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.