July 15, 2013

Daughters Who Walk This Path by Yejide Kilanko | Book Review

Daughters Who Walk This Path is a tale of abuse. Sexual abuse. Morayo Ajayi and her little sister Eniayo have their challenges - Morayo is knock-kneed and Eniayo is an albino - but they are quite content. Their dad travels often because of his job but he makes time for them when he's around. Their mom is always there, dividing time between them and her tailoring business. Misplaced trust results in Morayo being taken advantage of repeatedly and in its aftermath she suffocates from the shame. Plagued by the resulting confusion she turns to Aunt Morenike to whom all of this is sorely familiar. It is Aunt Morenike who tries to help Morayo navigate the myriads of confusing feelings she is forced to deal with as she tries valiantly to move on with life.

This book did not pique my interest in its beginning pages. I actually picked it up and put it back down a couple of times until I finally settled into it. Yejide begins her tale with the saccharine sweet relationship between these two sisters, and then she dips you into darkness from which there is no immediate escape. She handles this material very well and shines a light into sexual abuse in the home. Daughters Who Walk This Path is a good novel. Kudos to Yejide Kilanko.

[Image via Aobibliosphere ]

July 08, 2013

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo | Book Review

Darling, Bastard, Godknows, Stina, Chipo and Sbho are Zimbabwean kids who roam the streets daily in constant exploration of their surroundings. The Zimbabwe they live in is a broken down mess. Schools are not in session because teachers are on a strike; their parents are constantly in search of employment, something, anything, that will put food on the table. After being run off their properties by the government, they and many other families settle in shanties at a location known as "Paradise", a place they hope to abandon as soon as the country gets better. AIDS ravages them even as "the white man" and other foreigners plunder them. In all they are at the mercy of NGOs who bring them much needed aid in exchange for their dignity. Darling is the protagonist who wittily narrates it as she sees it. She is one of the privileged ones who get to leave Zimbabwe for America to pursue unfulfilled dreams but America comes with a different set of problems that Darling has to learn to deal with.

We Need New Names is superbly entertaining. I wasn't even that far in when I began considering re-reading it so I could savor it all again. I dragged out my reading in a ridiculous attempt to postpone the inevitable. It was so good from the start that I worried it would lose steam but Bulawayo delivers right to the very end. I'm a big fan of NoViolet Bulawayo. We Need New Names is a remarkable debut novel, a standout. Do not borrow this book. BUY it.

[Image via Goodreads]

July 03, 2013

Burma Boy by Biyi Bandele | Book Review

In Burma Boy, Banana, a former apprentice of a local blacksmith, has lied about his age to get into the army. The platoon he joined rejects him after he convalesces from a bout of chickenpox because they are scared that he's still infectious. He joins the "Chindits", a "rapid-reaction group" created by the very eccentric Major Wingate. Chindits are "trained to operate deep behind Japanese lines" in order to undermine Japanese efforts in Burma. Regardless of his eagerness to be put to better use Banana is just a child. A little boy who joins the Chindits on their grueling journey towards the enemy.

Burma Boy is not captivating. It lacks energy. A tale about a child soldier should be many things that this tale is not. I felt no emotions. Nothing. I just kept flipping pages. In someone else's hands the last 6 pages would have ripped me open but I remained unmoved. Burma Boy is like Coca-Cola without the gas and the sugar. For a tale with so much potential I am not at all impressed.

[Image via Kalahari]

June 12, 2013

On Black Sisters Street by Chika Unigwe | Book Review

Four women - Sisi, Efe, Ama and Joyce - sell sex in Antwerp, Belgium in a bid to give themselves and their loved ones a better life. Their dreams vary in details but they share a common thread. Of the lot, Sisi is the only one who attended college and in a way she seems to be the only one with the right to dream dreams of grandeur. The right to demand from life what was promised her. She did everything she was told were sure recipes for financial success and stability. She studied hard at school, went to college and brought home a degree. The degree was to be a guarantee to a fantastic well paying job. A job that would lift her family from penury. A job that would fund all their dreams. Years after exiting college nothing is forthcoming and Sisi watches in anger "...as life laughed at the grandiosity of her dreams..." like it has done to those of her parents and boyfriend. When Dele broaches the idea of moving to Antwerp as a sex worker, Sisi "expected that her anger would give her the courage to slap his fat face. She expected to want to smash his mobile phones through his double-glazed windows. She waited for the hurricane of anger that would drive her to shout... She turned to go, but her feet were stuck in quicksand. They would not move."

