Book Club: a little bit of this and that

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.”

I have been writing this post since December 2022. What a shame. It’s not even that important. Anyway I am in a funk and i am pushing myself to accomplish something which is completing this post.

The Visit by Chimamanda Adichie

I had just finished Drive Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead and needed something light. The Visit worked for several reasons. One it’s by Chimamanda Adichie, secondly it is only 20 pages. I could read it without any fuss and manage to add another book to my list for 2022. Come to think of it this is probably how people who claim to read hundreds of books per year do it. I doubt they are actually reading full length novels. Anyway, enough rambling…

The Visit is about this and that, a switched around world in which men are women and women are men. There is a man whose friend is coming to visit from overseas; he is a man but has the role, rights, privileges of a woman. His wife is a woman but with the role of a man. In this book, women earn the money, make the rules while the men are long suffering house husbands waiting dutifully at home while their wives gallivant about town. A feminist wet dream, similar to the book Power by Naomi Alderman.

The book is so short, there is not much to form an opinion about but yet I have managed to do so. I did not really care for the book. I think it will only appeal to those who already have that fantasy in which women walk around like men and men get to walk around in our shoes. I find that these gender role things fail miserably because of one thing: they fail to take into account biology and how that really is the driver for women being second class citizens. In this fantasy world where women move like men, women still get pregnant and birth the children. But we are supposed to believe that women who have to go through the rigours and inconvenience of pregnancy, childbirth and menstruation are the higher earners, while men who really have nothing going on, no regular biological distractions are the oppressed sex. Sure, Jan.

People seem to think that one fateful day the men of the world gathered around and decided to relegate women to second class. My viewpoint is that it is our biology that brought this upon us. It doesn’t matter if some women cannot have periods, it doesn’t matter if some women won’t/can’t/don’t want to have children; what matters is that women have periods and carry the children. In the olden days when humans lived to be twenty eight, it did not matter much who the breadwinner was; it made more sense for women (who hadn’t died in childbirth) to spend time taking care of the home and rearing the children while the strong, biologically free men go out and win the bread. As long as the conversations around equality do not centre biology I fear this equality nirvana will not be reached. For now it seems a huge part of the conversation aims at forcing men to realise the worth of women, and for women to prove ourselves to be capable. As long as female biology continues to be such a pain in the arse, it is unlikely that women will ever have the same footing. Let’s hope science has some tricks up her sleeves; but that can only happen once we realise our biology is the real enemy.

I was going to add another book here but I have rambled on for far too long, so I’ll just write another post.

…we think we know what it means

One of the interesting things about success is that we think we know what it means. A lot of the time our ideas about what it would mean to live successfully are not our own. They’re sucked in from other people. And we also suck in messages from everything from the television to advertising to marketing, etcetera. These are hugely powerful forces that define what we want and how we view ourselves. What I want to argue for is not that we should give up on our ideas of success, but that we should make sure that they are our own. We should focus in on our ideas and make sure that we own them, that we’re truly the authors of our own ambitions. Because it’s bad enough not getting what you want, but it’s even worse to have an idea of what it is you want and find out at the end of the journey that it isn’t, in fact, what you wanted all along.

Alain de Botton

What are your strengths?

I recently started a new job, and as the whole team had completed a strengths assessments test prior to my joining, my director thought it would be a good idea for me to do this as well. I was excited because I love doing things like this and getting some insight into myself. The test is called the CliftonStrengths34 by Gallup and consists of 177 paired statements for the test taker to pick the one that best describes them. The assessment costs $60 (although there are some simplified options for $20) so I was pleased that the company was paying for it.

The test takes one hour and starts ominously with the question: “Do you love your job?” “Yes I love it.” “No, I do NOT love it”. I was sweating bullets? Is this a trick? There wasn’t even a middle ground option and I am a middle ground babe. LOVE? Damn that is a strong word. I cannot use the word “Love” to describe any acts of labour. Besides I had only been at the job for a month at that point. I left the test for a little bit, and then came back and clicked “No, I do NOT love it” Hell be damned.

Early on into the test I started having doubts about the validity and efficacy of this test. I suck at picking between A or B; I’m always a little bit of this, a little bit of that so I found myself picking neutral quite a few times. Plus one hundred and seventy seven items are a lot and I started to feel fatigued. Some of the questions were funny, some were deep. “I have a purpose in my life……My life is very enjoyable”. It made me sad that I could not relate to either and had to be neutral.

