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.



"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:


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

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.