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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

MOYMichael Afenfia’s The Mechanics of Yenagoa is an interesting feel-good read that grips the reader from the first page and keeps you flipping the pages like a compulsive disorder, as the narrator leads you deeper into the funny, disjointed and often troubled lives of the different characters it portrays.

From the title, one is wont to assume that it tells the story of different mechanics in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa state. Not quite so. Instead, it is the story of one mechanic, his apprentices and how the choices they make impact on or is influenced by, the cocktail of characters in their lives.

At the center of it all is Ebinimi (who also goes by Brother Jacob), from whose narrative voice the story is told. He is a university graduate who opted to be a mechanic and runs his auto repair shop on Kalakala street. The irony of a graduate as a mechanic is made even more remarkable by the fact that he is also pursuing a second degree, an MBA, at the state university. With that somewhat unusual profile, he presents an image of one who had it all together but that seems to be all that is good about his life. The rest of it is a web of emotional entanglements, perpetual trouble baiting, fights, ambition, betrayals and their unintended consequences.

When we meet Ebinimi he also introduces us to his allegedly pregnant on-and-off girlfriend, Blessing (who will prove to be his undoing in many ways), his sister Ebiakpo whose marriage is perched on the precipice, his three apprentices, Biodun, Broderick and Saka who seem to have no cares in the world and Reverend Ebizimor, who is that behind-the-scene character instigating much of the conflict in the book and who smartly exits the scene, like he was never there, just when it is all about to unravel. We see how Ebinimi, in the course of his normal existence is drawn into situations which in his effort to solve, triggers other events that threaten to engulf his entire existence. Indeed, for most of the book, he is basically quenching fires, and sometimes igniting new ones himself but managing somehow to navigate through it all.

At its core though, The Mechanics of Yenagoa tells a much deeper story about the dysfunction of society, the everyday coping mechanisms of ordinary people, the breakdown of marriages and the games people play to get and retain power including the weaponizing of religion and the use of violence as a political tool.

Read the full review here in the Lagos Review

Read this detailed review of my novel, My Mind Is No Longer Here by Tọ́pẹ́ Salaudeen-Adégòkè in #AfricaInWords

Buy the book and give a copy to a friend.

AiW Guest: Tọ́pẹ́ Salaudeen-Adégòkè.

AiW note: Tọ́pẹ́, returning as a Guest Author with this review for AiW, has also given us his Words on the Times, a Q&A series initiated to connect up and share the experiences of life and work during the pandemic. You can find his responses, with further details of where to get hold of Sylva’s novel, at the foot of his review.

The epigraph to Ifedigbo Nze Sylva’s debut novel, My Mind is No Longer Here (Parrésia Publishers Ltd., 2018), is culled from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five: ‘[…] life is just a collection of moments all strung together in beautiful random order […]’. Sylva borrows this to narrate the story of four young men — Donatus, Haruna, Osahon and Chidi —connected by their obsession to travel abroad in search of greener pastures. My Mind is No Longer Here capitalises on symbolism, further…

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IMG_20200715_192255_381 I recently had a chat with Chimee Adioha of #BlackBoyReview on writing #MyMindIsNoLongerHere, the desperation to leave and the reflection of this trend in literature.

Book Cover Design Concept

Cover design was by visual artist Fred Martins, the design interprets the book title. It’s a floating balloon of a head, pulling of from the rest of the body.

This conversation is really coming late, but it’s always better late than never. Reading MY MIND IS NO LONGER HERE was a form of reading about men, reading through, from the eyes of men and what men really feel they need. We would like to know your intentions towards writing a book that wanted to talk about men and the kind of lives that are mostly associated with men.

Yes, indeed this conversation has been a long time coming. I am glad we are finally able to do this and I must thank you for the time and the platform.