Despite my doubts, I found the results pretty accurate. I read all the reports hungrily and as always I enjoyed seeing all the little intricacies of myself written down. The rest provides 34 strengths with a focus on the top ten for which more detail is provided. An overall leading theme is also provided from one of the ones in the picture below. As part of the details in the report, you get a breakdown of how each of the strengths manifests in your life and work, as well as tips to maximise them and blind spots to be aware of.

I will share the top five, but I really just wanted to post the first one now (that’s the whole reason for this post). The results are in italics and my reflections are not.

You are inquisitive. You collect things. You might collect information—words, facts, books and quotations—or you might collect tangible objects such as butterflies, baseball cards, porcelain dolls or sepia photographs. Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity. If you read a great deal, it is not necessarily to refine your theories but, rather, to add more information to your archives. If you like to travel, it is because each new location offers novel artifacts and facts. These can be acquired and then stored away. Why are they worth storing? At the time of storing it is often hard to say exactly when or why you might need them, but who knows when they might become useful? With all those possible uses in mind, you really don’t feel comfortable throwing anything away. So you keep acquiring and compiling and filing stuff away. It’s interesting. It keeps your mind fresh. And perhaps one day some of it will prove valuable.

This is me to the LETTER! I find it so difficult to get rid of things, no matter how useless they appear. How did Gallup/Mr Clifton know this? Perhaps one day some of it will prove valuable. I hope so. More on this strength.

Instinctively, you probably enjoy reading because it gives you so many topics to talk about other than yourself. Characteristically you prefer to discuss ideas rather than delve — that is, make a detailed search for information — into your own or another’s personal life.

You have a craving to know more. I want to know everything.

You want to be as informed as possible about what lies ahead in the coming months, years or decades. Even so, knowledge about potential problems, difficulties or issues can be distressing and disturbing. It can raise your anxiety level. By nature, you characteristically read books, periodicals, documents, correspondence or Internet sites. You are willing to be mentally stimulated by thought-provoking ideas, information, data, predictions, insights, characters or plots.

Me. Me. Me.

The tips on maximising this strength are:

Find out more about areas you want to specialize in. Consider jobs or volunteer opportunities where you can acquire and share information every day, such as teaching, journalism or research work. I have always considered doing something for newspaper or magazine. This was more because of my love of writing but I can see how my need for information would make this a fit as well.

Regularly read books and articles that motivate you. Increase your vocabulary by collecting new words and learning their meaning. I don’t read as much as I should (thanks Netflix) but when I do I do note all the words that I don’t know the meaning of and look them up.

Devise a system to store and easily locate information you have found so you can access it quickly. Use whatever approach works best for you — a file for articles you have saved, a database or spreadsheet, or a list of your favorite websites. Good idea. For now I use the notes app on my phone, sticky notes, and bookmarks/favourites function. I hoard everything. I have tabs on my phone that have been open for years now.

Position yourself as an expert. Share your exceptional archive of facts, data and ideas with others when they need help or advice. This is something I would like to do more. I saw on Linkedin that someone I went to school with organised a training workshop and it made me wonder what exactly it is that I am good at. I have worked for 6 years and some, yet I don’t really feel like an expert in anything. I definitely need to pick this up.

Seek out subject-matter experts who would be interested in knowing what you are learning and who would find it stimulating to hear about the questions and ideas you generate through your exploration. Once I understand exactly what this means I will be sure to implement it.

The blind spot for this is as follows:

Unrestrained input can lead to intellectual or physical clutter. Consider occasionally taking inventory and purging what you don’t need so that your surroundings — and your mind — don’t become overloaded. This is great advice that I need to implement asap. There is so much junk that I am holding onto for no reason, but it is so difficult to do so ugh.

I will post about the other strengths later on but I just really wanted to share the first one. As always I am inspired to use this to improve my life and drive myself closer to living a fulfilled life. As always there is the risk that I do absolutely nothing with this information. Oh well. We shall see.

Oh, happy new year.

Live out your dreams!

“You must give everything to make your life as beautiful as the dreams that dance in your imagination.”
― Roman Payne

I love a good quote. It soothes me in times of distress, and temporarily provides much needed inspiration which I will one day act on. Something about seeing in words, feelings that I know intimately, does wonders for me even for a moment. So when I saw the quote above it stopped me in my tracks (of scrolling through Instagram). This is exactly what I needed to see.

The quote is apparently a famous one, and is from a book called The Wandress by Roman Payne. As always I was tempted to go buy the book where the quote came from but decided against it thanks to a review on Goodreads which stated “One good quote does not make a good book“. I was glad to see that as I have bought books off the strength of a quote only to find out the book did not live up to the hype.

