Monday, 31 December 2012

“Edible Bones” by Unoma N. Azuah




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The plot of an immigrant story is easily predictable. One must just accept that as a constant and, perhaps, resolve to find other thrilling qualities from it aside its plotting strength. That will greatly pay off. An immigrant story often suffers from its reflections as it as well gain from it. There is the strong urge to recline the newly discovered on the discarded past. Such writing is always a comparison of two opposites. In shunting between what is and what was, over-ambitiousness becomes inevitable. Most at times, there is a quick comparison between the grim and the attractive. Also, in this kind of writing, there are two monsters that must be satisfied; the foreign and the used to. That makes a writer unfortunate in narrating from two unalike worlds. And speaking of both, a writer is soon torn between what to balance and what should stir the reader’s imagination. "Edible Bones" falls fault to these. Or, maybe, I should say it shares the feature of its kind.


However, it is the simple prose Unoma brings to use that rescues the clich├ęd plot of this book. Every other thing, apart from a few, tailors after the crappy movies Nollywood has come to be known for. "Edible Bones" rides on the strength of a simple yet riveting prose. In the book, Unoma is indeed not on a task to over-impress with her diction, she writes simply with the mind just to tell a story. There is elegance in simplicity, Unoma Azuah shows that much in this book.


Over-ambitiousness

As it is with most immigrant stories, this book riles me with its over-excitement to side with the stereotype; that everything abroad is different from things here. That alone pulls down the main effort of the novel to de-stereotype the fixed reason for seeking greener opportunities. I could not just get my head around why an author would, maybe unconsciously done in this case, get along with the general skewed conception that only points to a shoddy research. But really, does Unoma need an in-depth research to know what level of exposure an average Nigerian is opened to? For goodness sake, an average Nigerian is almost, if not more, informed as his American counterpart. If nothing has prepared him for such, the media has done a great deal in that regard. He has movies, technology and books to get him such enlightenment on a silver platter. Everywhere is now One World, Third World must soon be scrapped from our mentality and word use.

Some parts of Unoma’s rendering of Kaitochukwu’s ignorance of the America culture are unimpressive. An instance of such is this;

 “’Can I have something to drink, please?”
’Soda?’
Soda?’ Kaito was confused. In Nigeria, Soda was a type of soap. The lady saw the confusion on his face and tossed a can of Coca-Cola to him.” (pg 14)

That kind of portrayal is just cheaply misleading, especially in a book that seems to narrate the experience of our present day realities. Soda drink is as much popular here as it is any(exposed)where, so why the hype?



These Floppy Lots

I have been searching for the word “prostrate” and I hope I stumble on a different meaning from its known meaning and usage, just to make sense of the way Unoma has employed the word. Also, there is no place it is known in Nigerian cultures that women prostrate when greeting. The best the traditions demand from them is that they curtsy. Unoma may have to take me on a special tutorial on the word “prostrate” someday. This is one of the numerous examples that smack of the careless editing in this book.

“‘Welcome my dear’ Kaito’s father greeted her. She prostrated before him, and he patted her back and asked her to stand up” (pg. 234)

Moreover, I do not understand the swift-age development Mukhtar, Amin’s son, goes through in this book between few pages. On page 48, he is 3 years old, how he becomes 4 years old on page 62 is what only the careless proofreading that goes into the book could explain. One can only rationalize this mistake if only one infers from the space of time between page 42 and page 68, which record Kaito’s second appointment at Amin’s store and the time his relationship with Sabrina suffers. A little more character development there could have done the job. So simple.

On page 48;

“It was his three year old son Mukhtar that was quite talkative. He would be the first to say ‘how are you doing today?’ to customers that patronized his father’s store”

And then on page 62;

“‘Is that your girlfriend?’ Mukhtar asked tugging at Kaito’s knee… ‘If she’s mad at you, get a basket of flowers. Ladies like that. My Dad gives my Mum flowers when she gets mad.’
As soon as Kaito closed for the day at Amin’s, he headed to a florist. He couldn’t believe that he paid attention to the suggestion of a four year old child.”


The Book

Kaito’s life is a path gone crooked. Overcoming the evils life throws his way will be a difficult circle to square. His joys and victories are not for long. Even his delusions quickly taper down as reality spits in his face. “Edible Bones” narrates the suffering of Nigerians whose successes are moored to the America dream. In a matter of granted visas, bought tickets and direct experiences, all that shimmer will turn into glossed rots. And when the stink of everything comes out, there will be the utmost need to justify and invalidate numerous actions. To some, the bones may be strong and others may pretend it is edible, but when it slashes the throat, the discomfort will not be bearable. When Kaito goes to America, all his pains will seem to have ceased. But on his immediate arrival in America, the bitterness that once was will reemerge with new taints.

Though the book almost assumes a didactic tone, the traces are barely noticeable. The characters are almost fully fleshed out. In this book, every character is a symbol representing a story. We have Kamalu, a perfect copy of a Nigerian student in America living on crumbs to hold up. There is Abuda, the exact depiction of a futile clutch to life. And Kaito, a life which all forces, traditional and foreign, are up against. Of all the things I came across reading “Edible Bones”, I realized that Pentecostalism as an opium is not only in Africa, Americans use it to relieve their boredom too:

“Today, the good news is from the book of John. God wants you to be fishers of men… not wants us to be fishers of money, not fishers of sex”… Each word that came with ‘not fisher of’ was punctuated with a piercing “Amen!” from the crowd. Some added ‘Preach Sis!’ Yet others responded with “Yes Lawd!”… (pg. 54)


The Rescue

“Edible Bones” is an easing-off read. The narrative is natural with an effect. The characters are fallible and quite relatable. The novel expresses its tales with an absorbing telling skill. It somewhat extends the ambit of trite immigrant stories. However unusually, “Edible Bones” combines the usual with the rarely-told in some instances. There are the immigrant issues, the gay syndrome, the psyche of the American culture, the hypocrisy of the American system, the beauty and ugliness of African communality and the coldness of modern life; all which add a refreshing twist to the narrative. Kaito’s encounters become the folder of other stories, stories that come to define the value of an immigrant life. Subtly, though more brilliantly, the tales of two different worlds are bared. Nigeria may be a home of wants; America is neither a land of easy coins.

With its simplicity of plot, naturalness of characterization and smoothness of descriptiveness, “Edible Bones” worked my reading appetite, but I hoped it had done better. 


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CLR will resume for the year 2013 in February. We so much appreciate your committed readership all through the year 2012. You, our readers, are the reason that has kept us going. We heartily wish you a fruitful and book-filled 2013. If you have any book you would love us to review in 2013, drop a comment or send us a mail (jomotayo01@gmail.com). Keep reading.