In Voice of America, almost everybody has an international passport, while those without it only nurture escapes from different miseries. Give some of them visas and they are bound to become Americans or at least illegal immigrants. When their African affinity and culture pressurize their new American lives, they instantly are people battling with the same immigrant pains. As a bunch of the stories fail in similitude of themes and characterizations, others excitingly add refreshing twits to common telling. In this packing contrast, there is perhaps one thing Osondu is artistically deft at; he beamingly shows the unusualness of strange realities and the hypocrisy of individual frailties in the face of societal and household evils.
I won't give a stock opinion on this collection and be quick to pass it off as one stack that is raspingly filled with Immigrant issues. My view will be broad enough and I will first say this collection is a sterling art of storytelling before any other opinion is formed. There are glaring examples of Osondu's writing confidence in the book. The simplicity of diction and plots' flexibility in Voice of America are the authentication of Osondu's storytelling prowess. However, Osondu leaves many trails in the collection which point to only one angle – Western gentrification. Only a few of the stories survive on their own without tilting to a Western outlook and ingratiating themselves with the easy comprehension of an outsider. I will forgive an author that explains in reams what Agege Bread is, but when a place as historic and cyberly found as Badagry is relatively over-tutored, I will call that lazy writing for unexcited audiences. In 'Welcome to America' for instance, the addendum on Badagry only adds more drabness to the enormous burdens the collection struggles with. Osondu is helpless in his attempt to upsell the familiar to the foreign. The proofs are in the repetition of structures that cuts across most pieces in this collection; lacing potentially creative renderings with inexcusable lethargy that stretches on. In the unreasonable lengthiness the collection is muddled in, it can still be remedied if pruned from a collection of eighteen to seven short stories. What nauseates one most isn't in the futile attempt of high numbers that unfittingly characterize this collection, but that the stories that will have been better merged or alternatively left out are exercised in the same exhausted themes explored by other pieces in the collection. The spoiling issues that confront this collection are indeed avoidable.
You will have questions after the reading. Some might likely be; after "Waiting", is there any refreshing nectar offered in "Janjaweed Wife"? "Nigerians in America", "I Will Lend You My Wife", "Stars In My Mother's Eyes Stripes On My Back" and "Miracle Baby"; aren't they all substitutive and in need of reduction to get around unthinking repetition? Until questions as these are noted and solutions provided in subsequent republications, Voice of America might remain in the lower rack of readers' choices struggling to stand out.
Some Undesirable Parallelisms
'Waiting' <> 'Janjaweed Wife': In Waiting, only the word Tsofo tells you where the geographical setting of the book may likely be. In the refugee camp where this story plays out, nothing maintains its real name. Everybody is labeled and classified according to the type of solace s/he has been given. Orlando is called by the name written on the T-Shirt given to her. Paris is only known as Paris for her T-shirt reads See Paris and Die. Chars of some war they all are at the refugee camp, only the help extended to them through Western adoption will put them back into a sane society. But how long shall they all wait for?
Concerning Janjaweed Wife, when Nur and Fur are taken out from the imagined reality of what a Janjaweed solider is really capable of, they will become refugees seeking safety in protected camps. They will suffer and scramble for supplies, kill domestic dogs for meat when Red Cross delays provisions and be subjected to barbaric abuse from the one who later comes offering shelter. In the volatile situation that surrounds Nur, Fur and their mother, escaping the molestation that lies within their ultimate rescue will be a demanding choice to make.
When reading these two pieces, note the subject matter they both hungrily share and the story they both tell without so much difference. Everything in these stories is too closely similar.
'Nigerians In America' <> 'Stars In My Mother's Eyes, Stripes On My Back': Through the perspective of Adesua, the collective sufferings of Nigerians in America are bared in her family's house. Adesua's home provides the communal platform Nigerians alike come on to discuss their woes. Uncle John complains bitterly of the problem that awaits him from the report his contracted American wife's lays against him. Uncle Siloko, her father's childhood friend, is also mired in sticky immigrant trouble. In the night Uncle Siloko begins his temporary stay with Adesua's family; Adesua is invited for the wisdom she will gather from their small talk.
'Stars In My Mother's Eyes, Stripes On My Back' is a tiff gone bitter between the narrator's parents. It must have been more than stars the narrator's mother sees when his father physically assaults his mother. They must settle their marital differences before religion is given attention to – and who cares if it is Sunday? Uncle Boateng's visit has more to do than settling a trivial squabble, the narrator must sit with Uncle Boateng and his father after the family's reunion to gain sageness from their elderly chatter.
Harvesting Some Good Ones Out
My choice of these selections is not so much based on the stereotypical setting the stories sit in as it is on their freehandedness in turning fictional mendacities into relatable instances. They are exact to the situations in the society without being forced. The power that boils from their literary functionality moves you so close to deep appreciation of their messages.
'Voice of America': There is a good trick to this title and Osondu pulls it off to the success of the story. It is the anchor title of the collection. By the title, it is the least story you will expect anything spellbinding from. You are taken by surprise. It is the last piece in the book. The aftertaste this piece leaves you with easily makes up for the near daftness others reek of. A summary on it will upset the cart of the story. I wouldn't do that. The story is worthy to be left to the personal savor of the reader. It is that worth it.
'The Men They Married': This is a good example of how stories of the same theme can be dealt in a single combined narrative. It is the story of Ego, Uzo, Ebone and Malobi; women anguished and pained by marital un-blissfulness. Their emotions are unhinged and their stories pour out into the same trough to the reader.
'An Incident At Pat's Bar': There is this unusual excellence in every story that differently touches a matter so beaten to banality. When you read one, you wouldn't need to be told; you just know it. This is what separate essay writing from creative writing.
In Port Harcourt, Pat's Bar is more than where expatriate oil workers while away their time with sex, meat, alcohol and weeds. Charities that support different organization are constantly raised in dollars; even hypocritical preachers lick Pat's feet for dollars' support offerings for their churches. There is a show of class and Pat's Bar outshines others. But all these are before the changing time which sweeps through Pat's Bar.
'Teeth': A baby is born and nothing more is precious like the teeth he grows from the womb.
Keep trawling through; Voice of America is not totally blundered. I like collection of short stories, Voice of America has just increased my volume of them.