Sunday 30 September 2012

"City of Memories" by Richard Ali

@omotayome for Twitter

In this book, there are questions of identity. City of Memories explores the gap between individuality and muddled self-personality. There is indeed a difference between the two. To ascertain one’s individuality is to understand one’s self worth and weaknesses. Aside the many minor stories hedging it, City of Memories delves into the tortuous journey of self-certainness. Swiftly, the reader is let into the characters’ quests for completeness. The expository is rapid and the plot mesmerizes in no time. It is never an easy following from the start, but with subsequent flashbacks and the blending of the same into present occurrences, the reader understands the conflicts.

Farouk’s love is rejected and bedraggled. His attempt at resolving that puts him at risk. His journey of discovery to Bolewa is not without some mixed dramas. He loves Rahila Pam. As much as he searches for personal completeness, his finding will also set off inflammable mysteries. Only at the end will the victims be known. From the start, everybody’s balance is undetermined.  There are secrets; stinking with worms. There are also discoveries; hunting and scandalous. Shards of issues meld with other broad concerns; the revealing of one becomes the evil of the other. City of Memories is all-revolving. When the last page rustles, Faruk will have love-hated and love-loved. And while the ghosts of horrible things breathe, political scores will be bloodily settled.

For Eunice Pam and Ibrahim Dabirama, theirs are familiar difference with their children as collateral things. It is with them that memories are blackened. Usman and Ahmed are two ill-assorted sides of startling memories back-dropping Ummi al-Qassim. The gory politics played by common lives also comes up. The power-fight for the title of the Guma of Fulani almost becomes a closure on the internecine war billowing in the North. The decades' long conflict between Jos settlers and locals are as well touched. The manner all these are reined in and interlaced with the main story is laudable. Richard Ali’s masterly hold on the reader is clearly visible. These brief reflective lines sum up the novel;

“The difference between us, Faruk, and those we rule over is that we regularly go to our cities of memory, not to live there, but to discover how things really are before disintegration sets in – the ideal past is where we find the solutions that help us each day that becomes our future”


There is a reason behind every drawn sword. Eunice Pam draws hers for maternal love. But there are also other reasons why it must be sheathed; there are the helplessness of the weak and the innocence of many. When the other reasons are neglected for the survival of the singly loved, then the love is bestial. The relationship between Eunice Pam and her daughter, Rahila Pam, cannot be properly placed. It is one with consequences too disastrous. For the care of her daughter and the sustenance of her political clout, Eunice Pam will run the extra devilish mileage. Her love drowns Rahila Pam in mystery, leaving her stuck in the dilemma to requite her mother’s love or scorn her heart, Faruk;

“My mother engineered the uprising in the Benue. A hundred people died there… because of me. She was jealous that I was in love… The motives are complex and I do not understand them and really, I do not want to. ” (pg. 255)
Love is an awful split; a side of it is labeled hate. Ummi al-Quassim experiences the other side of love and she is doomed for posterity to unravel, or maybe for Faruk to discover.

A Study Case

Richard Ali’s perspective on delicate matters is interesting. This book swirls discussions and struts with them. In calculated drops, Ali artfully comments on some of the issues besieging the country. Ali offers their possible causes. While you may take Ali up on some, few are closer to the truth. For instance, the book would rather have us believe, despite the complexity that is the Northern crises, that the Bigotry of religion and the deceptiveness of the elites are the root causes of the Northern carnages.  Using Eunice Pam and Ibrahim Dabirama, Ali portrays the manipulative tendency of the elites to maintain their relevance. However, this is debatable when one considers that classes are not stable and the crises in question have outspanned numerous stratifications in the past.


Next Book; Ali Might Do Better.

There is an urgent need to tell and balance so many things in this novel. This makes it cluttered up and the reader is the worst for it. There is also a convulsion of too many things breathing hard for expression. In cramming so many things together, some of the messages appear carelessly skewed. If City of Memories were to be better written, it would be rid of those things. The novel’s over grouchiness constrains it to handle matters that should not ordinarily mingle. I can observe Ali’s thirsty need to dissect some matters and offer the Northern view of it, even when that is not necessary. This is really short of wit.

This novel dulls one's reading with histories that never add any weight to the storyline. This book suffers greatly from the hungry inclination to de-stereotype and straighten twisted stories bordered on ethnicity, politics and religion. In the process of tackling, it mires itself. That makes the narrative labored. The overreaching attempt to rescue the telling with mashed-up flashbacks does also not help. Ali’s shoddy use of flashbacks makes the book a labyrinth, you are easily lost in it. Though poorly done, Richard Ali sustains the flashback technique to a reasonable extent. But the sustaining leaves much to be desired in an artistic work as a novel.

Powerful use of imageries enlivens words. It is not the words that speak, it is the images attached to them that excite. Ali disappointed me on many pages. Descriptive words slurred where I was expecting them to appeal to my imagination. They didn’t and I lost connection with them. An instance out of many is on pg. 160;

“Rahila would have never guessed that her mother’s revenge already lay concealed within the pleasant mountains. In the weeks Rahila had spent in torment over whether or not Faruk would return, Eunice Pam had scooped the mountain clean and placed a charge of explosives there…”
Though City of Memories showcases Ali’s ability to relate good tales, but for now, Ali certainly needs to hone upon some writing techniques. The use of effective imagery and flashback are just some of them. Ali can do better next time.

Read this book. This is mine. My views. My shelf is growing. I am still reading. More books.


  1. Hi there,

    My name is Katie and I'm with Counterpoint Press in Berkeley, CA. I've been looking through this blog and enjoying your book reviews. I was wondering if you'd like to receive a review copy of Michela Murgia's Accabadora, an award-winning Italian novel making its English-language debut. The book is set in 1950s Sardinia, where a woman named Bonaria Urrai adopts a young girl unloved by her mother. Bonaria is childless and unmarried; her fiance was killed in the Second World War. Since then, she has served as her village's Accabadora, the "midwife" to the dead and dying.

    For years, Maria remains unaware of Bonaria's responsibilities until one evening, after an accident, a dying young man begs for Bonaria's help. Her response draws recrimination from the village, and exposes the truth to Maria. Horrified, Maria flees in search of a different life. Yet as far as she runs, Maria remains unable to escape her debt and her duty to Bonaria. This literary/historical fiction book draws up themes of family, loss, secrets and loyalty. 

    Michela Murgia was born in Sardinia. The publication of Accabadora establishes her alongside Marcello Fois and Davide Longo at the forefront of a recent renaissance in Italian fiction. The Italian-language edition of the book has won seven major prizes, including the Premio Campiello.

    The publication date is October 30 and we'd love any reviews pre-publication, but appreciate those after as well!

    If you're interested, please reply with your mailing address and I can send you an advance galley!

    Thank you,

    Counterpoint Press
    1919 Fifth Street
    Berkeley, CA

  2. Thank you Katie. CLR will review the book. Below is the mailing address the book should be sent to;

    Joseph Omotayo Allen,
    Department of English,
    Obafemi Awolowo University,
    Ile Ife
    Osun State. Nigeria.