I am full of dreams and imagination, and I have lived in this fantasy world for well over a decade. My dream life is full and fulfilling, and I am happy. Why have I not then made my real life as fulfilling? It is so easy to dream, but a herculean task to bring these dreams to fruition. For one, I don’t even know where to start. For years I have a postcard above my television with the words below.

She decided to start living the life she imagined.

It’s so hard though!

I also like this quote from the book. It resonates so deeply with me.

“Never did the world make a queen of a girl who hides in houses and dreams without traveling.”

I don’t need the world to make me a queen, but I do need to stop hiding in my room.

“One day, she’d find a way to live her life to the fullest. She was sure of it. She just had no idea how she would manage it.”

― Ilona Andrews, On the Edge

Little by little, brick by brick. I must give everything to make my life as beautiful as my dreams

Book Club: Crime and Punishment

“Your worst sin is that you have destroyed and betrayed yourself for nothing.”

I bought this book years ago, as part of my attempt to read all the classic novels. Like the rest of the classic novels I bought at the time, it gathered dust in my book basket while I enjoyed more modern works. A little while ago, I was perusing Instagram as I do, when I came across the quote above and it struck a chord with me. I saved the post, as I do with all the quotes that I like, and did not think much of it. Then I saw it a few more times, and one post in particular had not just the name of the author but also the book the quote came from. I thought to myself: “I think I have this book“, lo and behold I did. This was the motivation I needed to finally read the book, and I am glad I did.

Crime and Punishment is a classic novel by Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky and was published in 1866. It follows the story of Rodion Raskolnikov, a poverty stricken law student seemingly in the throes of mental anguish. He lives in squalor, and cannot even afford that squalor as he is owing his landlady rent; he barely eats, has dropped out of university due to lack of funds and is all around despondent. Rather than do something useful with his life however, he is content to brood over his misfortune and obsess about the wrong ways to improve his circumstances. He decides the only way out is to rob and murder the local pawn-broker; an elderly woman who keeps money and valuables in her house. A letter from his mother and sister drives him over the edge and strengthens his resolve to carry out the crime. It is all downhill from there. The rest of the book follows his internal turmoil as he agonises over what he has done; he goes in and out of delirium, his mental and physical state deteriorating rapidly as the (excruciatingly slow) hands of the law close in on him.

“Man has it all in his hands, and it all slips through his fingers from sheer cowardice.”

The crime is obvious- the murder. The punishment appears not to be that which is handed by a court of law, but Raskolnikov’s crisis of conscience. By the time the law caught up with him, he had been so severely tormented and ruined by his conscience that the law was a mercy. By the the end of the book, I had completely forgotten that Raskolnikov was described as “exceptionally handsome and well built.” He just seemed ragged, haggard and unwashed.

“The man who has a conscience suffers whilst acknowledging his sin. That is his punishment.”

Though the book primarily focuses on Raskolnikov, there are other interesting stories which intersect with his own. Chief of this is the story of Marmeladov; a drunkard who has squandered his money and job to drink, leaving his sick wife- Katerina Ivanova- to deal with the household and children in complete penury. Her life causes her so much anguish and she never fails to speak about her early life of nobility. Of all the characters, I was most sympathetic to Katerina and her children, including her stepdaughter Sofya. So much suffering for no purpose. I was bored by Raskolnikov; I just wanted him to be arrested already! I had no sympathy for him and just found him lazy and pretentious. Same with Marmeladov, but I could have a bit of sympathy for him as alcoholism is a disease and he seemed to acknowledge his failings. However a man who is content to let his family live in filth, and have his daughter resort to degrading measures to provide is gutter trash. Marmeladov and Raskolnikov are similar to me in that they both wallow in their despair rather than seeking help, and this causes chaos for those around them.

Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.

One of my favourite scenes in the book is that of the reception hosted by Katerina Ivanonva; the drama, the chaos, the suspense! I want to watch the film/stage adaptation of the book just for that scene. Katerina’s life was so sad and I felt bad for her. The scene also revived the book in a way, as I was starting to get tired.

After reading the book, I went on to do research about it (of course) and found a few interesting things. One; Dostoevsky was working on another book called The Drunkards when he conceived the idea of Crime and Punishment. The Drunkards was about Marmeladov, which was then merged into Raskolnikov’s story as one book. I found this interesting as I had thought to myself while reading the book that Marmeladov’s story could stand on its own. At some point I was even annoyed by the back and forth. Truly, the way the stories were merged is genius. This makes me wonder if I can just combine the countless drafts I have in my laptop into one story instead.

