Abubakar Adam Ibrahim: Season of Crimson Blossoms

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The latest addition to my website is Abubakar Adam Ibrahim‘s Season of Crimson Blossoms. This is a novel set in contemporary Nigeria, against a background of violence, corruption, drug-dealing and religious extremism. Binta is a fifty-five year old Muslim. Her husband was killed in religious riots ten years previously and her son shot by the police fifteen years previously. She has a successful son still alive and two married daughters, though one daughter has just left her second husband. She lives with her niece, who witnessed her father and brother killed in religious riots, and her granddaughter. One day she is attacked by a robber in her house, who has come to steal from her. However, when he sees her face to face, he backs off and the next day returns most of the stolen items. He later comes to apologise. Soon despite the thirty year age difference they have started an affair. She reminds him of the mother he barely knew. He reminds her of her son killed by the police. The robber, Reza, is part of a gang that is involved in drug-dealing and which works for a rich senator who uses the gang to carry out his dirty deeds. When the senator orders the kidnapping of the son of a rival and the kidnapping goes wrong and the affair between the two soon becomes the talk of the town, both of them are in a difficult situation. Ibrahim tells an excellent story of a quasi-Oedipal relationship against the background of a country in turmoil.

Elnathan John: Born on a Tuesday

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The latest addition to my website is Elnathan John‘s Born on a Tuesday. This novel could be said to be a Boko Haram novel, as, in the latter part of the book, we see the rise of a Sunni group which is intent on using violence, not only to destroy its traditional enemies, the Shiites, but also to attack more moderate Sunnis. The book is narrated by Ahmad, a young Nigerian Sunni, who had spent six years at a Koranic school, with virtually no contact with his family during this time, and, on leaving, joins a local gang of boys who are used to help the Small Party win an election, using violence to do so. When things really get out of hand and someone is killed, he briefly returns to his family but his father has died and his mother has lost her reason after the death of her twin daughters. He returns to Sokoto, where he works for and becomes close to a local Sunni Sheikh. However, the Sheikh’s assistant wants more violence, against the Shiites initially, and then against the Sheikh himself and things get out of hand. It is a well-told story and interesting to see how all sides rationalise their behaviour.

Jowhor Ile: And After Many Days

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The latest addition to my website is Jowhor Ile‘s And After Many Days. This is Ile’s first novel and very well written for a first novel. The story involves the Utu family, who live in Port Harcourt, and consists of Benedict (Bendic), a lawyer, his wife, Ma, a teacher and their two sons, Paul and Ajie. At the beginning of the novel, Paul, who has just finished school and is about to go to university, leaves the house to go and visit a friend nearby. He is never seen again. The book tells of their lives before Paul’s disappearance as well as afterward. They naturally never give up hopes of finding Paul, even though they know in their hearts of hearts that he is dead. The whole book is set against the violence in Nigeria, from the Biafran War (when Bendic is imprisoned and nearly dies) to the oil companies exploiting the local people and using their power and brutality, with the connivance or often outright assistance of the corrupt government. Student demonstrations, random shootings and unexplained deaths colour the whole book, while, at the same time, we follow the story of a decent family trying to make a life and to help others in these circumstances. The book has been tipped to do very well this year and I can only concur.

Cyprian Ekwensi: Survive the Peace

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The latest addition to my website is Cyprian Ekwensi‘s Survive the Peace. This novel is set at the end of the Biafran War. James Odugo is a radio journalist who has been travelling around Biafra, broadcasting news of the war, with the radio station continually having to move as the Federals get closer. James’ wife and children are in a village well removed from the war. He is having an affair with Vic, a woman who also broadcasts for the radio station. At the start of the novel, the war seems to be ending. The town where James and Vic is bombed but Biafran soldiers rush into the town and discard their uniforms and weapons and flee. James and Vic manage to escape in his car and stay with a friend of James in another town. Vic wants to find her mother, James to find his family and Gladys Nwibe, with whom James had a brief fling earlier in the war, wants to find him. As the title tells us, surviving the peace is often more difficult than surviving the war, as chaos ensues, with armed robbers, the Nigerian soldiers raping the women, a shortage of food and other supplies, refugees fleeing and disease, when all most people want to do, James and Vic included, is to put their lives back together and start living a normal life. Ekwensi tells a good story of the hazards of a life after a war, where most people find their lives thrown upside down and most people have lost a friend or relative.

