Tuesday 31 December 2013

“Indigo” by Molara Wood

By now, you should know I delight much in the short story genre, more so when it is a collection or an anthology. I already said that many times. Here and here are just few of the times. It is therefore with a certain glee that I approach every short story. So, when the writer fails, I scream, frown and sulk loudly. When a book is good, you say it. When it is otherwise, don’t cower and make many ruin money on boring sentences limping on gummed papers called a book. Children are suffering in South Sudan and you are there buying hopeless books. This reviewer will always say it the way it is. Good stories fly over, around and everywhere, begging for readership every day on the internet. And free too. So why buy a book just for the spending? Molara Wood’s Indigo is a reader’s pleasure. Not just for the spending. This reader tells you so. Truth and simple. Don’t just tut-tut. Read a copy to prove me wrong. However mixed my feelings are towards a number of pieces in this collection, some are total delights. To the few spoiler-stories, that isn’t surprising, going by the number of stories in the collection. Seventeen short stories. Too many if you ask me. Seventeen pieces mixed with pleasure and the lows.

Indigo is angry, subtly shrill and stinging. Many of its characters are interesting stock victims of familiar crises: polygamy, barrenness, social insecurities and female objectification, just to mention a few. My familiarity with these crises is deep. If your married sister has never returned home crying, sobbing through catarrh and cursing marriage, you won’t know Idera in “Indigo”. Forget it. My familiarity with those crises is deep. Indigo groans loudly of women secretly licking sores, gaining confidence, standing tall though bruised, wincing but still biting. These women’s battles are many. They confront the many pains punctuating the bravery of womanhood. Of intense pity is how many of them fight to making lives the ways they want them. In these fights, some are subtle and others ridicule cheap devilish tradition. These women want better and they thus work harder. With immense strains, some succeeded and others only become victims in foolishness. In this foolishness, you might find Maryam, Emily, Aunty Mina and Aramide’s mother. But this silliness is not total. It is not willed. In murky circumstances, they only desire to make their worlds better. And indeed, no human deserves lesser.

Indigo is angry, subtly shrill and stinging. Many of its characters are interesting stock victims of familiar crises:

“ ‘Actually the features are not quite set yet…It may be too early to tell who the baby resembles.’ The last few words dropped haltingly from her mouth, as she became aware of the frozen stares in her direction. Several women raised their eyebrows.
‘Excuse me, but what do you know?’ The aunt planted one hand on her hip and jutted out her chin at Idera
‘I am sorry?’
‘I asked you a question: what do you know about babies? How many have you pushed out?...
Bola shifted, adjusting the baby’s head in the crook of her elbow as she did so. ‘Aunty please…’
‘No!’ The aunt thrust a hand at Bola, whose mouth clammed shut. ‘Let me deal with this, this so-called woman’.  She poked the thumb of the other hand at Idera and enquired of her niece, ‘Abi, is this not the one that came from London and thinks she’s European? The empty husk you told me about, parched as a fallen leaf in Harmattan?’ ” (pg. 14: Indigo)


“…A huge sum. As collateral, she left her daughter behind to serve as bonded labour.
‘I did it for you, my dear son. To pay for your primary and secondary education. To make you what you are today – the first educated man of your generation in this place. I planned to…reclaim my daughter within two years, but I could never get the money. And twenty years passed…’ ” (pg. 84: Girl on the Wall)

This book isn’t just another feministic bundle adoring women, making them angels, faultless and superiors of humankind. In this book, the women have their weaknesses and they are not hidden. Indigo makes the cheap a rarity of some sort. This is how you know when the stereotypical is handled well. No issues in this collection are far drawn.  

“Julie would never have come to Mother’s funeral. Not after the March day in 1989 when Mother came home with Mr Filanda, who dragged my fifteen-year-old sister into the back of his car as his driver started the engine. Filanda’s moniker was an alias. He was a known trafficker of girls to Italy. Julie was a trainee ashewo anyway, Mother sneered after the vehicle, let her go and see how professional Nigerian prostitutes do it in Europe…” (pg. 91: In the Time of Job)
It is almost clich├ęd anyway; we all know the grimes society rub on women. However, it becomes shared evil if one sees it stereotypical in the vicious ways society and misplaced chauvinism are slaving them. In this instance, ‘them’ is a devilish distant pronoun. I would prefer ‘us’ instead. When you slave a woman, some other world crumbles along with her. In Indigo, nothing of the women’s sufferings is trite. Though Aunty Mina’s immigration issue may sound over told, it is a trajectory of other bigger problems: Ade’s trauma and Angela’s family. Indigo’s women are fragile, hunted, but resilient characters. Sariatu refuses to be Gani’s stopgap; Iriola won’t foolishly follow Kelemo downhill; Idera trashes around for redemption; Emily won’t go down without an effort; and Falode confronts her major calamity. These women won’t just give up. These women are all around us. We know them. Idera might be your sister. Falode could be your next door neighbor. And Sariatu a representation of all slowly dying subservient women. In Africa, women suffer, partly to ignorance, majorly to inhumane traditions. In this case, I would not see Africa as a continent, but a tradition and mentality inhumane to women. Darn traditions! This book portrays several domesticated evils.

