gives an insight into what a story can make of its characters. Their husband's heart's desire causes them to be deceptive. Taju, Tunde and the meat seller are mere provisions of providence and Teacher, Baba Segi's friend, confidant and partner is a very important character. His case is better summarized with this proverbial saying:

'That an Islamic cleric's head is not fertile enough to support hair growth is nothing, the chin is always there to serve as a better location'

What he lacks in some areas, he possesses intellectually. Obliquely, Teacher's advice settles the conflict in the novel. Unlike Baba Segi, he deciphers the best way to solve problems as they crop up. His trait is in contrast to Baba Segi's who is both illiterate and insensitive.

What LAYMEN will call obscene and lewd in Lola Shoneyin's diction, I'll say makes her work factual and detailed ('open'). The diction keeps the reader glued to the ebb and flow of the storyline. Shoneyin tries to make use of her concise language: a product of the amalgamation of the White man's language and the narrator's creative Ibadan patois to 'torch' the thatch that has rested for centuries on the rigidly planted poles of African culture. This is the age of enlightenment and thus, Lola has afforded the youths the opportunity to allude to the Yoruba proverb:
Afefe ti fe; a ti ri idi adiye.
The breeze has blown;
The hen's feather-concealed anus is revealed.

The question the author puts forward to any analytical reader is: 'Why do we need to be hypocritical when it comes to bedroom issues?' and I believe she is justified. If at all Shoneyin is to be criticized, criticize her not for her diction, but for having such a strange taste that she almost exhausted the sex register.

Shoneyin at a reading in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife some months back said confidently:

'I'm a feminist…'

To that, I say:

'Undisputable!'

Feminism has always shared the same meaning with egalitarianism but with a different facelift – the voices and fists may not be vigour-nourished but they bear on them the scars that breed in their owners indefatigability. Imagine African women, who don't see anything wrong in peeling off the textile skins on their breasts just to make sure that their grievances are eviscerated.

Feminism in Shoneyin is balanced. Balanced? The work doesn't fail to sight the need for emancipation, not for the feminine folk alone but also for their masculine counterparts.

The issue of emancipation arises in the novel as the feminine folk are seen as mere sex machines. None of the male characters in the novel shows their female counterparts the regard they deserve but the real lesson Shoneyin wants to teach becomes overt in Baba Segi's advice to Akin:
'When the time comes for you to marry, take one wife and one wife alone… listen to your wife's words…'
And that is what emancipation means to the womenfolk: freedom of expression and attention without intrusion.

The balance comes when Shoneyin shows that females can also hold their masculine counterparts captives through their deceptive, obstinate, hypocritical and impudent nature. The result is totally unfair to the masculine folk. Discrimination aside!  This is still obtainable in the non-fictional world.

The narration is another aspect one cannot but touch. It serves as the backbone of suspense, which pervades the piece. The narrative technique is as eclectic as the diction. Thus, the narrator is not the altruistic type that helps the characters to open their mouths as well as live their lives. He leaves them at the centre of the proscenium to struggle with their strengths and weaknesses. None of them is denied the freedom of expression, not even Taju, Baba Segi's driver.

This type of narration helps the story to develop and unfold at its own pace making the exposition as detailed as possible. You can imagine each of the major characters narrating their pasts as well as their roles and perceptions as regards the conflict.

'The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives' is such a mature and stinking opulent work. It is told in a dramatic way by the funniest and most sincere story-teller. From the day the book is picked and till the read is completed, the reader cannot but 'murder darlings' for this new-found darling to be fully savoured.


Oyebanji Ayodele could be contacted via ayoyebanji@gmail.com

Monday, 3 October 2011

'Roses and Bullets' by Akachi Adimora Ezeigbo


Amidst the strafes and flaks contending for national unity and advancing of the new Biafra nation is the swayable love of Ganika and Eloka. The love Ganika is deprived of in a strict father, Ubaka, is salvaged in the arms of Eloka and the attentive nature of her brother, Nwakire. Ganika’s dream of nuptial bliss with Eloka is riddled with the invincible force that characterizes the war. Ganika will hope of returning to school when the civil contention stops. She will also nurture the faith of reuniting with her lover- turned-soldier when Biafra finally gains independence. As the characters of Ganika and Eloka are bedeviled with these marshy hopes and murky circumstances, only the flailing consequences of war will define who they eventually become.

Though the book is wrapped around the hackneyed story of the Biafra war, it does not aim towards achieving reckoning of the horrible civil struggle as many have been wont to. Roses and Bullet successfully attains closure of the grim realities of the Biafra time; which, I think is far applaudable to the unbiased views that skew the objective narratives of some.  As an academic material of information, which is one of the snags in the piece, it irritatingly drip-feeds an unaware reader with the nuances and intricacies of the Nigerian civil war. That alone makes it slow-paced that it tries the patience of an uncommitted reading so dearly.

Hard as it may be to agree, Biafra issue has been overbeaten to mundaneness in the country’s literary genres. There are deluges of books on the subject. Each time, these books only realize different actualizations in various opinions without offering new perspectives. At times you wonder if what you are reading is not a copy-paste of another familiar book written on the same subject. The similarity of events and thematic organizations in Biafra-majored pieces are easily noticed and quite predictable. The fallout of this is the subtle boredom that creeps on the reader. Roses and Bullets is infected with this malaise as it overmuch comes across with similitude of events with other Biafran novel. For a book of this thematic predictability to at least hold its own and be worth reading, the narrative has got to leave the precipice of telling the war to showing the dawning burdens the victims are left with. In that regard, Roses and Bullets creatively fits in. In reflecting the civil struggle that once threatens the country’s unity, Roses and Bullets packs much writing ardour in recreating fresh pains from decades-old cadavers of the civil mayhem. It encloses the worn-out with the imaginative creativeness that unburdens the reader from the ordinariness that is likely to seep out from the main theme. In the imagery thought impossible, memories long forgotten are juggled.


