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The decision not to teach our history and particularly the effort to subdue conversations around the Nigeria civil war continues to do a great disservice to the country and her future. Thankfully several writers, of fiction, essays and biographies have filled the void with am impressive array of writings that has documented the three-year war from which Nigeria is still to recover. The latest addition to that body of work that has interrogated the ghosts of that war is New York My Village, the debut novel by celebrated Nigerian writer Uwem Akpan, author of the very successful Say You Are One Of Them. This new book brings something extra to the table of the civil war discussion by travelling a route less taken, shining the spotlight on the experiences of minority ethnic groups in Biafra and bringing to the fore, for the first time, at least to this reader, the bloody ethnic conflict that ragged at this period, the memories of which like the war itself, still haunts and which will continue to shape the dynamics of peace in the country, over fifty years after the war.

At the centre of this narrator led story is Ekong Udousoro, an editor. When we meet him, he is in the process of obtaining a visa to travel to the United States for a short fellowship named after Toni Morrison, at Andrew & Thompson, a publishing house in New York where he would be editing an anthology of stories about the Biafran war from the perspective of minority ethnic groups. The anthology’s aim is to highlight their experiences, or better put, the atrocities committed against them by Biafran forces, and bring this to a wider audience. 

The process of obtaining the US visa soon turns into an insulting and condescending experience, not for the more popular reasons for which Nigerians are quite familiar, but because he was from a minority ethnic group, Annang, the existence of which he must convincingly prove to the embassy officials. If there are doubts about the existence of his people strong enough to have gotten his visa request rejected twice, how then was Ekong going to prove that any atrocities were even committed against them during the said war? 

In many ways the embassy experience defined all of the book; the existence of minorities, the embarrassing ignorance about minorities and the validity of the experiences of minorities. This is true in various contexts as Ekong will find after going over that hurdle and finding himself in New York for the fellowship. From here, the anthology he is editing becomes more of a backdrop as he confronts many other situations that aligns with or amplifies, the very experience his anthology is about. 

Ekong will fall in love quickly with Times Square and Starbucks. His colleagues at Andrew & Thompson where he would discover he is the only black person are warm, and wave their ‘anti-racist’ credentials but his relationship with them will soon unmask the racial prejudices through which Akpan puts a mirror on the racial politics of publishing and how racism is often masked with progressive rhetoric. In one exchange between Ekong and Jack, a colleague in the marketing department (and there are many such to savour), he is accused of not being conversant enough about American culture to edit American stories to which Ekong agrees but adds in a spectacular clapback “But you guys have been editing African fiction, no?”

As topical and serious as the themes explored in the book are, Akpan delivers them with humour. Ekong is sometimes presented as naïve or even parochial in his reaction to events. He battles bedbugs in his New York ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ apartment. The description of the itch the infestation brings is so vivid, the reader will feel some itch. These bedbugs will play a role in cutting through the racial tension between Ekong and his neighbours and help create some of the more cheering experiences for him like the meal shared at Thanksgiving. The humour in Ekong’s narration also comes through in the other discoveries he makes as he navigates his host country with a number of incidences that would have revealing implications for his close-knit community back home in Nigeria who are also struggling to come to terms with their individual traumas.

A rather, long ‘Acknowledgement’ at the end of the work, helps to set the author’s thinking in context and gives a glimpse into the research that went into the book. With New York My Village, Akpan with brutal honesty, helps tell the largely untold civil war story of the many ethnicities of the Niger Delta who for the most part had it rough from both sides, largely because of the prize their land held – crude oil. With most of the active participants in that war now gone or in the ‘departure lounge’ of life, this book also draws some attention to how the war continues to shape the lives of the offspring of those who lived through the war, how the trauma, so largely buried in silence, is as real for them as it is for the Igbo, and how this wound that has been left to fester, has dire consequences for how we tackle our existential challenges of today be it the continued agitation in some quarters for Biafra or in how we are dealing with the terrorism and banditry by murderous Fulani herdsmen. 

A Young Adulty mystery novel by a Nigerian writer is not very common.

Even more, a YA mystery novel set in Port Harcourt is an even bigger rarity and these combine to make What Happened to Janet Uzor the debut novel by Miracle Emeka-Nkwor, an exciting acquisition which turned out, for this reader, a thrilling read.

