Sunday 30 September 2012

"City of Memories" by Richard Ali

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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.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

"The Ghost of Sani Abacha" by Chuma Nwokolo

I won’t cloy the fact; this collection of short stories is as bad as it is compelling. This is really bad for the book. A good editor could have precluded this. This collection of short stories certainly lacked one. Chuma takes so much into insignificant overdrive. Some of the stories make undesirable efforts to impress. You are fascinated as you are bored to hell. I am becoming wary of collections of too many short stories. In The Ghost of Sani Abacha, there are twenty-six short stories in all, twenty-six stories that dazzle and confuse at almost the same pace. I left this book for some time and read other books in between. But when I eventually got done with it, I was somewhat satisfied I went at it. This collection is a muddle mix of varying abilities. While some stories question Chuma’s artistry, others are excellent picks. By inference, this collection is a trajectory of Chuma’s writing soundness, and that could be frustrating too. Why should a reader be saddled with the painful task of this venture; observing how an author’s writing productively progresses in a book? A reader can only forgo little indulgences of a writer, but when they are spread too far in a book, the book is a failure. This collection is good but also disappointing.

More subtle and yet profound is Chuma’s use of humour. He is so good at that. A short story is a compressed version of narrative complexity, often ending in a twist of a reader’s expectation. The Ghost of Sani Abacha is a mix of both the short story twist and a satisfactory use of humour. This collection touches everyday perfunctoriness and tells them refreshingly. It plays with everyday usualness in a colourful way. Truth be known, though there is a showiness of exaggerated expressions in some, a more others are productive.

Even the title itself catches your attention, glancing at it gives you a preconceived opinion. However, only a few of the pieces are politically inclined. The Ghost of Sani Abacha is a narrative of misshapen pasts and the presents surrounding our societal ills. In the book, gluttony plays a major role. The manner gluttony is knitted into the stories are quite impressive.

These Wrenches the Collection

I wonder what importance these stories hold in this collection. They are some of the pieces that wrench the collection gruesomely. They bled the collection of whatsoever strength it commands. I disapprove of them for taking the edge off the book. These are just some of them;

{The Colour of It} I struggle to understand the purposefulness of this piece. It is really that awful. Anyone that writes in this manner surely puts his book on a suicide mission. This is how not to write a short story. What could be passed in a beautiful simplicity is overburdened with highfalutin embellishment. This piece regresses itself into irredeemable unclearness. This piece is carelessly trying.

Consider this excerpt from the short story;

“For now I sit on my final island of the present as my radius of memory shrinks… Other islands fade as I brood upon them: Ruma. Fifty years of marriage and a rose-red eruption blends with yellow apology and steel-blue divorce to yield the russet harvest of terminal cervical cancer… I focus away from Ruma… except the brilliant cinematograph of Aka’s birth…” (pg. 138)

And then this;

“Her voice is a slow, inky citrine. A year passes between the utterance of each nuanced word. Afterwards, the silence continues forever… Ruma’s subterranean island rams my shore with a malevolent judder – Aka’s icy voice is the temperature of Ruma’s, in that terrible terminal week of our marriage...” (pg. 140)
This kind of expressions rid fluidity off the short story. So many times you are lost, struggling to bring yourself back to the story.

{Orange Crush} This short story is good but a tad winding.

{A Roman Job Offer} The creative use of language nearly allows Chuma to pull this off. What lets down its quality is the quick shunt to the stereotypic. It embeds the sex trafficking nicely but gives a fixed description of a sexual trafficker. A sexual trafficker could wear a different image different from this;

“I knew a few people who had been hired by the Recruitment Agent. He stopped at Ikerre-Oti once or twice a year. He… trawled the streets for talent: people strong and hard-working enough to be trained as ‘housekeepers’ and ‘chambermaids’ for foreign hotels”

Some of the Selects

Billy Goat: Gwarimpa’s home is rocky. So when Sara, his wife, flirts with Harki, she crosses the marital borderline. Gwarimpa seeks revenge but also lacks proofs to support his claim. Initially, he has everything alleging his wife’s unfaithfulness but they soon slip away from him. His last hope is in Billy Goat’s tommy.

Gluttony:  This is one of pure gluttony cutting through misplaced religiosity. Not even Pastor Dogo’s sermons can stop the gluttony of these Waterside’s dwellers. When a whale suddenly appears at the shore, everybody hacks out more than his fill. However, their excesses soon catch up with them. This is a satirical swipe at our present society, with its hypocrisy and poverty combined.

The Las’ Foolscap: The more successful pieces of this collection are those written in our English creole. Their messages are direct and straight. Rashi’s husband kills his wife, Rashi. In prison, his medium of closure is the foolscap sheets. With it, he hopes his children absolve him for killing their mother as he states the reasons for his action. The ultimate fear is primarily not the murder that has been committed as it is with the shortage of foolscap sheets.

A History of Human Servitude: After 30 unfruitful years of John Jeff’s servitude, nobody will know how he comes to own a BMW new series. And he never steals it, he owns it. If not anything, decades of servitude teach him how to own a BMW without paying for it.

Urban Architecture: Fate gets upturned and he becomes a toilet-roll supplier to a government hospital. The more the shits, the more he gets to supply and the better for his housing project. In building his exquisite house, he buys his discomforts too. Money and (dis)comfort; shits and money.

Read this collection if you can, there are a lot more going on in it.