Another thing is that the book was not initially written in full, but instead published in twelve monthly instalments in a Russian journal. The book is split into 6 parts (and an epilogue), and I wonder if this has anything to do with it, as I did not really see the point of the different parts. This must have been de rigueur back in those days, as HG Wells’ The Invisible man was also published in instalments in a journal.

Perhaps the most interesting of all was learning about Dostoevsky himself, and the case that supposedly inspired the novel. Thanks to Wikipedia and the notes in the novel, I found out that Dostoevsky was actually sentenced to death but had his sentence commuted just moments before the firing squad was to go off! How surreal. Wow. He then spent ten years in exile composed of 4 years in a Siberian prison and 6 years in military service. There are references to all of this in the book, and it is fair to say that he put a lot of his experiences into Raskolnikov. Dostoevsky was also very poor, and was often in debt much like Raskolnikov (and really like a lot of the artists of the time who have now achieved fame and success posthumously). He was also a gambler and lost a lot of his money that way (similar to Marmeladov’s alcoholism and Raskolnikov’s penchant for impulsively giving out money even though he was broke). He also had a daughter named Sofya but she died in infancy. Are we sure Dostoevsky didn’t actually murder an elderly woman? (does this still count as slander/libel? If so I include the word “Allegedly”.)

The book gives a good idea of life in 19th Century St. Petersburg, Russia. There is talk of serfs and poverty; of economic change and growing discontent; of political movements and suppression. St. Petersburg is presented as this dirty, shabby place, infested with crime and debauchery; this sentiment carries on throughout the book and seeps into the characters. There are references to “current events” which would have been the talk of the town back then e.g. the university lecturer arrested for forgery, and the policeman arrested for attempted murder. There is also a fair bit of philosophical babbling about life and justice and this and that which makes more sense after learning about Dostoevsky’s real life. I’ll admit that I skipped past some of it as I was quite desperate eager to get to the end of the story. I also rolled my eyes at Raskolnikov’s attempts to rationalise the murders by suggesting that some men can be above the law. Still, there were some interesting theories.

“We’re always thinking of eternity as an idea that cannot be understood, something immense. But why must it be? What if, instead of all this, you suddenly find just a little room there, something like a village bath-house, grimy, and spiders in every corner, and that’s all eternity is. Sometimes, you know, I can’t help feeling that that’s what it is.”

I am not all that familiar with Russian culture, and this may be the first Russian book I have read. I was therefore quite confused with the naming nomenclature in Russia. Most of the characters were introduced in one way, and then referred to by another name which left me so confused. For instance:

Rodion Raskolnikov (Rodya)
Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikova (Dounia
Dmitry Prokofyich (Razumíkhin)
Pyotr Petrovich (Luzhin)
Sofya Semyonovna (Sonia)

It could very well be that these are known nicknames (I have heard that Russians called Natalia are often referred to as Natasha) but this drove me insane. I would be reading about Razumíkhin and then the name Dmitry Prokofyich would come up and I would think who on earth is this now??? I have also learnt that the author did not choose the names randomly and they are largely play on words which I guess would make sense to a native Russian speaker (born in the 1800s). I found this example online:

Raskolnikov is far from a random, raspy, sinister name. It comes from the Russian for ‘schism’, raskol, and its derivative raskolniki, which refers to a particular group of schismatics: namely, the Old Believers, who broke from the Russian Orthodox Church in the mid-seventeenth century.

The book is well deserving of its status as a classic; the writing is stunning in that way that makes me wonder if I will ever be able to conceive and deliver such work. Once I committed to read the book, I found that it was not as bad as I thought and was in fact easier to read than expected. Still, some parts dragged on and after an initial burst of energy, the final 100 pages took me over 2 weeks to finish. However, even in parts where I felt the story dragged, either from the age or style, I was still impressed by the writing. I read online that a few people thought the epilogue was anti-climatic and not befitting the book given the quality of its preceding pages. I can completely see where those people are coming from. For me however, the book was so intense that I was happy for the “come-down” in the epilogue. Could the book have done without it? Definitely. The final chapter ended with some ambiguity as to Raskolnikov’s fate and I guess there is some power in this ambiguity. This reminds me of Kafka’s The Trial. I do appreciate authors taking the time to tie up all loose ends but I can see how it may have cheapened the whole story. Personally I wanted to see Raskolnikov punished for his actions so I appreciated the epilogue but I was not satisfied by it. I’ll leave it at that.

This was an intense book in that so much time was spent in the heads of people. There was so much sadness and poverty. Did anyone really get a happy ending?

