My trip to Kaduna and An Abundance of Scorpions.

As the years roll by I become more and more aware of the need to engage in those things I love. While reading is one of the most consistent hobbies I pursue, traveling is one hobby I wish I could explore more; I have not really indulged in it very much.

So as a gift to myself and a testament to the growing restlessness I was experiencing this year (not to mention the zombie routine I had adopted as a Lagos worker) I decided to travel to shake off the stress and the monotony. Alas, I couldn’t afford a trip out of the country because my finances weren’t looking that joyful. Then I recalled that a very good friend had invited me to visit her in Kaduna earlier in April and I had asked for a rain check. After confirming that the offer was still open, I made a firm decision to travel to Kaduna.

The first challenge was to determine my mode of transportation. I love road trips (I travelled from Ohio to Texas last year on the Greyhound) but my friend was skeptical about the state of our roads in Nigeria and the safety of traveling on them. After several consultations, I grudgingly paid for a ticket to travel for a week by air to Kaduna. Everyone I mentioned my planned trip to would raise an eyebrow and ask what business I had in Kaduna. I wasn’t perturbed I needed the escape from busy, noisy and aggressive Lagos so I looked forward to my trip with glee.

As a book lover, the surest way to enjoy a time away from work is to read! Fully convinced that I would have all the time to kick back, lounge and sink into the books I had read half way, I proceeded to lug a huge hard cover by Nora Roberts, a smaller paper back by an author I have never heard of before (Amy Tan) but whose writing had caught me and my sure stack of e-books (which obviously go with me wherever my phone goes)

My flight was on a Sunday morning.

Fun fact: I love to travel in the morning.

Once we had buckled in and taken off, my seat partner requested to see my book (it was the Nora Roberts book) I smiled and handed it over. This wasn’t new to me, people often requested to see what book I had in my hand (it has won me many a friend) once he returned the book, I settled in and soon got lost in the ‘Northern Lights’ by Nora Roberts.

My friend picked me up from the airport an hour later and we were soon off. As she pointed out the important sites in the city, I took a deep breath and smiled. The short vacation had started.

When I walked into my friend’s flat, naturally my eyes found her book shelf (like I zeroed in so fast) she had a few books lined up but the one that caught my eye as I scrutinized was An Abundance of Scorpions by Hadiza Isma El-Rufai.

The title gripped my attention instantly. I picked up the book the next day and read 75 % of it. The next day I rapidly completed it.

An Abundance of Scorpions was quite a surprising book because the story line was pretty unique. I don’t think I’ve ever come across any story similar to what I read in the book, then again I haven’t read all the books in the world! The plot was well laid out. The characters were good but the lead character, Tambaya was the most striking. She came across as this soft wonderful, accepting person, so loving and truly kind.

When you start the book, you don’t really expect that it would have a tragic beginning to it, so when that came I was taken aback and it made me follow the story more closely. Going to the themes explored, I found child trafficking, case of abandoned children, poverty, grief and the uncertainty of life after the death of a loved one, the secrets that can be revealed when a man dies, also the attitude of in-laws toward a widow, politics, corruption and several others.

I liked the way the conflicts came into the story, the minute you begin to sit back and enjoy the good parts of the lead character’s life, you find she has other issues to deal with. I like that the author put a vivacious character in the person of Esther, Tambaya’s friend who brings some spice into her life. It is Esther who acts as her main support system and holds her up in the most difficult periods. Every girl needs an Esther in her life.

The biggest conflict I think the lead character had to deal with was the moment where she had to assist her brother Aminu by permitting him to drop his son with her at the Orphanage where she was the Matron. The deception behind it all, choosing to help family over her values to the likely loss of her job if found out; while reading this part of the story I kept asking myself what would you have done if you were Tambaya.

The story moved really nicely for me.

My only problem was the way it ended. I had hoped that the romance between the lead character and Alhaji Surajo would develop. In a way it was good the author left it as it was. But she didn’t tell us what would happen to her brother’s son who had been brought into the orphanage as an abandoned child. Though she writes a possible end to the story in the reverie that the lead character falls into at the tail end of the book, I still felt the story should have been nicely rounded out.

It was a wholesome read. There was that hope that love can come again after the death of a loved one. For me it gave me a window into the life of a Muslim, the prayers they undertake five times a day, the celebration of Ramadan, the fasting and all the rites that go with it.

I fancied reading the book and I found the title most apt. An abundance of scorpions tells me of the many challenges that can assail one in life but the resilience of the lead character reflects that hope can come again and perseverance pays.

My trip to Kaduna couldn’t have been complete without the pleasure of the presence of An Abundance of Scorpions; an unexpected read, a delightful experience.

Have you read this book? Would you read it?

P.S: I got to visit Kajuru Castle in Kaduna, the view was magnificent.

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Kemibon

 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: STAY WITH ME BY AYOBAMI ADEBAYO

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“Stay with me”, she said. I stayed till the end.

