I wanted May to be all about fiction. But I had an autobiography that had been pending for a while. I like real life stories, a lot. I like them because I don’t have enough time to go and see all the people and places I would like to, but biographies take you there – front row seat. Through this one – ‘Serial Survivor’ – I got a taste of growing up in a tiny Andoni village in the Niger Delta, not far from the Atlantic Ocean. It is the story of Gershon Ogbuluijah. And like all real life Nigerian stories told by people of a certain age, it is a story of two halves – the idyllic past of giant-sized crabs in crystal clear rivers, and the inevitable descent into corruption and chaos. In this case, it was a struggle over which ruling house should produce the next king that split his community in two.
You see? Sometimes, we think it is because we are different tribes and tongues, that we fight so much. But, in truth, as long as people neglect the culture of conciliation and tolerance, even the most ethno-religiously homogeneous community will find lines along which to violently splinter. This is the truth. But this is me taking a detour from his story to learn my life lessons. And in truth his book is full of them. For a first-time author, he is easy to read and engaging as he takes us through the fascinating journey of his life. From having his car stolen twice, to surviving a bloody attempt on his life, you will understand why the book is named so.
From him I moved on to my fiction binge for May, starting with Nnedi Mgbemena’s ‘Dance In the Rain’. It is a collection of short stories, yes, but, in a way, it feels like one story – the story of Woman and what she suffers at the hands of Patriarchy. From the husband who is skilled in the art of psychological abuse – making you candle-lit dinners one day, and beating the hell out of you the next day, to the mother who is slicing off your clitoris and ironing your breasts to keep them flat, Nnedi plunges you into the deep end of the feminist worldview. You know? There are times when the story itself is more important than the telling. You know? This is one of those times. So, Nnedi does not take too much time powdering the nose of her storytelling. No. In her next book perhaps. This one is a deep and heartfelt cry to every woman living in bondage, to set the load down, step outside for a moment and dance carelessly in the rain. For, sister, life is way too short.
True. If I thought the next book would be any more comfortable for me to read as a guy, you know? For where? Because it was – also the book of the month at the Abuja Literary Society (ALS) Book Club – Ifeoma Chinwuba’s ‘African Romance’ You see? We chose it for the tantalizing title (suggesting the use of statements like ‘see your big head’ and ‘gerraway you, anu mpama’ as aphrodisiacs), but also because it described itself as ‘Poetry in Dialogue’. For the last time we read an author who used poetry to tell a complete story was 3 years ago when we read Onesi Dominic’s ‘The Mirror’. So, we were itching for a code-switching, genre-blending book. And, yes, Chinwuba’s ‘African Romance’ delivered – but in a different way. It turned out, surprisingly, to be the lamentation of a wife whose husband was steadfastly sleeping his way through the community, so tey, even we – Brotherhood of Understanding Brothers – tire for the man. I tell you, it is the beauty of the elevated language with which below-the-belt insult and counter-insult is delivered that will fascinate you. True.
But, you can imagine, after Mgbemena and Chinwuba back to back, by month-end, I was drowning in estrogen, and seriously longing for an undiluted shot of testosterone. True. And ‘The Sky Sage’, co-written by Obinna Ofor and William Moore, delivered. It is pure fantasy fiction. Yes. An Afro-centric blend of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and the Avatar rolled in one, set in a world created by the authors, but tantalizingly steeped in Igbo cosmology. I won’t lie, it was fascinating reading about Mami Wota, dibias and a superhero who eats akara and akamu for breakfast. But the story (of a young Monk born with incredible powers, and discovering his place and purpose in life) as well as the storytelling were deeply satisfying. My major annoyance was that, well, it is a series. So that I will not find out the outcome of the epic battle between Chi’ala and Chi’mmili till the authors publish Book Two. Imagine?