One thing about me? I love a good quote that I can relate to. It is one of my favourite things about reading; finding a quote that so beautifully articulates something I have felt, or that provides the motivation that I need. There were a few such quotes in the book:

“Don’t be overwise; fling yourself straight into life, without deliberation; don’t be afraid – the flood will bear you to the bank and set you safe on your feet again.”

Only to live, to live and live! Life, whatever it may be!

Oh one last thing; Dostoevsky predicted Covid-19. Of course.

He had dreamed that the whole world was condemned to a terrible new strange plague that had come to Europe from the depths of Asia. All were to be destroyed except a very few chosen ones. Some new sorts of microbes were attacking the bodies of men, but these microbes were endowed with intelligence and will.

Book Club: The Invisible Man

“Alone– it is wonderful how little a man can do alone! To rob a little, to hurt a little, and there is the end.”

I finally deleted my Kindle Unlimited subscription because I was not reading enough to justify the monthly payment, and I realised there are lots of good books on Prime Reading which I can access for free (with my prime subscription). One of such books was The Invisible Man. I was familiar with the book before-or so I thought. Once I started reading it I realised while I had heard of the book before, it did not appear that I had actually read it. For one I thought the main character in the book was called David Copperfield. Clearly some confusion here.

The Invisible Man is a Science Fiction novel by H.G Wells published in 1897. It follows the story of a stranger who arrives at an inn in a little village in West Sussex. The man is completely covered from head to toe; his face is bandaged and his body wrapped up in thick clothes. The Stranger is irritable and bad natured; and tells his hosts that he is a scientist that needs to be left alone to carry out his work. The mysterious nature of this stranger rouses interest and suspicion and this sets off a series of events that result in chaos and destruction. The stranger is revealed to be a scientist who has unlocked the laws of physics and managed to make himself invisible. However the invisibility is not the bliss he envisioned and instead causes a lot of problems, which coupled with his own natural bad temper and non-existence moral compass, makes him quite a villain.

“I was invisible, and I was only just beginning to realise the extraordinary advantage my invisibility gave me. My head was already teeming with plans of all the wild and wonderful things I had now impunity to do.”

One thing that this book taught me is just how undesirable it would be to be invisible. Whenever we are faced with making a hypothetical choice from a list of superpowers I always give invisibility a thought, before eventually picking something else. It would be nice to be nothing and just move around and eavesdrop without being bothered. I always thought of invisibility in a more ghostly term, in which you are completely unseen to others and can move around with ease; maybe even get a flight without paying. I never considered that you would still be human, just not visible, so you can still get hurt, feel the elements, etc. Of course this science fiction book is not a true documentation of invisibility but I find this to be a more “realistic” portrayal.

“But you begin now to realise,” said the Invisible Man, “the full disadvantage of my condition. I had no shelter — no covering — to get clothing was to forego all my advantage, to make myself a strange and terrible thing. I was fasting; for to eat, to fill myself with unassimilated matter, would be to become grotesquely visible again.”

I found the book easy enough to read, despite being written in 1897. There were not a lot of obscure, archaic words that I had to look up. The most interesting thing was the use of the word “Ejaculate”. Although this is a perfectly normal word that means to “say something quickly and suddenly“, that is a dated meaning and Ejaculate is now more used to refer to semen. So it is always funny to me when I see the word used in its original fashion, usually in older books.

“He lit the dining room lamp, got out a cigar, and began pacing the room, ejaculating.”

Though this is categorised as a Science Fiction book, there was not much science fiction happening until towards the end when The Invisible Man goes on a lengthy spiel about how he managed to subvert the laws of physics and achieve his feat. I swiftly skipped past all the science parts about light and refraction and this and that. I left Physics in secondary school and I will not entertain it any more. The rest of the book was pleasant to read and I enjoyed the story. The book was not very long, and I was captivated enough by the tension and drama. I was quite frustrated at how Mr. Invisible managed to evade capture over and over again. How strong could he possibly be? Also, he is a clear example that book smart is not everything because he could have lived a good life if he was just willing to share his findings with the world.

When I started the book, I assumed I would be sympathetic to the plight of The Invisible Man (who at this point I still thought was called David Copperfield). By the end of it I wanted him dead, or at least hurt. He was so evil, selfish and unreasonable. I assumed he had accidentally made himself invisible and was now trying to find a cure, and his bouts of rage were due to his frustration. Nope. He was just a vile tyrant with zero regards for others. The idea of an invisible man is actually terrifying. This must be what Paranoid Schizophrenics are trying to tell us.

“The pain had passed. I thought I was killing myself and I did not care.”

Book Club: The death of Vivek Oji

They burned down the market on the day Vivek Oji died.