I wanted to stay with Ayobami Adebayo. I wanted to pick up her words and memorize them. I wanted to stay in the pages of her book and immerse myself in the depth of the story. I wanted to stay.

There are so many reasons why I loved this book:

  1. Style of narration
  2. Figures of speech
  3. Vivid descriptions
  4. Strength of the Characters
  5. The story
  6. The themes – Lust, Love, Forgiveness, Human Nature, Tradition, Politics, etc.

The author’s style of narration is in first person but what makes it even better is that the narration is in two voices; the voice of the main character, Yejide, and the voice of her husband, Akin. Ayobami Adebayo is able to achieve this by setting out their narrations in different chapters interspersed throughout the book. This gives the reader a good insight into both of the character’s deepest thoughts. The story swings from the main character to her husband’s narration in a seamless stream.

Her similes are fresh. These are some of my favorites: “she was fair, pale yellow like the inside of an unripe mango”. “if one moved close enough, that mouth oozed an unbearable stench, like stale urine.” “I was coming undone, like a hastily tied scarf coming loose, on the ground before the owner is aware of it”.

I loved her style of description. Take a look at this, “I wanted to leave them standing outside and go back upstairs to sleep. Maybe they would melt into pools of brown mud if they stayed long enough in the sun. Iya Martha’s buttocks were so big that, if melted, they would have taken up all the space on the concrete steps that led up to our doorway.”

I like the way the author gives details and then connects the dots later. For example after the main character’s husband marries a new wife, the new wife comes to visit Yejide at her salon. Yejide tells the story: “…the nails were painted hibiscus red, like the matching mugs Akin and I had used to drink coffee that morning…”.

Later in the story, Yejide tells us she bought new mugs. When her husband asks, she said she broke them.  We don’t know why until the author narrates it thus: “I could see that he assumed I had simply knocked the mugs over by mistake or dropped them as I was putting them away. There was no reason for him to think that I had slammed each hibiscus-red mug against the kitchen wall as the cuckoo clock in the sitting room chimed at midnight. He could never have imagined that I had swept the broken pieces into a dustpan, put them in a small mortar and pounded them until I was sweating from every pore and wondering if I had lost my mind”.

It is this kind of narration that makes the book a page turner.

The strength of the characters – Yejide, the main character strikes me as a resilient woman; a woman who is able to remain strong through all her difficulties yet  she is a flawed character just like any one of us (feeding her in-laws with beans knowing well it wasn’t freshly made just after they introduced her to her husband’s new wife is something I could have done).

Her husband is an equally strong character; his depth! The depth of his deception clearly drives the marriage into the ground. For me, the most striking thing about Akin, Yejide’s husband is his calculated deceit. Not to say anything of how he pretended to be disappointed when the doctor told him their son’s genotype and the likelihood that Yejide had cheated on him.  Of course, he knew that he was the one who got his brother to sleep with his wife yet he acted like the wounded husband. Classic! Just classic! Ayobami Adebayo portrays the characters so creatively that one cannot help but be surprised at their actions and reactions (getting to know that Akin killed his second wife was mind-blowing)

The story is richly and proudly Nigerian. It gives the Nigerian that sense of “this is our own”. Ayobami Adebayo weaves the tale with an excellent craft. The story moves fluidly between different times, the present and the past. The suspense is steady and agreeable. The use of imagery is superb. The story is deep and loaded with drama. At first, I was thinking, “basic story, man marries new wife because wife can’t get pregnant? Big deal”!

But no! The big deal about this story is the layers in the story. Like cabbage, you can keep unfurling the layers and you won’t get inside fast enough. From having to contend with a new wife, the protagonist has to grapple with visits to the mountain top for prayers (breastfeeds a goat to simulate breastfeeding a baby), a pregnancy that exists only in her head yet manifests in a protruding tummy (pseudocyesis), a hostile mother-in-law, falling into the trap her impotent husband cunningly set for her (to sleep with his brother and get pregnant), battling with sick children and finally the discovery of her husband’s betrayal.

At a point I felt the drama was a tad much but it all came together nicely. The tragedy in the story is heavy. The pace of the story keeps the reader interested and invested so much so that you feel like taking Yejide by the hand and saying “please sit a while, unburden your heart and rest”.

It is a story of the deepest betrayal – the betrayal of the one you love and trust the most.

The themes visited in the story are many – we have love between Yeijde and her husband, Akin, then lust from Akin’s brother  for Yejide and his struggle with himself. Yejide’s lust for something she had obviously been deprived of from her husband for years.

Politics is beautifully addressed as the story moves in between years; you see the transitions in Nigeria’s political scene.

Tradition and societal ills is another theme Ayobami addresses in her book. She reveals how easily families interfere in the affairs of a childless young couple. She tells us how desperate a woman can get to satisfy society – some validation to show that she is really not barren. The reality of mental instability that can arise from the desire to be pregnant is depicted – a condition called pseudocyesis. The scourge of Sickle Cell Disease is also sewn into the fabric of this very unpretentious book.