You’ve started off with a very interesting question. I will like to start by stating from the outset that the first inspiration to write this book was a newspaper headline. Sometime circa 2011 I read a story in the metro section of one of Nigeria’s top dailies about a so-called travel agency which had swindled a lot of people of their money, promising to help them migrate to Canada. At that time too, issues of human trafficking was also rife as it still is today. I thought to interrogate that desperation to leave at all cost, and the people who had made an industry out of that desperation.

Now, when you think human trafficking, you are likely to immediately think of the female gender. The prostitution rings across Europe fed by trafficked girls from Nigeria easily comes to mind. Chika Unigwe’s  On Black Sisters Street which told that story very well. But Boys are also trafficked for many other reasons. And indeed, in the whole desperation to leave and make it anywhere else at all cost community, men top the charts. So, I decided to make my work about men, to tell their own story and to explore it from the lives of four characters from different backgrounds whose interest converge on this project of leaving.

Did you in any way had to infuse your life experiences into the story generally. Was there a character amongst the four men that you felt was too close to your own reality.

The short answer will be no. None of the characters reflects my own lived experience personally. However, I infused the stories of other real people who I either knew or heard about. Not in an autobiographical way though. More like bits and pieces of it.  I like most people who grew up in these parts especially from low to middle income backgrounds under the influence of IBB’s stifling structural adjustment programme, know someone, a relative, friend, school mate or someone on their street who has left through some kind of runs, so it’s a very familiar experience.

Read the rest of the Interview here

abpplIt was American singer and songwriter Marilyn Manson who said that music is the strongest form of magic. If magic is the power to enchant, then there is no better word than magic for describing this music inspired collection of short stories, A Broken People’s Playlist by Chimeka Garricks

George Saunders, celebrated writer of short stories and essays in one of his popular quotes opined that when you read a short story, you come out a little more aware and a little more in love with the world around you. A Broken People’s Playlist does absolutely that.

This collection of twelve stories about life, death and everything in-between is a delight from cover to cover. One is first dazzled by the cover design, which whets the reader’s appetite and prepares your senses for the music in the pages. As the Igbos say, the eye first eats before the mouth does.

Some will argue though that a book should not be judged by its cover. Quite true but we are saved that argument in this instance. What is served in the following 248 pages, matches the artistry of the cover and combines to deliver a work of art that tickles your ribs as much as it does your tear ducts, making you question the essence of life and at the same time reinforcing your faith in it all the while, delighting you with all the rhyme and rhythm that the African storytelling tradition embodies.

Garricks does something unusual in this book. It is not very often that fiction writers avail their readers of their thought process, inspiration and influences within the covers of their work. That is the stuff for interviews, closer engagements during book readings and perhaps their memoir. But Garricks is a very generous writer. Perhaps to set the ground rules for any future interrogation of his work or as an appreciation to the composers who made the ‘track list’ of this album possible, he added a four page ‘Author Notes’ at the end of his collection

Read the full review here in the Lagos Review

eforiro

There is this magic that happens when poets write prose.

Something about the freedom that poetry allows. Those flights of fancy, poetic license, loosening of strict grammatical rules and the rather ironic restrictions to the use of words which help create an all-round tighter prose output.

The brilliant poet and novelist Caoilinn Hughes in her June 2018 essay in GRANTA “When Poets Write Novels” summarizes it neatly as thus: It’s not just the sentences – though me-o-my, the sentences! – it’s the sensibility. When poets turn their hands to prose, those hands might well belong to Midas. In the best of these novels, poetry’s philosophy, acuity and truth-seeking are carried over into the prose.

I thus approached the reading of Efo Riro and other stories, the collection of stories by Iquo DianaAbasi with a certain kind of expectation. Besides the title – a rich vegetable delicacy of Western Nigerian origin – which very easily could make one salivate in anticipation, the author herself is a poet and remarkably, her 2013 collection of poems Symphony of Becoming was shortlisted for the Nigeria Prize for Literature among other such accolades. I can say quite frankly that I was not disappointed.