Indigo’s women are fragile, hunted, but resilient characters.
Sariatu refuses to be Gani’s stopgap:

“I cried as I rushed to stop the fight… But my hands disobeyed my voice when I reached them. I held our husband so that Clara could beat him all the more. I don’t know where I found the strength.” (pg. 30-31: Gani’s Fall)
Indigo’s women are fragile, hunted, but resilient characters.
Falode confronts her major calamity:

“ ‘Mother smiled at Alhaja. ‘Kerosene is cocaine, as my sister here is fond of saying. Husbands are dearer than eyes’ ” (pg. 150: The Scarcity of Common Goods)
With a few flash pieces interspersing the stories and offering brief exciting pauses in the reading, you can’t be bored. Moreover, the link between “Free Rice”, a flash story, and “The Scarcity of Common Goods”, a short story, provides a creative continuum. It is more like creating an interlude in a same story for sterling effect. What this achieves is a complex flux of different emotions in just a story.  You will like it. As your emotion is suddenly clipped off in the brief but engaging “Free Rice”, “The Scarcity of Common Goods” gets it all going again.  It is saddening however when you consider that same thing could have been done with flash fictions like “A Small Miracle” and “The Girl on the Wall”. Engaging notwithstanding as they are, I see them as frills just blowing in the air.

When they are many stories in a collection; some stories overfeed on shared themes and go whining without adding anything new. “The Last Bus Stop” explores the same immigration subject already touched by stories like “In Name Only”, “In the Time of Job”, and “Leaving Oxford Street”. For me, “The Last Bus Stops only swells the count. 

Molara Wood’s Indigo is a reader’s pleasure. Not just for the spending. This reader tells you so. 

Ok, I said that before. ;-)

  • ·         Follow me on Twitter @omotayome

Critical Literature Review closes for the year with this post. Your readership on this blog has been massive. Google Traffic tracker tells us so. And we are humbled and grateful. As we resume blogging in the 3rd week of January 2014, we look forward to bringing more diversities to the blog. In this regard, we kindly ask you recommend books for us (all genres), contact us (jomotayo01@gmail.com), send them if you can and we will review them. Happy New Year. Keep reading! It’s really been fun all the way!

Thursday 12 December 2013

“Love Is Power, or Something Like That” by A. Igoni Barrett

This is how you know you have come to read a good book: you open the book and language sponges you in. Such book does not thrust stories into your face. No. it doesn’t. God eternally forbids I ever spend my money on any book with tepid language. Believe any theory you want about literature. Diction always is prime over stories. There are just no new stories. If literature is the mirror of life, then the stories it tells are the lives we already know. If there is anything different in a story, only attribute it to the writer’s creative twist. Nothing is new. My grandma is one engaging storyteller. If that woman knew what it was to write, she may have written the best fable rehash ever. Nothing was new in her stories, only the language entertained us. Igoni’s “Love Is Power, or Something Like That” tells nothing new. Its charming language makes everything as beautifully different. 

From “The Worst Thing That Happened”, “Trophy”,My Smelling Mouth Problem”, “The Shape of a Full Circle”, “Dream Chaser”, “Love Is Power, or Something Like That”, “Godspeed and Perpetua”, “The Little Girl With Budding Breasts and a Bubblegum Laugh” to “A Nairobi Story of Goings and Comings”, these are pieces as true to the messy life we live in, the checkered presence we call life, living. Igoni only knows an engaging way to tell our stories and he does it good. It is all about language, reader. This book pulls it off very much in that regard. And you will soon find yourself owning the stories as if you had written them. Igoni serves his fare that well in this collection of nine stories.