Cyprian Ekwensi: Beautiful Feathers

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The latest addition to my website is Cyprian Ekwensi‘s Beautiful Feathers. This tells the story of Wilson Iyari, a man who runs a successful pharmacy and is head of the Nigerian-based Movement for African and Malagasy Solidarity but, as the Igbo proverb says, if he is not respected inside his own home, he is like a bird with beautiful feathers, wonderful on the outside but ordinary within. Wilson is married to the glamorous Yaniya and they have three children but the couple barely speak to one another. He feels that she neglects her wifely duties while she feels he neglects her and does not assist her relatives enough. At the start of the book, the Movement is about to have a major, peaceful demonstration on Nigerian Independence Day to call for greater African solidarity but Yaniya, feeling neglected, is having an affair, primarily to annoy Wilson. When he runs away with the children and the demonstration turns out to be anything but peaceful, things go very wrong for Wilson. Can he reconcile his public and private life, both to the satisfaction of Yaniy and himself? It is interesting that an African novel from 1963 does, sort of, raise the issue of women’s rights, i.e. the right to have her life of her own, beyond being just a wife and mother.

Cyprian Ekwensi: Burning Grass

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The latest addition to my website is Cyprian Ekwensi‘s Burning Grass, a well-written and lively novel about a Fulani family in Nigeria. The patriarch, Mai, is afflicted with the wandering sickness, which means that, without warning or being able to stop himself, he suddenly disappears, wandering about, often chasing a bird. During his wanderings, he has various adventures, including coming across a village, deserted (because of sleeping sickness) except for one somewhat insane man; finding his oldest son, Jalla, who now has a thousand head of cattle and has done very well for himself, except that his younger brother Hodio, has stolen his wife (though he does not seem too concerned about this), and meeting a lion. Meanwhile, his youngest and favourite son, Rikku, learns to grow up as he deals with tax collectors, a cattle stampede and being kidnapped by a woman who claims to love him. Added to this is a conflict between Mai and a man who thinks he would be a better as a chief than Mai, and Shehu, known as The Killer, from whom Mai and his sons rescue a slave. It all makes for a colourful tale and a very enjoyable read.

Cyprian Ekwensi: Jagua Nana

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The latest addition to my website is Cyprian Ekwensi‘s Jagua Nana. This is an early example of the Nigerian urban novel – previous novels had been mainly set in the rural areas – and is set mainly in Lagos, though also, in part in Port Harcourt, Onitsha and Bagana. Jagua Nana – Jagua comes from the Jaguar car, because she is so stylish – is a forty-five year old Igbo woman living in Lagos. Her boyfriend, Freddie, is twenty-five, the same age as her son would have been had he lived. Jagua likes the high life, both the music and the life of the Tropicana night club. She has made her money from selling cloth but is now a high class prostitute. Freddie is infatuated with her but realises that she cannot be considered a long-term partner and he starts a relationship with the much younger Nancy. In order to keep him, Jagua subsidies his studies in England and, with her connections, manages to get the necessary official documentation. However, he goes off to England and, unknown to Jagua, takes Nancy. We follow her varied life afterwards. She goes to visit her parents in a rural area but they are not there, so she goes off to Bagana, Freddie’s home town, where she, single-handedly, resolves a long-standing tribal dispute. She goes back to her parents’ area and works briefly as a merchant princess. That does not work so she is back to Lagos, fencing for a group of thieves, before taking up with a politician and showing herself particularly adept at politics, especially as the opposing candidate is Freddie, now back in Lagos and married to Nancy. Things continue to go wrong but, somehow, Jagua survives, keeps her head up and always finds something else to do. While the urban setting and the plot are important, it is the character of Jagua that make this a worthwhile 1960s Nigerian novel.