The inherent wickedness of man is visited in the person of Yejide’s husband who keeps his secret and makes her miserable in all her suffering. I loved the use of folklore in the book. She used two of my personal favorites; the story of Olurombi and the Iroko tree as well as the story of greedy Ijapa (the tortoise and the porridge that got him pregnant)

She also  manages to talk about the period when armed robbers used to write to residents.

I couldn’t help feeling disappointed that Yejide didn’t really have a close friend or relation to be a support through her pain but I suppose that is what makes the story so moving.

The brilliance of this book is in the ability of the author to wrap all of the things she addresses into 306 pages, make the book funny in parts, very poignantly sad and yet so real.

I rate this book a well-deserved 9/10.

This is a story that will stay with you.

Kemibon

 

 

 

 

 

 

Through Chimamanda Adichie I saw a side of the rising sun

I shivered, cried, stared into blank space, laughed out loud, closed my eyes in embarrassment, thought hard about life, wrote interesting pieces just because of Chimamanda Adichie’s Half Of A Yellow Sun. I had read another book by her, The Thing Around Your Neck which my lovely sister, Kemi reviewed here but I did not expect what I got in this book.

It’s definitely a shelf book and I would read it again during a vacation or holiday just to see the details and explore the characters. It inspired me so much, I wrote about her on my blog several times.

I want to write as deeply emotional as Chimamanda does when I’m older and wiser. With this book, she made me see a side of the rising sun, the war and the pain that has affected every Nigerian tribe. I saw the killing of the Sardauna, the jokes about his death by the people and the death of Olanna’s extended family during the killings in the North. It was worse than the movie.

“Olanna looked into the bowl. She saw the little girl’s head with the ashy grey skin and the plaited hair and rolled-back eyes and open mouth. She stared at it for a while before she looked away.”

I could talk about the history themed in the book and it may feel like “bla bla bla” to you but the book has made an impact and told me; a young lady who did not witness the Biafran war, that it should not happen again.

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The book was published in 2006 by Farafina in Nigeria. It is based on the pre and post- independence era in the country and focuses primarily on the activities of Nigerians and “Biafrans” between 1960 and 1980.

Did you know that the secessionist Biafran state is recognised to have existed between May 1967 and January 1970? I didn’t. I thought the Biafrans were a group of people fighting for their land, I had no idea it was recognized or that so many things were involved in the process of secession and living in such a state.

In fact, I wonder how those who survived did. Chimamanda’s Half Of A Yellow Sun may just be fiction but what were the realities and how did Nigerians and Biafrans cope? We shouldn’t even start talking about the survival tactics such as hustling for salt or egg yolk as protein for the children or underground bunkers, the surprising deaths and betrayals…

It talked about the military rules and rebels and pain that would forever remain in the hearts of those who faced the war and survived it.

My favorite character was Ugwu, my dear Ugwu who loved women and treated them according to how he felt about them, my dear Ugwu, who was confused when he saw water come out from a tap, my dear Ugwu through whose eyes the story begins and ends.

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Ugwu in the movie

Chimamanda knows how to portray love realistically. The woman is good biko (please in Ibo). Olanna and Odenigbo were not just lovers, they were friends and that was what kept them together even when the love was hungry for food.

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Odenigbo and Olanna in the movie

This book is a classic in that it discusses the war from the perspective of the Igbo people in the most realistic way. I feel she achieved what she set out to do with this book because it changed the way some saw the war. Anyway, I realised that in all times, we should endeavor to show humanity to our neigbours.

Watching the movie is not enough, reading the book is so much better.

What I found a bit uncomfortable was the fact that Richard who was meant to understand Igbo so fluently hardly said a word of Ibo in the novel for us, the readers to translate and Chimamanda kept going back and forth from one character to another, which is why I would advice that one read the book before watching the movie, I kept expecting the same chronology I got in the movie.

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Please find below an excerpt on the story behind the book;

Both my grandfathers were interesting men, both born in the early 1900s in British-controlled Igbo land, both determined to educate their children, both with a keen sense of humor, both proud. I know this from stories I have been told. Eight years before I was born, they died in Biafra as refugees after fleeing hometowns that had fallen to federal troops. I grew up in the shadow of Biafra. I grew up hearing ‘before the war’ and ‘after the war’ stories; it was as if the war had somehow divided the memories of my family. I have always wanted to write about Biafra—not only to honor my grandfathers, but also to honor the collective memory of an entire nation. Writing Half of a Yellow Sun has been my re-imagining of something I did not experience but whose legacy I carry. It is also, I hope, my tribute to love: the unreasonable, resilient thing that holds people together and makes us human.

Chimamanda Adichie

Cheers, Abiola

Note: This excerpt was gotten from chimamanda.com