The stories are revolting, funny, witty and entertaining in a numbing and exhilarating way. Realities could be wicked. The ways they are presented in this book are brazen and convincing. The realities in this book are jabbing but not new truths. Igoni only paints wicked realities and makes them fun all the way. Isn’t that what happens as one gets inured to known realities? We laugh them off. There is a thrilling panacea in laughing pains off. We laugh them off, we are relieved but they don’t go away. They stay with us. In laughter we only find a ridiculous way to cope with them longer. In this book, even the banal surprisingly gathers cuttingly entertaining strength. See “My Smelling Mouth Problem” and you would understand why I said so. This is the only thing you get in originality told in engaging conversation. Yes, Igoni’s book is conversational. It talks with the reader because the characters are true and the language engaging. In this book, Igoni’s words sing. 

Consider this interesting;

“He looked down at her, this weight in his arms. He walked to the bed and placed her on it. She whimpered, drew up her knees, and crossed her arms over her chest. He slipped off her sandals, pulled the blanket up to her neck, then turned on the air conditioner, switched off the light, and lay down on the carpet at the foot of the bed.
He couldn’t sleep. His imagination grew insect legs and crawled all over his nerves. He scratched his arms, rubbed his face, slapped at his feet. When the bug bites became unbearable on one side, he rolled over….
You don’t have to sleep on the floor, there’s enough space here , she said, patting the bed… (pg. 127-128)”
Abuses of the slow demeaning kind cut across the stories. In “Love Is Power, or Something Like That”, “Trophy”, “The Shape of a Full Circle” and “The Little Girl With Budding Breasts and a Bubblegum Laugh”, there is no constant abuser. One moment, the abused is the abuser, another time, the abuser the abused. Abusers and the violent then become just terms for the acts and not permanently to identify their doers. Who is the abuser really: Dimme Abrakasa, the landlord or Daoju Anabraba? Joke or Babasegun? Shakira or her cousin? Adrawus or the uniform? Godspeed or Perpetua? Ascertaining this could really be a puzzle. It becomes quite easy when none is seen less guilty than the other. Everything is interestingly messy and it is in that foulness that all are connected. None carries a wholesale guilt. Everybody is as guilty as they are to be pitied. We only need to consider their circumstances. Or what will you say of the dream chaser, Samu’ila? Would his brother be more blamed than him with its many internet shenanigans? No. Perhaps. Confusing? Hahaha.

The stories in this book are looming and engaging as life. The pains are in chain of causes. Nothing is the uncaused cause. No one is blameless. I do not speak arcane philosophy here. It is what is. Life. If you decide to blame Ma Billie’s children for her near neglect in her old age, what will you say of the event leading to her husband’s demise and the dogs’?

I first came across “My Smelling Mouth Problem” as an oral short story. In its written form in this collection, it reads dull. I wouldn’t want to hold forth on the incompatibility of the oral to the written. Most oral pieces wouldn’t just remain the same in their written versions. This is where the written words, as we know them, fail. Try as you may, when oral pieces are transcribed, they are always as half enjoyable, half as solid. This is one reason most written Old English poems do not sound as good as their original oral forms. Go read “The Battle of Maldon”, “Beowulf” and “The Prologue and Franklin’s Tale” and also listen to them in rendition; you will moan their written forms. So when I came to “My Smelling Mouth Problem”, I knew it can’t just be as fluid as the published oral version. You should listen to the oral version of that story here. When you listen to it, you will mock the written version. With the excellent and profuse use of the Nigerian English, this story is smooth only in its oral version. God saves us from unthinking publishers. Nothing stops Farafina from including a disc of the oral version of that story in this book. Any cheap disc will do the work. That story is entirely whacked in its written form. When you listen to the preview of the audio version, you wouldn’t mind paying more to have an audio version of the story included in the book. And then they will still attend seminars and reel on making the book better. Isn't this one of the ways of doing so?

Could someone tell me what “Dream Chaser” is doing in this collection? We have read it in the author’s debut, “From Caves of Rotten Teeth. What is with republishing it here? The revision on it notwithstanding, it is like shortchanging Igoni’s earlier readers. I skipped it in this book. Just what would I do with a revised old story republished in a new collection? Whoever the editor is, republishing “Dream Chaser” is like having a sour mayonnaise sandwiched in soft fresh bread. 

“Love Is Power, or Something Like That” is eloquent. Its stories are interesting. The writer’s voice is confident without belaboured. The stories in the collection grow on you. And you will like them so. You should read this book.

  • Follow me on Twitter @omotayome