Irenosen Okojie: Butterfly Fish

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The latest addition to my website is Irenosen Okojie‘s Butterfly Fish. This is a very accomplished and colourful debut novel by a Nigerian-born English writer. It tells the story of Joy Lowon, an English woman of Nigerian origin, while, at the same time, the story of Adeusa, eighth wife of the ruler of Benin (nothing to do with modern-day Benin but located in what is now Nigeria). The two stories run consecutively and are connected by a bronze head, which Adeusa receives from her husband and which Joy inherits from Queenie, her late mother. We follow Joy’s somewhat troubled life in England, her mother’s somewhat troubled life after emigrating from Nigeria to England, her grandfather’s troubled life in pre- and post-independence Nigeria and, of course Adeusa, whose life is also somewhat troubled. In short, all the main characters have their problems, often caused by events in their past, either things they themselves did or things their ancestors did. Okojie tells not only a superbly well-written complex story of intertwining lives but uses a wonderfully colourful language and brings in Nigerian story-telling, myths and strange creatures, all of which make her English-based story more otherworldly. Okojie is clearly going to be an author to watch. The book was published by Jacaranda, a new independent publisher that publishes adult fiction and non-fiction, including illustrated books, which cross linguistic, racial, gender and cultural boundaries.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americanah

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The latest addition to my website is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s Americanah, her third novel. As should happen, her second novel was much better than her first and this one is much better than her second one and, given that the second one was a very fine novel that definitely means that this one is a very fine novel indeed. First of all, this novel is a love story. Ifemelu, like her creator and the heroines of the two previous novels, is an Igbo woman. At high school, she meets and falls for Obinze. They start a relationship and everything seems to be going very well She then gets an opportunity to go and study in the United States. It is planned that Obinze will join her later. However, he cannot get a visa, while she has a lot of difficulty in the US, primarily financial, and falls into a state of depression. As a result of her depression, she stops communicating with Obinze, not answering his phone calls or his emails. Eventually, she gets out of her depression but then starts a relationship with the rich, white cousin of her employer (she works as a babysitter). Meanwhile, Obinze has been to England and been deported when his visa expires, become a successful businessman back in Nigeria, thanks to connections, and married and had a child. At the start of the book, Ifemelu has been thirteen years in the US and wants to return to Nigeria. While planning to do so, she contacts Obinze and they resume an email correspondence.

A great novel on racism but Americanah is almost as good
A great novel on racism but Americanah is almost as good

While it is a nice love story, that is not what makes this book. Ifemelu has a blog while in the US called Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black which gives lots of incisive comments about race, not just the racism of whites to blacks (and vice versa) but the differences between African-Americans and American-Africans (i.e. Africans who have come to live in the US) and between Africans of different countries. While this blog is a superb commentary on the issue, Adichie superbly illustrates the issue of racism through the story, with events, comments by different characters and the astute observations of Ifemelu. I challenge anybody and certainly any white person not to learn a lot about the issue from this novel. However, it is not a lecture or diatribe. It is cleverly told, full of humour but with telling comments on the issue and, while it is mainly aimed at people in the US, whether US-born or those that have come to the US from Africa, Obinze’s stay in England and the situation in Nigeria (Ifemelu and Adichie are both Igbos and, therefore different from the Yorubas and Hausas) give her the opportunity to cover other situations. For me, the best novel on racism, at least racism in the United States towards African-Americans, is Invisible Man but this novel comes very close to that brilliant novel. Though I had always planned to read this novel, my reason for reading it now is because it is on the shortlist for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. I have now read three and a half of the novels on the shortlist and intend to read the remaining two and half in the next few days. There is no doubt that this novel is immeasurably superior to the ones that I have already read, all of which are very fine novels, that it should win hands down.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Purple Hibiscus

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The latest addition to my wesbite is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s Purple Hibiscus, her first novel. I was a bit disappointed with this book, as it was a bit unsubtle, telling the story of a teenage Nigerian girl, Kambili, and how she had suffered at the hands of her very rich but very religious father, Eugene. Eugene is very harsh with his two children and his wife, when he feels that they might be committing a sin, and his definition of sin is very broad. Indeed, his behaviour is not just abusive but close to torture. However, there is a different view of him in the community. He is very generous to very many people and in his newspaper, The Standard, he is not afraid to stand up to the dictatorial government, resisting both threats and bribes. When thing get bad with the newspaper, the children are sent off to their Aunt Ifeoma, Eugene’s sister, in Nsukka and she is a very different person. Though somewhat religious, she is very open-minded and happy to let the children be children. Kambili finds it difficult to adapt to this new-found freedom but, with the help of the priest, she does make some progress. However, Eugene drags the two children back, when he finds that his father, who has stuck to the traditional religion and is therefore considered a pagan by his son, is sleeping under the same roof as the two children. However, Eugene’s violence gets worse as does the political situation and the children again return to Aunt Ifeoma’s, though she has her own political issues to face. However, I found it all too predictable and, though Adichie tells her story well, it is not a great work.