Thursday 24 November 2011

"Blackbird" by Jude Dibia

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.

Used sources:

Monday 7 November 2011

Between Lola Shoneyin’s and Abimbola Adelakun’s Stories

In this essay, Adebiyi Rasheed is never in a rush, he takes good time in outlining the parallels and differences that exist between the two books of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives and Under the Brown Rusted Roofs at close comparison. CLR hopes you find this review on these books informative. Read as CLR features Adebiyi Rasheed's offering.





Two stories. Two women writers. Two slightly different settings. Similar issues addressed. These are the similitude between Lola Shoneyin's The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives and Abimbola Adelakun's Under the Brown Rusted Roofs. While the similarities do not end there, the differences are many too. The only way to cast a comparative appraisal look on the two books is to examine them through their StorylinesCharacter DevelopmentMode of Narration and Cultural Portrayal.



Shoneyin's book centres on Baba Segi, his four wives and the dark secret that envelopes his household. To partake of the 'family feast', Baba Segi's wives ford the shoreline of the despicable to marital grimness at swift will. To keep the family whole under Baba Segi's roof, vows are betrayed and sacredness defiled. However, the coming of the fourth wife, Bolanle, bells the cat. Being well-educated, Bolanle's coming is never well-received by the other three wives. They see in her a threat to their hold on their husband. This marks their undoing as the wives' long concealed secret begins unfurling its rinds at the medical trial of Bolanle's reproductive ability.

Adelakun's story documents the travails, pains and intense relationship that exist in a traditional polygamous family in Ibadan. It focuses on the marital, social and political journey of Alhaji Arigbabuwo and his family. It narrates the attempt of the man to manage a home made up by Iyale Agba (the hurt first wife), Afusat (the sociable second wife), Sikirat (the troublesome third wife) and their children. The narrative captures the ups and downs of rearing a big family in the midst of other extended relatives. Under the Brown Rusted Roofs is not a story of an individual but a narration of a city and its attempt at the survival of its inhabitants.

From the summary of the two stories, a discerning reader can easily see a trend in the narrations of the books. The two writers tell their readers a single story of family life. They both focus on polygamy and the revelations that emanate from polygamous families. While Shoneyin uses the big dark secret to drive her story, Adelakun dwells on the family interaction and culture to take her work to a meaningful end. Shoneyin picks her characters individually and bares them open to the readers; Adelakun uses the collective thread to weave the story in her book. However, kudos should be given to the writers for stories well told. A conscious reader should be able to locate the likeness in the stories and at the same time pick out their differences.


Mode of Narration

The writers, despite the parallel of their stories, use different Narrative Modes. Shoneyin opens up her book with an omniscient voice but reverts to a self-confessional style where each character tells their stories. That is why she titles each chapter after a character and gives the concerned character the room to narrate personal ordeal. This aligns well with the secret she uses to drive her plot.

Adelakun leaves nobody in doubt that she will play the Supreme Being in the lives of her characters. She opens the story with a reference to the early life of Alhaji Arigbabuwo and his own dad before coming to reveal his adult life as well as his family. She knows her characters thoroughly. She understands what drives them and the fear that gnaws their heart away. She sees it all and does not hesitate to expose them as well. Observant readers will know Baban'sale and his habit of being at every fight no matter how ridiculous within the compounds. They will discover that Afusat has a hold on her husband and that most of Alhaji's decisions have Afusat's inputs. They will understand without much difficulty that each woman in Alhaji's household operates from behind a facade and how individual woman longs for the companionship they are in deprivation of by the presence of other women in the family. Adelakun truly plays the god.

Despite the difference in the narrative modes of the books, the authors understand their styles well and make use of them almost to faultlessness. The total omniscient narrative technique Adelakun utilizes fits the plot she develops while the self-confessional method adopted by Shoneyin gives interesting appeal to her plot development.


Character Development

Closely related to their narrative approach is their Character Development. The two writers develop their characters to a point. Shoneyin caters for her characters on individual basis. Adelakun fleshes out her characters from the community of other characters. Through the self-confessional method Shoneyin exercises with, one is able to appreciate the individuality of the characters and the story that each has to tell of their lives. In Shoneyin's piece, we are introduced to each character singularly. This makes enough information available to the readers and we are able to interact and empathise with the characters. A good instance of this is the revelation of each wife on how she finds herself in Baba Segi's house. With her glowing searchlight on each individual, readers are able to see through the characters and why they act the way they do. Readers are also privy to their thoughts and the reasons behind their actions.

Adelakun's god-like narrative mode contributes to the development of her characters too. She picks on the characters and divulges a lot about them. She knows the reasons behind their actions also but reveals them in the third person. This maintains a kind of distance between the readers and the characters. We look into the world of the characters from the eyes of the author. But the style suits the story. It makes her authoritative. For example, she reveals Afusat's hypnosis on Alhaji Arigbabuwo through her authoritativeness into the intimate time of the two characters. She is also able to justify why Afusat will be the most successful of Alhaji's women: Afusat has the first son with a university education in the house hold; she deserves it as she works hard for it; shielding her sons from unhealthy influence in the compound. The use of the omniscient way of revealing her character shows she has a good grasp of the people involved in her narration.

The two authors carefully choose to build up their characters in a manner that goes down well with their different stories.



The Setting of the two narratives is seemingly alike but slightly different. Shoneyin sites her story in the urban educated area of Ibadan. Adelakun locates her own story in the rural part of the ancient city. There is a boundary between these two parts at KS side and Total Garden in Ibadan.  This is reflected in the kind of characters they portray in their narratives. In Adelakun's story, the characters reside in agbooles which can literally be interpreted as rural compounds. Shoneyin's characters stay in a superficially enlightened environment. In Under the brown Rusted Roofs, decisions are influenced by a horde of relatives and inquisitive neighbours. Shoneyin's characters are secluded from the inquisitive eyes of neighbours.        


Portrayal of Culture   

Adelakun scores a first when it comes to Portrayal of Culture. Granted that the two books are set in Ibadan and that Adelakun's work is more on the rural side, yet, Shoneyin's book cannot stand its side when it comes to how culture is used in the two books. Adelakun employs proverbs, folktales and songs. It does not stop there. She uses legends and myths as well. In short, she deploys local culture to a fault. This is what Shoneyin's lacks. It should then be mentioned that even though the deployment of culture gives shinier colour to Adelakun's work, the absence of it in Shoneyin's book does not take anything away from its aesthetics.

The two writers are deft at story telling. They tell their different stories in distinct styles. They look at an issue with two unlike eyes and each could be said to be right in their own ways. They use simple language to tell the world of the experiences of women who find themselves in a polygamous family without giving judgement of any kind. They leave the rest to the readers to decide. Being women, they talk about one of the plights of women without being seriously sentimental. It is a rare feature of mature writers.  

·         Adebiyi Rasheed could be reached through