Advancing the Biafra; Battling the Vandals


Conscription of Fate:  Ganika can walk the length and breadth of the Biafra boundary without fearing sudden conscription to fight for the land’s defense. It is true she does not have to surmount the attacks of the vandals (the Federal soldiers) at the war front. But the helplessness created by the loved ones taken abruptly from her will redirect the course of her life. After Nwakire, her brother, joins the Biafra troops to further the noble cause of Biafra, Ganika struggles to live under her uncaring father (Ubaka) and her nagging stepmother, Lizzy, who is a semblance of a caring mother. Ganika later finds comfort in the loving arms of Odunze Eloka. That is not to last too. The cocoon Eloka’s love ensconces her with is torn when Eloka proudly enlists himself into the Biafran force. This triggers the origin of Ganika’s definitive sorrow as she battles with tearing challenges from her mother in-law. In her resilience to overcome her multiple pains, she is defeated by the unbridled semen of a Biafran lieutenant at Nkwerre. {p371-376}

Eloka and Nkwere (Ganika’s brother) might have indeed outplayed forced call-up into the army. As the only choice of honour, Nkwere and Eloka answer the patriotic beck of the new nation. What their contemporaries do in conscription they undertake in voluntariness. The horridness war does to humanity change their destinies with irredeemable taints. {p502-504}


Hypocrisy of War: During the civil feud, Nigerian government’s campaign of unity is carried out through mass pogrom and distortion of its citizens’ psychology in the new Biafra nation. I wonder how the flicker from Ejike Okoro’s lantern becomes the spotlight of an armed camp of Biafran soldiers. Ejike Okoro does not deserve what he encounters. He is innocent just like those being internally displaced by the war. He is no rebel. He hasn’t ever been to the war front. {p263-265}

What Ama-Oyi habitants only seek for is a safer and secluded region to continue the practice that makes life sustainable to them. They defile sacredness, moving their Orie market into the forest to avoid the attention they might call from an armed jet. It turns out their course of action isn’t well thought out. They fail to remember that anything Biafran in the glimpse of a Federal Government’s jet plane is a rebel that must be droned for unity to live. {p207-212}

It is just the end of war. Ganika’s only desire is to redeem her marital honour when her husband, Eloka comes home. She hopes for forgiveness when Eloka listens to her woes. She doesn’t need the love of Sule Ibrahim to be whole. All she hopes for is the unfastening of the burden that weighs her soul. That Sule Ibrahim circumcises himself before she gives him attention is just a scarecrow she puts up to remain Eloka’s own {p473-475}. Why should she be violated by the FG armed men who have come to request the blood of Sule Ibrahim from her {p491-496}? She has no hand in his death. Sule Ibrahim is a subject of his foolery. Why should he have been driven by infatuation to circumcise his genitals at his age?


Definition of History: The civil war established a new facet of history for the country. Ethnic incompatibility came to be more threatening than before the war. The act of the Federal government during the war became the blame of the tribe that dominated the armed forces of the country. The repatriation of malnourished Biafran kids from neighbouring countries of the continent immediately after the war gave birth to a new set of embittered generation. The inundation with horrors the war forced on the innocence of people brought new evils.  The war may have been subdued and the shadow of peace achieved for the whole country. The new breed of atrocities the end of the civil conflict exhibited is the battle that would take a long time to win. Eons after, these evils still perpetuate themselves as the norms of our society.

Udo and Ganika are the perfect allegory of the psychological torture children were subjected to in the war. Udo’s experience at the battle front robs him of his puerile innocence. After the war is declared done, the hunger and horror Udo witnesses will make a new being of him.

The discomfort of Amina Yaro, a northerner in Ganika’s class, signals the cut of the taunting rope of the seemingly unity between the North and the East. Amina Yaro can’t bear the conversation the portended civil war is generating. Out of self-volition, Amina stops coming to school. She perceives herself as a threat to the East. She returns to her homeland. {p169}



As A Reflective Piece

Literature is good for one thing: it gives equal honour to people to tell their stories. In narrating a story, they are different sides each sub-story of the main story presents various individuals. Roses and Bullets shouldn’t be condemned for being reflective of the stitches of wounds that scarred the bodies of many in its own way. My contention however is on the stickiness of a region’s literature to one side of a war that has been so written to wear and tear. There are other issues in the war people are not writing about. One should know that out of the large heart of any war principal are some selfish interests hypocritically nurtured. There were scores of fragile lots who would never be the same again after the war. There were many too who sacrificed everything for the war they least know about. It is not enough to write about how they went through physical and psychological damages, more helps will be done if other sides of the war are explored to offer fresh discussions. 

To do this in some way, concerned writers could take up the responsibility to uncover the weakness of the man who declared the war and later jetted out with his immediate folks few days to the end of it. That would stir up new diverse analyses on the war. Let’s write something refreshingly different about the war. It’s when that is done, that the writing terrain can be relieved from the usualness of one sided narration of the civil war.