There is a serial killer on the loose and the students of Afobiri Secondary School are the target. Every year, there is a mysterious death, made to look like a freak accident and no one has paid close attention to connect the dots until Janet Uzor dies in a similar fashion.

One of her best friends, Ebere is convinced she was murdered. Ebere is so consumed by her theory even though she gets very little support and is even recommended for therapy. Her argument seems too far fetched until a year later, during the Christmas holiday, when another friend Pamela, begins to receive strange notes, threatening her life. The duo share the information with their other classmates -, Eche, Pamela’s love interest and Daniel and they form a quartet, with a mission to unravel the mystery and ensure their friend does not die.

The book is about the investigative exploits of these four youngsters, walking a tightrope, navigating parental influences and their own teenage exuberance to piece the clues together and unmask the killer.

They do this against the backdrop of an increasingly tense atmosphere especially as the killer’s threat notes get even more urgent and they find themselves on a race against time, exposing themselves to often risky situations and revealing new information that will make all four of them (in the reader’s mind) suspects. 

The nicely designed cover, the inviting page layout and the simple flowing use of language, makes the novel an enjoyable and relaxing read. It is the kind of book the voracious reader will finish in one sitting. This is made even more so by the way it pulls you in, much like peeling off the layers of an onion. The author employs suspense and plot twists to hold readers’ interest and expand the field of inquest, while subtly presenting possibilities that teases the readers. It is good credit to her that the reader is not able to easily predict what happens next. 

Young readers will relate very well with this book, its main story line and the other sub-plots which the author introduces to propel the story. It would remind many of high school mystery movies and serial killer slasher movies they might have seen on cable television. The main characters are also very relatable – a diverse assortment of courage, vulnerability, intelligence, strong will and naivety.  

There are certain events and actions of some characters that might not sound quite realistic or logical for some readers. Also, certain aspects of the plot, like the story about Pamela’s mum could have been better explored. But then, I suppose that is why it is fiction. In the world of young adults, things move very fast and literally everything is possible including the Nigeria police being very efficient, dedicated and professional as they are presented in this instance.

For a debut, What Happened to Janet Uzor ticks the right boxes and provides a good arrival-on-the-scene announcement for Miracle Emeka-Nkwor, another convert to writing from the sciences.

It also joins some other new books like Lagos to London in filling that void of contemporary YA novels which is key in recapturing the reading interests of young Nigerians. One hopes she serves more of such, to help grow this important genre in our literary space. 

–Sylva Nze Ifedigbo, creative writer and social commentator, is the author of Believers and Hustlers. He is available on social media at @nzesylva.

Lagos to London, the debut novel by Lola Aworanti-Ekugo is a simple, feel-good read that tells the story of Remi Coker and Nnamdi Okonkwo, who leave Lagos in search of education in London and how their paths cross as they navigate the  intricacies of life in a foreign land while making choices with far reaching implications for both their futures and the expectations of the families they left back at home.

Remi is from an upper-class Lagos family with the high expectations of her parents hanging around her neck. It is a foregone conclusion that she would study law and come back to work in her parents’ law firm. Anything short of that would be considered a failure. Her entire experience from gaining admission, journeying to London and settling in, is straightforward, with comfort paid for by her parents who hold nothing back to ensure their daughter is comfortable and has all she needs to make them proud.

Nnamdi on the other hand is the hustling young Nigerian from the suburbs of Lagos. Frustrated by the protracted strike by university lecturers, he becomes desolate about the country and his chances of succeeding. And as is often the case, he is consumed by a desire to leave the country and sees no obstacles even though his parents clearly cannot afford it and his father doesn’t even want to hear of such ambitions. It would take both a stubborn will, persistence and some luck, for him to achieve his desire.

Remi and Nnamdi are admitted to the same university and arrive few weeks apart. Naturally, their experiences are markedly different. Through their separate stories, the writer beams some light into the varying experiences of Nigerian immigrants into the UK with economic background often being the difference. From the weather, to making friends, finding accommodation, settling into the rhythms of academic rigor and the choices that must be made across board with the implications they bear, the youngsters find themselves dealing with issues they hardly imagined before boarding the flight in Lagos.

The book also explores self-discovery, and the way the expectations of parents often clash with the personal preferences of their children. In many cases, there is really no clash, rather, a feeling of unfulfillment on the part of the children who go along with the script, fulfil the desires of their parents but silently endure the feeling of emptiness that comes with not doing what they have the most aptitude for.