Efe has been through her own share of life's mistakes. She wants a better life and even before she gets to Belgium she already has an idea how these things work. When Dele asks her if she wants to leave the country, she asks: "'If I wan' go abroad, Oga Dele? Anybody dey ask pikin if de pikin wan' sweet?' Who did not want to go abroad? People were born with the ambition, and people died trying to fulfill that ambition." Efe agrees to Dele's terms and conditions even before she asks him what her job in Antwerp would be.

For Ama who has been burnt by family, Dele's offer is a welcome escape and a ticket to the fulfillment of her aspirations. She accepts his offer and runs with it. Joyce escaped the horrors of Sudan but she still bears the invisible scars. She finds a Nigerian man who brings back sunshine into her life and then he turns around and snatches it away. She vows never to let her happiness depend on another person. Alone with no one who cares for her she works hard to fulfill her dreams.

The individual stories these women divulge puts them in a context that causes us to empathize. They become much more than women who sell their bodies for money. They become human, fleshed out, with understandable behaviors, understandable anguish, needs and wants. Prostitution becomes a product of something much more complex than lax morals and bad choices. It could be the by-product of a convolution of bad circumstances, an unfavorable environment and a series of unfortunate events. Unigwe does not soften the blows life deals out. She does not dole out happy endings to every character. She does not dress up the starkness of their wants, the nakedness of their yearnings. Unigwe does a very good job and I like this novel a lot. I don't know why this is my first Chika Unigwe book but it certainly won't be my last.

[Image via Amazon]

May 22, 2013

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | Book Review

After I ripped off the UPS packaging, the first thing I noticed about Americanah was the cover art by its American publisher, Knopf. My first thought was "What is this?" If you grew up in Nigeria you can remember how we would wrap our textbooks in old calendar pages so that the cover would remain as good as new no matter how long the book was used or how badly the book was handled. Sometimes when there were no old calendars we used brown paper that came in sheets. You would cut a piece large enough to hide the entire book cover and leave a little extra brown paper to fold and tape to the inside of the book cover. Then we would write the name of the book on the brown paper with a black marker pen. That's my impression of the cover of the American edition of Americanah (pictured). A brown paper book cover that is simply a jacket for my hardcover copy. A brown paper book cover that is grossly unimaginative and underwhelming. Farafina, Adichie's Nigerian publisher, has a much better cover in comparison. I'm done judging Americanah by its cover. Let's proceed.

Americanah is centered around our protagonist, Ifemelu, and her love interest Obinze. For her luck in scoring a visa, a much prized ticket out of the heat and dysfunction of Nigeria, to the United States of America, Ifemelu's friends tease her about becoming an "Americanah". She gets to America and is disappointed by what she finds. Suddenly she is conscious of the color of her skin. Conscious of being "black", a thing that never crossed her mind in Nigeria. She experiences culture shock but there is no time to stand around acting bewildered. There's school to attend, she has bills to pay, and most importantly she needs to find a job. Somewhere along the line she discontinues communication with Obinze, and begins dating other guys. She dates Curt first. He's white, and way out of her league but he adores her. He's a godsend to her in a lot of ways but she wrecks their relationship. Concerning her relationship with Curt, she tells her friend Ginika, "There was a feeling I wanted to feel that I did not feel." Along comes Blaine. He's black, and well educated, a professor at Yale. He has his flaws but he loves her. Their relationship lasts a while before it hits the rocks. After thirteen years in America, she packs her bags and heads home, abandoning her profitable blog, and all the comforts of the western world. Back in Lagos Obinze is married to a beautiful wife and they have a little daughter, Buchi. He makes really good money and life is comfortable but he's not happy. They are both dissatisfied with what they have, and they gravitate towards each other to find that thing they can't find elsewhere.

One of the reasons I love this book is because I was able to relate to it. As a Nigerian who has lived in America for quite a while all of this is familiar. There were moments when I nodded in agreement to the many truths about living abroad, other times I shook my head knowingly, other times I laughed out loud. Adichie knows. Americanah is a huge lot more memorable than Adichie's third book The Thing Around Your Neck but it does not trump Purple Hibiscus, neither does it come close to the glory of Half Of A Yellow Sun (You can find my thoughts on Purple Hibiscus and Half Of A Yellow Sun here and here). I could quote Americanah all day:

"Ifemelu wished the dog were kept outside, which was where dogs belonged."