Efo Riro and other stories brings together 19 short stories all of which are set primarily in Nigeria and cover a range of themes and contemporary human-interest issues that form a chunk of our daily realities as Nigerians. From domestic abuse, love, heart breaks and social media shenanigans to mysterious disappearances, polygamy, abortion, betrayal and post-partum depression. And as diverse as the themes are, so are the characters as well as the literary devises Iquo employs in serving each narrative, presenting in the whole a complete package, enough to tantalize your literary palate.

A quick look at a few of the stories will be apt to paint a general picture. The opening story Efo Riro from which the collection derives its title is told completely in pidgin English. The humour laden story of the driver of a red Venza which grew wings in broad day light is an ode to the beauty in our pidgin English and a peep into what it can be used to achieve in contemporary Nigerian fiction writing.

Your Tongue is Fettered is about the twist in the tale of a ritual to revive a sick husband. In E-Pals, the daily gossip threads we are often regaled with on twitter comes to life, showcasing what love and lust feels like in the age of the internet.

Read full review here in the Lagos Review

mmirinzo

“She was in her room but in another place. Asleep yet awake, and it wasn’t the first time”

In case the title and the cover design (which I think was brilliant) had not sufficiently made it clear, those opening lines from Achalugo Ezekobe’s debut novel Mmirinzo drives in a realization that this was not going to be your regular tale. And without being so forceful on your imagination, they set the stage for what I will describe as a fantasy novel inspired by Igbo metaphysics, specifically the ability of certain persons to control rain.

Olivia was born an Mmirinzo, a special breed of rainmakers who are rain in themselves, wielding the power to control water, and manifest dual presence through their dreams. The display of this unique gift is nothing short of what today’s Pentecostal driven Christianity will refer to as being possessed by marine spirits and so Olivia who was completely oblivious of such a heritage, thought when she first began to experience those blackouts that teleported her to strange ceremonies as both a spectator and an active participant.

With her twenty-eight birthday approaching, Olivia, a young, intelligent lawyer who was keen on developing herself into a great Alternate Dispute Resolution counsel had many things on her mind. There was her younger sister, Nwanneka’s impending wedding which came with the pressure and unsolicited pity, if not shame, from a society that expects the finding of love and life partners to follow the order of birth. There was also the expected announcements of promotions at the law firm where she worked and her efforts to deliver on a case she was handling as a ticket to the game.

The trances which besiege her existence, upending her life as she knew it and causing embarrassing scenes with no medical explanation will sent into motion a series of events leading to Olivia ultimately making that journey to self despite the challenges. And she manages to make it just at the nick of time because the four Igbo market days when lined with the days of the month summed up to twenty eight, the age at which the cosmic has destined that she was to come into her own, with far reaching consequences if she had failed to.

Mmirinzo makes an easy and interesting read. It is a fast paced, and well written effort at magical realism taking place among normal people, living their lives in an otherwise technological driven world. In many ways the work reminded me of Chukwuemeka Ike’s 1985 novel The Bottled Leopard which explored a different aspect of Igbo metaphysics involving the ability of men to acquire the powers of a Leopard. Achalugo very easily marries the daily realities of living in cosmopolitan Lagos today with the magical world of her main character as though they were two sides of a coin, normalizing by so doing, a state of being that would otherwise be seen as…

Read the full review here in The Lagos Review

nancyI recently had a very insightful chat with Nancy Adimora, founding editor of AFREADA who recently joined HarperCollins as ‘Talent and Audience Development Manager’

We talked about many interesting literary and fun stuff including Chimamanda, Biafra, Harry Potter, Aminatta Forna and sleeping 8 hours every night.

Read all about it here in The Lagos Review. See excerpts below:

SNI: AFREADA which you founded is one of the more vibrant platforms publishing African stories from writers across the world. I have had my story published by you and have also read many interesting stories there as well. What was the vision behind AFREADA and what has the experience been like?