With most of the characters being young people, it is not surprising to have love, lifestyle, crime, fun, and strong creative energy, in the mix. Some of these will connive to provide the setting for the two main characters, Remi and Nnamdi to meet and birth a friendship that blossoms with time. Though their relationship will be tried by certain circumstances including their different backgrounds and cultures, it manages to hold firm, leading to the happily ever after end to the novel which can be categorized easily as a love story made in London.

Lagos to London, is an easy read and will make exciting reading for young adults. In many ways, it reads like a blog series compiled into a book, sensational, predictable, mundane at times, too slow at some points and pacy at some other. Interestingly Remi, wrote a blog from where the book gets its title with some excepts included in some chapters of the book. It is sectioned into three parts and uncharacteristically for novels, it has both a foreword and a prologue. In many ways, the prologue it must be said, makes it easy to predict the rest of the story, at least the bit on Remi and given that the novel turned out to be not just her story but that of Nnamdi too, a prologue dedicated entirely to Remi felt quite unnecessary.

What may be considered the troughs of the novel are not uncommon with debut novelists. What is undeniable however is the talent and the interest of the writer in telling stories and this book is a good announcement of her presence in the literary horizons of Nigeria. It will be interesting to see what she comes up with next.

-Sylva Nze Ifedigbo, creative writer and social commentator is the author of Believers and Hustlers. He is available on social media at @nzesylva.

“The casualties are not only those who are dead.”

The lines from the poem ‘Casualties’ by celebrated author and poet JP Clark resonated in my mind as I read this beautifully written memoir ‘Floating In A Most Peculiar Way’ by Boston University Professor, Louis Chude-Sokei. 

Keen readers of Biafran history or at least the throve of literary works that have been based on the unfortunate three-year war between 1967 and 1970, would have encountered the name of Lt Col Chude Louis Sokei, Sandhurst trained officer who became the Chief of Biafran Air Force and was killed by mortal fire by advancing federal troops around Ogidi in March of 1968.

He was married to a Jamaican woman and had a son not quite two at the time of his passing. Not many may have thought to wonder ‘so what became of them?’ This memoir serves a frank, rich and profound peep into their story since then. 

“Throughout my childhood, my mother told me that we were from a country that had disappeared or been ‘killed’…. Sometimes, our country has been ‘starved to death.’” Chude-Sokei writes in the prologue of the book.

For readers who have not previously encountered stories of what has been described as ‘Africa’s first televised war’ or those photos of emaciated babies with swollen heads and stomachs that still grace the pages of global charity, the idea of coming from a country that no longer exists may sound rather strange or even remarkable. But that is the author’s reality. His mother, with the author strapped to her back had made it out on one of the last flights out of Biafra, to a refugee camp in Gabon from where she returned to her home country, Jamaica.

In the first few chapters, Chude-Sokei writes about his early childhood, living in Montego Bay, in a home for children left behind by mothers who had gone off in search of greener pastures in the likes of Canada, America or England and waiting to be taken themselves.

His mother had moved to America to work.

The young Chude-Sokei had little or no recollection of where he was from. “All I had with me when I arrived in Jamaica,” he writes, “was a song, not an Igbo song but a Western one played on the radio about floating in space and choosing never to come down. It was a song about someone named Major Tom, and it eventually became my only memory of my origins in Africa.

But the visit of strange men from Africa, ex-soldiers of the ward who accorded him so much reverence and referred to him as ‘the first son of the first son’ will provide the first clear indications of his origins and the fact that he was born into something big.

‘Floating In A Most Peculiar Way’ can be described as a coming of age story. But it is a lot more. It is about displacement, race, self-discovery and acceptance of self. Chude-Sokei not only seeks answers to questions about his father, the war and about his homeland, but also about the colour of his skin and what it means to be black or African, in America.

First arriving in Washington, DC, before he and his mother relocated to Los Angeles, Chude-Sokei is confronted by a new set of complexities. He writes about the racism he faced from both whites and Black Americans which is a familiar lived experience of many African Diaspora. With very fine storytelling, he narrates how he walked the fine lines of race on the streets of Inglewood, Los Angeles, in the wake of gangsta rap and the LA riots, balancing accusation of ‘acting white’ because he liked to read books and his long-held ambitions of being African American. 