"...they did not say 'Sorry'. They said "Are you okay?' when it was obvious that you were not. And when you said 'Sorry' to them when they choked or tripped or encountered misfortune, they replied, eyes wide with surprise, 'Oh, it's not your fault'."

"To be given money in the Nigerian manner was to have it pushed into your hands, fists closed, eyes averted from yours, your effusive thanks - it had to be effusive - waved away, and you certainly did not count the money, sometimes did not even look at it until you were alone."

"She might have never visited her father's country, but he was convinced at that moment of her Africanness; how else would she be able to fling herself to the ground with that perfect dramatic flourish?"

"...she felt suddenly, guiltily grateful that she had a blue American passport in her bag. It shielded her from choicelessness."

"That girl never understood the first rule of life in this Lagos. You do not marry the man you love. You marry the man who can best maintain you."

I must admit that by page 90 I began thinking this was just a love story. Later on I realized it's also about race. Ifemelu's blog, "Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black",  is smart. Adichie's observation of the racial dynamics in America is eagle-eyed, and unvarnished. A while ago she noted that she was reading mostly British books during her childhood, and it wasn't until Achebe's work that she realized that people like her could exist in literature. All four of her books show that she has given back in the same way Achebe gave to her. We see ourselves in her works of literature. We see people we can identify with, persons whose concerns and worries are relatable. Characters whose ways of thinking we understand because they are our ways of thinking. Adichie is smart. Her prose is beautiful. It's like the late Chinua Achebe said, "Adichie came almost fully made".
I visited Chimamanda Adichie & Chinua Achebe's old house on the University of Nigeria, Nsukka campus! Read my post HERE!
[Image via Goodreads]

April 02, 2013

"AMERiCANAH", Adichie's Fourth Novel Arrives This April!

Farafina is proud to announce the Nigerian edition of AMERICANAH, the highly anticipated novel by award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Release date is April 21, 2013 in Lagos. In the months following the release, the author will go on a national book tour with stops in major cities across Nigeria.

AMERICANAH is a fearless novel set in Nigeria, England and America. It boldly takes on issues both big and small: love, race, home, hair, Obama, immigration, and self-invention. In the early 1990s, under Abacha’s government, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. People are leaving the country if they can and Ifemelu leaves for America, where alongside defeats and triumphs, she confronts the inevitable question of race. Obinze, unable to join her in America, goes on to live as an illegal immigrant in London. After several years they have both achieved success -- Ifemelu as a popular blogger about race, and Obinze as a wealthy man in the now democratic Nigeria. When Ifemelu decides to return to Nigeria, she and Obinze must both make the biggest decision of their lives.
Fearless. A towering achievement...From the place of Africans in the race politics in America, to love across continents, AMERICANAH dares to bring us a world of a confident and self-made woman making her way in these complicated times. This is the Africa of our future. Sublime,
powerful and the most political of Chimamanda's novels. She continues to blaze the way forward.”  -Binyavanga Wainaina, Caine Prize winner and author of "One Day I Will Write About This Place". 

Adichie is a word-by-word virtuoso with a sure grasp of social conundrums in Nigeria, East Coast America, and England; an omnivorous eye for resonant detail; a gift for authentic characters; pyrotechnic wit; and deep humanitarianism. AMERICANAH is a courageous, world-class novel about independence, integrity, community, and love—and what it takes to become a ‘full human being.’” - Booklist, a publication of the American Library Association

"As she did so masterfully with Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie paints on a grand canvas, boldly and confidently…This is a very funny, very warm and moving intergenerational epic that confirms Adiche’s virtuosity, boundless empathy and searing social acuity." - Dave Eggers, Pulitzer prize finalist, and author of "What Is The What". 

Adichie’s great gift is that she has always brought us into the territory of the previously unexplored. She writes about that which others have kept silent. AMERICANAH is no exception. This is not just a story that unfolds across three different continents, it is also a keenly observed examination of race, identity and belonging in the global landscapes of Africans and Americans.” - Colum McCann, IMPAC award winner and author of "Let The Great World Spin". 
AMERICANAH can be pre-ordered by emailing orders@kachifo.com, calling +2348077364217 or tweeting us: @farafinabooks
Price: Hardback N5000, Paperback N2500.
Upon release, AMERICANAH will be available in all major bookstores across the country.
Details of national book tour will be announced later.
This press release was provided by Farafina Books