The quote above is the entirety of the first chapter. There is no spoiler alert needed; Vivek Oji dies in this book and the whole story takes us through the journey of his life until his death. It is reminiscent of Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold which I read almost a decade ago. We know from the start that there is a death but rather than remove the suspense it actually intensifies it- how did he die? Why did he die? What exactly happened?

The story of Vivek Oji’s death is told through multiple narratives (third person and then first person) and viewpoints while oscillating between the past and present. We are told early on that Vivek’s body was left in front of his parent’s house for his mother to find, and then the reader is sent on a journey through his life to find out the exact circumstances of his death. Vivek is born and raised in Eastern Nigeria to an Igbo father and Indian mother. He was born on the day his grandmother died, and the joy of his birth is dulled by the sorrow at her passing; a conflict that appears to plague him throughout his life.

“This is how Vivek was born, after death and into grief. It marked him, you see, it cut him down like a tree. They brought him into a home filled with incapacitating sorrow; his whole life was a mourning.”

He is of two cultures, but so are most of his friends courtesy of their mothers who are all foreigners married to Nigerian men. Also prominent is his life is his cousin Osita with whom he has a close bond. Vivek is prone to blackouts, during which he appears to disconnect from himself and reality, but the impression is that these are not caused by a medical issue but perhaps supernatural forces. He begins to disintegrate in a way that is not fully understandable and leaves his parents panicked and bewildered- he grows out his hair until he looks like a woman, refuses to eat, there are instances of him sleeping outside with the dogs and just general weirdness. Needless to say his parents are simultaneously annoyed and concerned. This leads to chaos within the external family as well as people throw in their two cents as they all try to get to the bottom of his strangeness. In the midst of all this is sex- Osita is having sex with his girlfriend and Vivek is watching, then Osita and Vivek are having sex, then Osita is having sex with someone else who kissed Vivek and this and that. Yes, the book contains incest, and it is presented in a normal casual way as though this is simply a queer relationship and not literal cousins exploring each others genitals. There is also the strong insinuation that Vivek is the reincarnation of his grandmother which then makes his relationship with his cousin even more concerning. Mama whatchu doing ma’am? All the way from the afterlife?

At the end we finally see how Vivek dies and it is up to the reader to decide whether the build up is worth is or not. It is a long windy spirally road to this point, and the death was perhaps not that dramatic as expected (some might say is that it?). Personally I largely enjoyed the journey and was not too put off by the eventual revelation.

The book has themes of homosexuality and gender identity, particularly in an environment and age that is not accepting of those who deviate from what is considered to be the norm. The writer does a good job of showing Vivek’s struggle as well as his family’s despair as they try to come to terms with his loss. His mother’s grief is particularly heart-wrenching.

One thing I will say about the book is that I enjoyed the writing and this is what kept me going. My attention was completely captured by the book even though the plot is not really my style- incest, casual sex, etc. I’ll admit that I found the story tedious after a while and I just wanted the truth to be revealed “get it over with already! damn.” The back and forth in viewpoints and timelines was annoying at times. I also did not really care for any of the characters, not even Vivek. The writing is beautiful and that’s was enough for me.

“I often wonder if I died in the best possible way — in the arms of the one who loved me the most, wearing a skin that was true.”

The death of Vivek Oji was written by Nigerian Author Awaeke Emezi and published in 2020.

London day out.

Every now and then, I leave my house. It is so infrequent that I can compile all the experiences in this one post.

First I went to Fashion Freakshow by Jean-Paul Gaultier. I first heard of the show last year and was interested, but never actually got to go during its run. When I saw that it was back this year I was determined not to miss it again so I grabbed my friend and off we went! I had no idea what the show was about and therefore had no expectations. Tickets were relatively cheap so I thought hey, nothing to lose.

The show celebrates the life and career of legendary French fashion designer and Madonna cone bra creator Jean-Paul Gaultier. It starts from his childhood-we see little Jean-Paul getting in trouble for designing women’s clothes during class, to his first foray into designing. There is dancing, there is singing, there is nudity, there is beaucoup de fashion darling! “Anna Wintour” even makes an appearance. The show is colourful, flamboyant, camp, gay as hell and all round fabulous. My favourite part was a striptease by a voluptuous redhead. She was stunning and I was transfixed. I also enjoyed the contortionist. Oh how can I forget the fashion show narrated by Catherine Deneuve? That was also a highlight; the names of the outfits, the walks, the transitions, the actual outfits? It was a riot. I want a clip of that part on its own to watch over and over again.

All in all, I enjoyed the show and was happy I went. I even got a free condom.