The tension between Black Americans and African immigrants come through in the book. It is interesting to note that while the commentary at the time Chude-Sokei was growing up was that “Africans were backward and spent all their time killing one another, like in Uganda and Biafra, and were an embarrassment to real black people.”, today that conversation has morphed into some kind of xenophobia with African immigrants being blamed by the Black Americans for their inability to be successful.

Just recently this was a trending topic on twitter following a Twitter Space moderated notably by one Tariq Nasheed which amplified the notion that African Americans wanted Africans to stop coming to their country. It was the submission of Tariq and his co-hosts that the African Diaspora in America were taking away jobs and other opportunities that ought to come to the ‘foundational’ black Americans and making it more difficult for them to get the reparation they deserve.

Chude-Sokei will finally come home, a visit that was to help him fit the missing pieces of the puzzles of his life but which in some way raised new questions or added additional pressures as he came under a barrage of new information, expectations including the discovery of the full version (and meaning) of his Igbo name. He describes his meeting with his godfather, the erstwhile leader of the nation that was no more, then under house arrest in Lagos.

  Ojukwu and his father had been together at Sandhurst. There, over dinner and bottles of beer he learnt a bit about the personality of his father and how once he met his mother, he knew she was the one he should (not would) marry. “He was an Onitsha man” his godfather said of his father “but Onitsha people have always been different…But he, was different among the different….Everything he did was accepted as traditional, even marrying your mother

Cancer will later take his mother, but not before she extracted a promise from him to bury her in Nigeria, next to her husband in the precinct of the house he had built for her, before things fell apart. A promise, he kept much to the delight of this reader.

There is no doubt that Chude-Sokei writes about a difficult life trying to navigate complex issues which he had no hand in making. Indeed, like JP Clark’s poem, he is a casualty of that war which left him a Biafran, Nigerian, Jamaican and American without ever fully being any of those. In some way, it is a sad tale. But he does tell it with grace, devoid of bitterness and with a frankness that elates, highlighting in his prose, his own vulnerabilities and imperfections. 

‘Floating In A Most Peculiar Way’ is a great read and a worthy addition to both the catalogue of books about the Biafran war and the lived experiences of African immigrants in America. And without perhaps being the intention of the author, it contributes to the ongoing debate both in the academia as is in pop culture, on what it means to be Black, today. 

Sylva Nze Ifedigbo, creative writer and social commentator is the author of Believers and Hustlers. He is available on social media at @nzesylva

I met Eric Ngalle in person before I met him in the book “I, Eric Ngalle”.

The setting of the first meeting was a session at the 2021 Lagos Book and Arts Festival (LABAF) where he had a conversation via zoom with Osaze Samuel, about his book. It was such an engaging session that despite the frequent disruptions we had on the day with technology failing repeatedly, the small audience, was held captive as Eric regaled us with snippets of the tale of life experienced in the little over two years, he spent in Russia between 1997 and 1999. He often left us in stitches as he recounted some incidents with the ease and panache of a standup comedian. My interest sufficiently piqued, I could not resist grabbing a copy of the book when it became available in Nigeria.

That was when I met Eric Ngalle; in full.

A rider to the title of the book says, “One man’s quest for home” but I will rather describe it as “One man’s quest for survival on a route paved with mischief.”  After a particularly humiliating experience of being rejected by his father’s family, the young Eric is convinced there is nothing left for him in his native Cameroon. As is common with young people in this clime today, he decided to vote with his legs, or japa as we like to say here. He was going to find greener pastures elsewhere, study, make money and return home in grand style to the chagrin of his paternal family. The desperation as is often the case lands him in the hands of those who have made a thriving industry of human trafficking in the guise of helping young people get abroad, a theme I explored in my novel My Mind is No Longer Here. Eric pays a handsome fee that should get him to Belgium but when his flight lands, he finds himself in cold, hostile, Russia.

Surviving Russia as an illegal, with no money, no knowledge of the language, no friends to trust and no exit plan, forms the core of this 246 paged memoir that has got everything in it. Many readers may not associate memoirs with entertainment but I, Eric Ngalle is of a different mettle. Not minding the sensitive nature, sheer urgency and underlining dangers the narrator often found himself in, he tells this story with a lot of humour and with quite a sense of clarity which I dare say is possible because the intervening years before he put pen to paper allowed him ample time to reflect on the events and perhaps afforded him some healing.

