Monday 8 February 2016

"On the Bank of the River" by Ifeoluwa Adeniyi

On the Bank of the River is a mesh of narratives. Enitan’s story hatches other stories, weightier stories. And characters in their different shades.  Though the story, for me, didn't start up with the desired pace, I find consolation in the fact that I pressed on. And I did get to that point where putting the book down became a huge challenge. This anticipation, you should note, is not because there is a tinge of novelty in the plot. NO!  It gets to a stage in the build up of the plot where you can without mincing words link some loose ends in the story. It is a love story. But not just a love story; the intricacies therein are nothing short of magical. You should read this book for its dissimilarity with Africa Magic.

Love could look so simplistic, so ordinary until it is subjected to the crucible of life's complexities. Love is not love until the dross finally comes off the face of the silver. Until you have fought with every will within to assert who or what your heart really wants to follow. That doesn't mean situations you would rather have stuff in the ass of any of the world's malcontents won't rear their horned Grendel's heads. Matters of the heart are really complex. 

On the bank of a river, we find the concept of home play out as both young and old in Obade ascribe a considerable amount of value to the river in their village. It doesn't just serve a recreative purpose; it is a home. A home transcends piles and piles of blocks set on some firm base. It's a place of solace, a place where every arm around, visible or non-visible pulls you into the warmth of reassuring embraces. On the Bank of the River has shown that home could be anything. Anybody. Anywhere. For Enitan, the concept of home can only be linked to her auntie, Jibike, as well as the river.

Enitan. She could have passed as the centre of the plot. She isn't. Her life is only a platform for which the complexity of humanity can be put on display. Enitan is the present that leads us back to the past. We don't know who Enitan is until her past, before her birth, is unravelled. Enitan is the reason we meet the like of Adeoye, a promising young doctor, Asake, and her sister, Jibike, Mama Yeye, their aunt and their recessive father figure. 

On the Bank of the River is narrated in snips of alternating times. You have references being made to the Nigeria of the 70s and 90s. In fact, a couple of chapters are years. The temporal setting of this novel is sensitive to the socio-political situation of the country at such times. The military rule in the country in the 90s does not escape mention in the novel. This reminds me of Chinua Achebe's Anthills of the Savannah and the treatment meted out to journalists therein. It's the same thing in Adeniyi's book. Paul and Nomenclature (Adeoye) are both victims of this. You remember Achebe's Ikem and Chris? Beatrice? If you haven't met these guys, fix a date with them, you really need to.

Resistance does not necessarily have to be a grand thing. It starts from the seeming trivial things. There is a bit of racism that reflects in the relationship between Adeoye, his uncle's wife, Angela and the trio of Root, Stem and Xylem. Having to call humans Root, Stem and Xylem is a thingification of their persons. Significance is attached to this naming act considering the source it comes from: Angela. Angela, Adeoye's uncle's wife is white and earlier in the novel we see her argue vehemently with Adeoye on issues of race and colonialism. However, a little but significant instance of resistance in the novel passes a message across:

'''Xylem?'' Adeoye repeated the name, and then said it again, remembering his elementary biology.
''That is out of the ordinary.''
Angela replied, ''I just love 'xylem' as a word, that's why. But I never call him that because he hates it.'
''How was he able to get away from that?''
''When a man makes bold enough to say no, you cannot force a name down his throat...''' [Emphasis mine](203-204)

In a generation that is trying all it can to go back to its roots, what Ifeoluwa Adeniyi does with language is laudable. I appreciate that the diction amply reflects her culture. She flexes her cultural muscle well in the book. My only issue with this feat is the italicization of indigenous words. African literature ought to have risen beyond this, I think. We should not ascribe triviality to such things as this. Let's put our cultures on display. It isn't wrong for a reader who doesn't understand what a word means to consult the gods of cyberspace. If we must italicize every indigenous word that features in our works, then the indigenous names too ought to be captured, slant. It must be said, by the way, that Adeniyi's language brings delight. I watch out for language a lot and she does not fail to deliver. Here are some:

“Whilst the moon glowed and the cool breeze took its toll on the flesh, Asake began to dance. That artistic wriggling warmed them all into a submission that made them still. Her body movements twisted with her back going back and forth in an endless rhythm. She controlled the beat with her body movements, tapping the ground with her legs as she danced. When she bent down in style, she stood up by shaking her buttocks to the rhythm of the song...At a particular point when she bent down, she danced round in that stance with an equal grace as though she was standing up...” (70)
And this:

“This woman who was not her mother made her smile and she knew her own mother could not even make her smile on the memories they shared, were she to die. After long episodes of memory-orchestrated smiles, Enitan let the torrents flow in a stream that if possible would bring the dead to life. The torrents were necessary to wash away the grief. The grief was necessary to sink in the reality. The reality was most important to live life again.” (106-107)
And I love the innuendo here:

            ''What do you mean by fresh and dry pepper?'' Nomenclature asked Jibike.
''The legal wives are the fresh ones now and the concubines are the dry ones,'' she replied.
Paul chuckled. ''Fresh pepper o., dry pepper o, they are both pepper. Maybe you should consider the properties of dried pepper that make it irresistible to men. First it is easy to use, no unnecessary rule, no time limits. they are also readily available. They could be more peppery, you only need to look around for a good one. You know what I mean?'' Jibike's husband collapsed in laughter at what Paul had said...
''The flavour the fresh one gives you is better. it has a good taste, a holy taste''... (239)
I don't have a doubt Ifeoluwa Adeniyi's next book is going to be definitely better. While I wait for that, I'll read On the Bank of the River again. You should have a first read if you haven't.