From there, we met up with other friends at Chukus, a Nigerian tapas place we had been DYING to try for ages. After a lot of back and forth, we finally got to try it and it met all of my expectations. I love trying out restaurants, particularly those offer new and innovative interpretations of food. Some call it pretentious and maybe it is, but I love it.

I had tried to book ahead for another outing but I had to pay a deposit of £100 for 6 people and I decided not to. This time we just rocked up hoping for the best and we were rewarded with a table. The restaurant is quite small; maybe sits no more than twenty people. The vibe is nice enough, there are Nigerianisms everywhere, including a small collection of Nigerian books. I was happy to see that I have read most of the books.

My favourite thing was the cassava fries. As a lover of fried yam I knew I was going to love this and it met my expectations. The adalu (beans and corn) was also good which was surprising as I always talk about how I hate corn in beans. Growing up I hated when my mum cooked beans and I excitedly went to get a plate only to see corn in it. Whyyyyy? Turns out I was the dummy. It’s not bad. I ate it with the fried plantain mixed in cinnamon. The Sinasir & Miyan Taushe was a revelation. These are rice pancakes common in Northern Nigeria. We were not going to order them but the woman who took our order recommended it and I am glad she did. It was so good. The moin-moin was the cutest moin moin I have ever seen and it tasted good. The jollof quinoa was another thing I was not interested in but my friend ordered it and it was good. At the last minute I decided to order the caramel kuli kuli chicken wings because no one was picking up on my hints. It was nice enough. We also had suya meatballs (I generally do not like meatballs so I only had a small bite and it was alright. The sauce went well with the cassava fries), and honey suya prawns (not bad but not memorable.) The lamb asun was one thing I was eager to try but it was the most disappointing part of the menu; we found it quite dry. Strangely enough all the food we enjoyed the most were vegetarian/vegan so it turns out we could actually have a full Nigerian meal with no meat/fish. We had zobo and chapman and I finally decided on the age long battle (in my mind) between the two: Chapman wins every time. No contest. There was Nigerian beer and £3 glass bottles of water.

I was intrigued by the dessert menu and made my friends order one of each so we could try all three options. We got the yam brownie, chin chin cheesecake and plantain waffles. I was most interested in the yam brownie and it was alright but I couldn’t really eat much of it. Not for me. My friends however thought that was the best dessert. The plantain waffles just tasted like plantain but I liked the flavour of the ice-cream that came with it. I don’t have any memory of the cheesecake but I think it was okay.

Not much more to say, here are some pictures.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I am glad I did not let the rail strikes derail my plans. I had to go into London on Wednesday to stay with my friend as tube and rail strikes meant I would not have been able to get in to London on Saturday. It was a last minute hassle which was totally worth it.

This was almost a month ago and I have not left the house since.

Book Club: His Only Wife

Elikem married me in absentia; he did not come to our wedding.

This book grabs attention from the first line which is always a promising sign. Published in 2020, His Only Wife is the debut novel from Ghanaian writer Peace Adzo Mezie. The book is written from the first person viewpoint of Afi Tekple, a young aspiring seamstress who lives in the small country town of Ho with her widowed mother. Afi’s life has been tough; her father’s untimely death snatched the rug from underneath their feet and sent them from a comfortable life to one of penury. In true Nolly/Ghollywood fashion, Afi and her mum receive no help from her father’s brother, and they are forced to fend for themselves. Help comes from Faustina Ganyo, a wealthy woman who gives Afi’s mother a job and a place to live. The Tekples feel indebted to her and when the chance comes to repay the favour they jump on it. All Afi has to do is marry Faustina’s son Elikem, who she has never met before, and be transported Cinderella style into wealth and comfort. Oh just one thing, Elikem is already with a Liberian woman with whom he has a sick daughter. The Ganyos claim this Liberian woman is a thorn in the flesh of the family; she has kept Elikem away from his family and must have bewitched him. She makes his life hell and is a terrible mother; she is a cow, she is a snake, she is the bride of chucky. Afi’s role is to lure Eli away from her.

Despite her trepidations Afi agrees to the wedding and is wed traditionally to Elikem who does not attend the ceremony but is instead represented by his brother. She then moves to the city of Accra where she is upgraded into luxury- nice flat, a driver, staff, regular allowances, enrolment in fashion school etc, but no husband. Personally this seemed like a sweet deal to me, but Afi has been sent there on a mission and the Ganyos are constantly checking in for progress updates. Plus Afi herself wants her husband which is understandable. Eventually Elikem blesses her with his presence and Afi falls madly in love with the sweet handsome man. However it never truly feels like he belongs to her, and the scent of the Liberian wife is always in the air. This causes Afi a lot of sadness as she searches for her place in his life, unwilling to share her husband with another woman.