Having heard him speak, i can affirm that Eric writes the way he talks, and his ability to find laughter through those dark experiences is quite remarkable. The narration is fast paced and engaging. The story of the present, is interspaced with reminiscences of his past life, growing up in the village of Wovilla in the shadow of Mount Cameroon, presented in italicized text.

It gets a bit too much and quite repetitive at times with names and places that do not linger in the readers memory, but nonetheless the bit allowed us a glimpse into Eric’s life in his village, and his boyhood adventures, much like a coming-of-age story and the rites of passage into adulthood.

In Russia, broke, without the right travel documents and with no help coming from home, Eric is forced to survive, often tethering dangerously on the precipice with many near misses. From debauchery, stained dollar scams, stealing from co-travelers, forgery, betrayal, impersonation etc, Eric gets in the mix of it all, swimming along with sharks until he finds a lucky break and a rare gift of a second chance.

The memoir captures at its core, just about two years of Eric’s life (albeit with the flashbacks) but it reads like a lifetime. Reader will be left to marvel at how all of it has happened to one person in this very short period. Indeed, one can easily say that Eric Ngalle Charles has lived many lives with scars (trophies, if you like) to show for it.

I, Eric Ngalle once again brings to the fore, the issue of illegal migration and the experiences of migrants especially from Africa, in foreign lands. It beams the light on the largely unwritten stories of a generation of Cameroonians, (and Nigerians) who found themselves in Russia and the things they did to navigate a particularly unfriendly environment mostly because of their illegal status. Some of them never made it out of Russia. It re-echoes some of the conversations that continue to make headlines around race and what it means to be different and tells the story of how corruption and bad leadership are conspiring to evoke heightened levels of cynicism that is driving Africa’s energetic and best minds, away.

While migration itself is human nature (and some argue there should be no term like ‘illegal migration’), the fact that sovereign states have created clear prerequisites for accessing their countries requires that anyone looking to go there should do so in line with the law. Travelers (as Helon Habila prefers to call them) must then ensure they are dealing with the right persons and channels because the outcomes of the alternative, be it a suicide-mission across the Mediterranean, the falsification of travel papers or the more popular overstaying of visas, is often not a pleasant tale. And yes, as cliché as it sounds, the grass is not always greener on the other side.

I, Eric Ngalle is a delightful read and an important addition to the collection of African migrant stories. It is also an invitation to all of us, to tell our stories. Memoirs should not only be written at the twilight of our lives when we feel we have accomplished all and have something to say.

Sylva Nze Ifedigbo is the author of Believers and Hustlers (out in Nigeria in January 2022). He is available on social media at @nzesylva

I am so happy to share with you the cover of my new novel, Believers And Hustlers, out this October from Parrésia Publishers Ltd

Yes, congratulations are in order 😁. But what I need more from you is your support on this one. Pre order, buy, gift copies, review it, discuss it in you book club, invite me to you reading/festival, tweet about it, buy some more copies,…just shaa do something.

Just saying nice cover, will not bring in the royalties 😂

Thanks a lot my good people

To Preorder link Click Here

Blurb

Pastor Nicholas Adejuwon and his beautiful wife Nkechi run Rivers of Joy Church, the rave of the moment Lagos megachurch. When Nkechi decides to investigate her husband’s indiscretion, it was merely to satisfy her curiosity. What she unravels is a web of bruising secrets that run deeper than she could have ever imagined, threatening her reality as she knew it.
This is a novel about power and the people who inordinately thirst for it. It explores those blurred lines between truth and falsehood, spirituality and hypocrisy and the ironies that fate deals us at the end of our desperate quests in life.

When they came for the bottles of alcohol, we said nothing, because quaffing alcohol is not a luxury we indulge in.

Then they came for barbers accused of giving unholy haircuts we looked the other way because our hair is cast, like the rest of our body and cannot be cut or styled.

Now that they have come for us, there is nobody left to speak for us

Our crime is on two counts.

In the main, they said we were becoming too seductive for comfort for the sanctimoniously Holy men of Kano. To quote them verbatim, we are “responsible for immoral thoughts among some members of the public” and by members of the public, we suspect they mean ‘men’.

So, in other words, these guardians of the faith in Kano came to a sudden realisation that the HOLY men in Kano are so not in control of their sexual desires that they get aroused at the sight of mannequins.

Plastic mannequins!

We would have, ordinarily, been flattered by this assertion, I mean, think of it, that as lifeless as we are, plastic and rigid, unable to overcome our own inertia, we are considered so sexy as to arouse. But that would be turning logic on its head; hence we make bold our disclaimer.