NA: We’re in a very interesting season with AFREADA where the vision is in the process of evolving. I started the platform with no experience in publishing, I had no formal editorial training. I was just a Nigerian girl in north London who was intrigued by an entire continent but couldn’t afford to travel around that entire continent so wanted to explore the possibilities of doing so through stories. I came across an Aminatta Forna quote that says “if you want to know a country, read its writers.” and that really resonated with me because, if you want to get to know the capital city of Botswana, you could open a text book, read scholarly articles, or Google some facts and figures – but if you *really* want to get to know Gaborone, you have to engage with the stories of people who live and work there, even if it’s fictional. This story by Siyanda Mohutsiwa is a beautiful example of that.  So, for a long time travelling through stories has been our vision and it’s been fun for me to get to know the continent through some of the best emerging writers, from Uganda to Guinea Bissau. But now, with a growing team and expansion into creative non-fiction, we’re in the process of re-evaluating our mission statement. We’re exploring a few new ideas, and we’ll be communicating our revised vision in the coming weeks.

SNI: Wow. That’s interesting to know and I guess this is a TLR exclusive. LOL. Tell me from your experience and the submission you receive, what’s your assessment of the state of creative writing by Africans? Alive & well, comatose or just there?

NA: I would say it is alive and well – without a shadow of a doubt. What I see in our submissions inbox is a lot of enthusiasm. Accessibility is key for us, so our submissions guidelines are intentionally more relaxed than some other journals and publications. We want to encourage everyone to feel like their stories are worth being read and reviewed, and the quality of our submissions is a reflection of that decision. So, whilst we get a lot of submissions from new writers who probably need more time to hone their skills, we also get a lot of exceptional submissions from writers who are a little further in their creative journeys as well. So I’d say our submissions inbox is broad, in terms of quality, but it definitely fills me with a lot of optimism.

SNI: Talking about our writing being alive and well, we recently lost one of our writing greats, Prof Chukwuemeka Ike who influenced a lot of book lovers of my generation. Did you encounter any of his works which you are happy to share briefly about?

NA: It feels crazy to say, but I didn’t know much about Prof Chukwuemeka Ike before his death. I had heard his name a couple of times, but the first time I really engaged with him wasn’t through his writing, but through a documentary called “In the Shadow of Biafra” that was screened in London last month. The film explored how creative writers grappled with the history of the Nigeria-Biafra war. In it, Prof Ike spoke about a number of things – but one part that stood out for me was when he recounted how Igbo people figured out how to refine crude oil during the war. The fact that we built oil refineries is interesting in itself, but I was particularly drawn to how he told the story. I made a note of some of his books when I got home later that evening so I’m definitely going to go back and read some of his work when I get the chance.

Read the the full interview here

 

travellersFleeing violence and political crises in parts of the Middle East as well as poverty and economic challenges in Africa, millions of people have been risking the perilous journey of crossing the Mediterranean sea into Europe.

Many die trying.

In October 2013 for example, over 350 migrants died in a shipwreck off the island of Lampedusa. It was perhaps the worst tragedy of its kind and helped inflame a long-standing discussion among overwhelmed European Union countries on how to handle the surge of migrants.

As the political, diplomatic, economic and even security ramifications of the crisis continues to be a topical issue in the media and in European state capitals, the people at the center of it, their lives, drives, motivations and indeed their humanity is often relegated and rarely on the front burner.

This is what makes Travellers, the latest work from the brilliant Nigerian writer, Helon Habila a very important book as it takes the reader on that journey to Europe and helps us live the migrant experience – drownings at sea and families getting  separated, as they seek asylum, survive dangerous paths, endure anti-immigration protesters, and still manage to keep that very precious human attribute, hope, alive in spite of it all. Habila achieves this more than any journalism reports I have read on these issues could ever manage and perhaps in the process, he gives a peep into what the novel can do today, in advancing contemporary human experiences and expanding social commentary.

His fourth book and the first set outside of his native Nigeria, Habila tells the story of six European migrants and he….

Read the full review here

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