This book started off really good and I was completely engrossed. The pace is nice and the writing is easy to follow which all together makes it a pleasant enough book to read. However somewhere towards the end the writing got derailed in a way; it seemed the writer got tired of painting a picture and just decided to breeze through the rest of the story. There was a lot of telling rather than showing in the final part of the book; short abrupt sentences- and then and then and then. It was quite rushed and all the facts were just dumped on us. In the later chapters the writer had this habit of fast-forwarding into the future, and then giving a summary of what happened. I did not like this. I wanted to be there in the thick of the action. There was a moment of tension between Afi and Elikem and I read through hungrily waiting for the explosion and was rewarded with “a few days after….” We skipped a whole year from the end of chapter ten to the beginning of chapter 11. I did not enjoy all of this at all and after a while I just wanted the book to end.

The plot twist (if it can be called that) at the end should have been brought forward to a much earlier point of the story and the Liberian woman’s story should have been explored more. I would have liked to see things from her viewpoint. By the time she comes into the story, the book is over and there is no time for the readers to process her as a character.

As the protagonist, I was initially sympathetic to Afi’s plight and was on her side, but as things progressed I grew tired of her as well. She was illogical and lacked common sense. I did not understand this love she felt for Elikem- maybe the writer should have taken more time to build this love for the readers. This is another example of the readers being told something rather than been shown. When Afi was talking about her heartbreak I skipped past it as it seemed so put on. I was also confused at her annoyance at the other woman. Ma’am you knew he had a woman when you agreed to marry him; in fact she was there first, doesn’t that make you the other woman?

The book is pure Nollywood- prince marries the village girl but with a twist. A lot of things came so easily to Afi that it seems unrealistic. There are also some characters which should have been developed better or left out altogether as they did not add anything to the story.

It is interesting to see the power the mother has over the whole family, and how these grown men remain under her control. This is even more surprising as the men appear to be independently wealthy. Usually this control is effective because the parent controls the purse-strings and the children do not want to be cut off but in this case the sons are instrumental in the success of the family operation so I don’t understand their foolish obeisance. The whole idea of marrying a wife for their son to get rid of another wife never made sense; did they think he would be so enamoured with the new wife and then forget the existing one? As though he is kept in a cage and has never seen another woman before. Elikem did not go to the wedding which to me suggests he has some defiance in him; he also maintains separate accommodation with the Liberian woman and never truly gives in to his family which made me wonder why he did not just go all the way and stand his ground. Another interesting thing is the dichotomy of good and evil and how both can exist in the same person. Faustina helps so many people without explicitly asking anything in return yet it turns out all the kindness is in return for slavish devotion and those who deviate from this face her wrath.

Aside from the issues mentioned, I did enjoy reading His Only Wife and I found it interesting. Nothing major happens; it is more like a gossip session with an aunt or cousin in which she is telling you all about that thing that happened in the family. It is nice, easy and pleasant. This was my first time reading a book set in Ghana and I did enjoy the peek into some Ghanaian cultures. At the risk of being rude, it is obvious that this is a debut novel, but it is a strong one and I look forward to reading more from this writer.

The writer does a good job showing the class divide, as well as the expectations of women, particularly within marriage. None of this was shocking to me, and to be honest even the first line about the groom not attending the wedding was not odd. I have not personally attended any such weddings but I have seen enough weddings in which the groom or even the couple did not attend the wedding. Strange but not that uncommon in Nigeria and I guess Ghana as well.

Ask any woman if she loved her husband before she got married or even if she loves him now.

Afi, even if he is with another woman, it is not the end of this world. Which man, especially one like your husband does not have another woman?

…I’m not interested in receiving any more advice or encouragement. What kind of marriage is this? Afi, do this and he will choose you. Afi, do that and you will win. Is he a husband or a prize? Ah ma, I’m tired, I’m tired.

I cannot end this without writing about my intense irritation at what must be one of the most irritating characters ever- Toga Pious. Ugh! He is the very embodiment of the greedy uncle that is commonplace in Nollywood- the uncle who is envious of his brother and does nothing to help his brother’s widow but is there on the day of celebration to eat and collect everything. He was a minor character but every time he appeared I rolled my eyes and kissed my teeth. I hated him and I longed for Afi to tell him to piss off. I was actually waiting for it to be revealed that he had something to do with the death of Afi’s father but alas this was not a Nollywood flick.