Anyone who finds us sexual enough as to get aroused from sighting us standing in shops, boutiques or supermarkets to be used for the display of clothes is already a cesspool of immorality. You are no holy man, sir.

That a lifeless effigy has the capacity of filling your mind with immoral thoughts suggests that you really have no control over your mind in the first instance and that, in itself, is a psychiatric problem.

How anyone thinks that by banning our use, they will somehow move the needle on the cases of rape, sodomy, and the abuse of underage girls in the name of marriage (which in our view are the urgent issues), beats us.

To use religion as justification for massaging the sexually depraved egos of people who ought to be seeking counselling and psychiatric help is to do a huge disservice to both the religion and the people the said ban seeks to protect.

Our siblings in other climes, where the religion these guardians of the faith claim to be protecting took root, continue to serve their purpose in the advancement of commerce with attendant benefits for buyers, sellers and the government. They are there standing tall in boutiques and supermarkets all over the Arab world displaying designs which is what we are created to do.

But these fellows back home with an uncanny penchant for below ground level zero reasoning, on the other hand, seem quite in a hurry to transition the great city of Kano from a modern commercial and cosmopolitan city to a soulless, drab, atavistic and Talibanisque territory with progress in the reverse gear.

This worries us.

The second charge against us is about promoting idolatry in the state. We suspect that this was thrown in to fill up the space. More like, if this one doesn’t stick, this other one will. To be sincere, if the first charge, made us chuckle, this one left us rather confused. Idolatry? How? Just so we were sure we were not getting things mixed up, we sought the help of an English dictionary. The meaning confirmed our befuddlement. Worship of Idols? Pray tell, since when did the people of Kano begin to worship mannequins?

Look, we know we look good and all with those nice wears displayed on us and that some of you admire and even take selfies with us for the gram, but we didn’t realise that the admiration had graduated to worship in Kano. How come no one has been pouring libations and sprinkling the blood of fattened animals at our feet? Is that not how we worship idols in these parts or is our own case different?

Enough with the joking!

Seriously now, if we were to agree without conceding that there are actually people in Kano who worship us even without us preaching or canvasing for such, does that not say something about the people and should the guardians of faith not be channelling the fat allocations they get from government into some more productive effort rather than threatening innocent mannequins and their owners?

We’ve come to the conclusion that these guardians of the faith must have a weird sense of humour. The problem, however,  is that this dark joke of theirs has made them a laughing stock, reduced the people of Kano to the butt of jokes on social media and more concerning for us, rendered so many of us unemployed as though the human unemployment situation was not alarming enough already. 

So, even though we’ve been found guilty and sentenced without any opportunity to give our side of the story, we (for whatever it is worth) make bold to state that on both counts, we plead not guilty.  And as these guardians of faith move on, seeking for the next thing to ban or getting set to confiscate and incinerate us, we wish to remind them of the title of Ahmadou Kourouma’s celebrated novel; Allah Is Not Obliged.

First published here https://thelagosreview.ng/disclaimer-recently-un-employed-mannequins-write-the-holy-men-of-kano-sylva-nze-ifedigbo/

Afi Tekple and her mother are made homeless and driven to poverty following the untimely death of her civil servant father. Denied of any inheritance by the greedy and opportunistic Uncle Pious, they are rescued by Aunty Faustina, the matriarch of the Ganyo family who puts them up and gives Afi’s mother a job at her flour distribution depot.

Mother and daughter essentially owe their wellbeing to Aunty such that when she makes a proposal requesting that Afi marries her rich, business mogul son Elikem (Eli), it is both a gift that changes their realities and an opportunity to pay back Aunty for all she had done for them.

But it is not the usual arranged marriage which is not strange in African societies. Afi has a higher responsibility put on her shoulders. Her husband Elikem is entangled with his Liberian mistress, Muna who his family disapproves of and with whom he has a daughter. Afi’s marriage to him was to wrestle him away from the grips of Muna who they paint as a diabolic, ugly and uncultured woman who cannot take care of her own child and has cast a spell on their son.

From the outset, it is clear that the marriage was a strange arrangement. Eli, the groom is absent at his own traditional marriage ceremony. Afi, the naïve seamstress who has lived most of her life in rural Ghana is married off to an older more sophisticated man she hardly knew, and had barely met. She wonders about her future, this problem she has been selected to solve and worries about even meeting up to the requirements of being a wife to a Ganyo. Her doubts are mediated, for the most part, by the palpable joy of her mother, the reassurance of Aunty and the other Ganyos (Yaya and Richard) and the encouragement of her closest cousin, Mawusi.

After moving to Accra where her husband lives, she is esconced in a fancy apartment where she was to wait for her husband to come to her. It will be many weeks before he appears. During this time, Afi, leverages the Ganyo connections to begin attending a fashion design school to fulfil her dreams. When Eli finally shows up, appearing first at intervals and then more frequently, they fall into a fairytale romance which leads to her becoming pregnant. While Afi had succeeded in establishing herself as Elikem Ganyo’s wife, even bearing him a son, she never succeeded at the other mission of taking the Liberian mistress out of the picture. Indeed, Muna continued to live with him, in his main house.

Afi must take brave but decisive actions to force Elikem’s hand and change the situation, ensuirng she moves into the main house to take her position as his wife. For a period, after the birth of their son, it seemed she was living the fairy tale life, graduating from her design school, starting her own outlet while enjoying the love and care of her husband. An incident will however bring her to the sudden realisation that she was living a lie forcing her to make even braver decisions to assert herself and break free from the emotional entanglements and deceit that had left her living to fulfil the desires of others.

Peace Medie in this exciting debut delivers at once, an exciting and compelling story complete with humour, love and the many ramification of life in contemporary Ghana while also highlighting the many other challenges of life on the continent including sexism, classism and patriarchy.  It is also a story about the influence of our extended families, the idea of having a duty to family and how money can dramatically transform people’s lives.

The prose is easy and free flowing, delivered in simple but engaging language. The characters are exciting and the transition in Afi’s character from a naïve young lady to a confident woman, determined to live life on her own terms was well handled to Medie’s credit.

Described as the‘Crazy rich Asians for West Africa’, His Only Wife ticks all the right boxes and is a worthy addition to the collection of every keen lover of African stories.

Peace Adze Medie | Parresia Publishing, 2020 | 262 pages.

First published in The Lagos Review Here

dear-alaereEriye Onagoruwa’s debut novel, Dear Alaere tells the story of Alaere Benson and her struggle to navigate challenges in both her family and work life. On the one hand, she meekly accepts responsibility for her husband’s oligospermia which is largely responsible for their childlessness, while onn the other hand, her efforts to build a career in the corporate world is threatened by varying degrees of workplace shenanigans replete with situations that border on toxicity and even diabolic acts .

Alaere, the main character narrates this story in the first-person through a series of diary entries, chronicling her experiences, pains, and wishes in sometimes witty but thoughtful posts. The space between her life at work and the situation at home is filled by Alhaji Wasiu, her rather talkative, driver who unlike Alaere enjoyed high fecundity, but with no male child to show for it. A situation he laments about on end and takes sometimes ridiculous actions to change.

Alaere’s world manages not to fall apart because of the love she and her husband ‘Laja share and her dedication to doing the right things at work despite the issues.

Set in Lagos, Eriye through this novel contributes to the important conversation around reproductive health in marriage and how the wives are often stigmatized even when the man’s condition is responsible for their childlessness. Many, like Alaere, endure the ignominy while keeping the truth to themselves in order to protect their husband’s pride. Others like Iya Segi in Lola Soneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives find other means of getting pregnant which ensures that they secure their own happiness, while covering their husband’s shame.

The other major theme is around the intricacies of corporate environments. Eriye captures the hypocrisy, rivalry, scheming, harassments, gossip, and even mysticism at Criole, painting a picture many readers will find familiar. Those who have experienced or are active players in such circumstances will agree that it could be quite exhilarating and downright dangerous. Little wonder the binding and casting of enemies ‘at your place of work’, is a popular prayer point for many Nigerian men of God.

With these two broad themes, Dear Alaere packs a punch, but it really never lands it. The story doesn’t manage to rise to its potential nor convey the emotion that should make the reader feel, if not a part of Alaere’s story, at least, some sympathy for her. The novel does not quite hit the mark in the narration which could have been aa lot more engaging, the development of the characters who remain largely one dimensional, the exploration of the themes which does not go deeper than the superficial and the expansion of the plot which is rather bland and predictable, culminating in a nollywoodesque ending.

Read the full review here in the Lagos Review

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