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.

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.

Book Club: Girl with the Louding Voice

We all be speaking different because we all are having different growing-up life, but we can all be understanding each other if we just take the time to listen well.

“…who knows what else tomorrow will bring? So, I nod my head yes, because it is true, the future is always working, always busy unfolding better things, and even if it doesn’t seem so sometimes, we have hope of it.”

It was dislike at first sight. “What the hell is a louding voice?” I shrieked, quite unnecessarily, to my friend when I first came across the book in her room. “Is it a typo? Surely they mean loud voice?” It was her who informed me that the book is written primarily in Nigerian pidgin English, which for no reason at all annoyed me even more. I was hating heavily. A year went by and I came across the book in another friend’s house. At this point I decided to pause my pettiness and just read the book. A few pages in, I decided to order my own copy to my house and I am glad I did.

The Girl with the Louding Voice, published in 2020, is the debut novel by Nigerian writer Abi Dare. The book is from the first person viewpoint of Adunni nosurname, a fourteen year old girl trying to survive in a rural Nigerian village with no mother and a daft father. Adunni is a bright intelligent girl, whose potential is unfortunately stifled by poverty and ignorance. In an environment where the girlchild is not valued, she wants more for herself and hopes to achieve it through education. This mindset is birthed by her mother who fantasises of the life she could have had if she had been educated, and wants to ensure her daughter’s life does not end up the same way.

In this village, if you go to school, no one will be forcing you to marry any man. But if you didn’t go to school, they will marry you to any man once you are reaching fifteen years old. Your schooling is your voice, child. It will be speaking for you even if you didn’t open your mouth to talk. It will be speaking till the day God is calling you come.

That day I tell myself that even if I am not getting anything in this life, I will go to school. I will finish my primary and secondary and university schooling and become teacher because I don’t want to be having any kind of voice …. I want a louding voice.

As Adunni’s mother lay dying she makes her husband promise to allow their daughter complete her education. Unsurprisingly, her lazy no-good father reneges on his promise and marries her off to his age-mate in order to pay off his debts.

I have a fine girl child at home. At your age, you are not suppose to be in the house You are suppose to have born at least one or two children by this time.

Understandably Adunni is devasted and outraged by this, and tries her hardest to avoid this fate. Despite her protests, she is married off to a nauseating oaf who already has two wives, four daughters (one of them her own age) and is in search of a wife to give him a son. The whole thing is stomach churning.

Just yesterday Morufu tell me that if you manage and give him a boy as first born, he will give me ten thousand naira.

“This is your wife now, from today till forever, she is your own. Do her anyhow you want. Use her till she is useless! May she never sleep in her father house again!” and everybody was laughing and saying, “Congra-lations! Amen! Congra-lations!”

This begins a descent into a life of strife and sorrow; and sets off a series of events that takes Adunni’s young life, already filled with so much sadness, into the abyss of despair. Life with Morufu is unbearable and Adunni tries to make the best of things until an unfortunate incident forces her to flee and somehow she ends up in Lagos. A new city brings little relief, as the abuse and unfairness continues. But Adunni is resilient and has a louding voice so she manages to persevere.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I could hardly stand to put it down. In one word-riveting. The story is moving, and covers everything from poverty, child marriage, marital rape, lack of access to education and medical care, abuse, child labour. There is so much sadness in this book, made more heart-breaking by the age of the protagonist. She is literally a child. Some parts are difficult to read but there are also lots of light moments which made me laugh. I felt all the emotions reading this book. This is the reality of so many young girls worldwide, and I am so privileged to not experience any of that. It is a really good book.

One thing stuck out to me- though Adunni’s life is hard, she always manages to encounter help through a friendly face. There is a lot that happens, and in every situation she finds that she is not alone. Despite the challenges that she faces, she maintains her fierce determination for education and louding voice, which endears her to other characters and the reader as well. She is also funny.

In the end I did not mind that the book was in pidgin. I did however note that the language was not consistent, which was bound to happen. The idea is that Adunni is barely literate and so cannot speak proper English hence the use of pidgin, however there are times that the pidgin slips. For example:

“My mama is nothing but a sweet memory of hope, a bitter memory of pain, sometimes a flower, other times a flashing light in the sky.”

I don’t believe the sentence above was constructed by someone who says “louding voice” and “Free” instead of freedom. It does not compute. Even the two quotes at the beginning of the post This is only a minor point however, and it did not take away from the greatness of the book. I would have happily read another hundred pages to get a resolution on everything that happened (and there was a lot) but sometimes imagination is best.


“A day will come when my voice will sound so loud all over Nigeria and the world of it, when I will be able to make a way for other girls to have their own louding voice, because I know that when I finish my education, I will find a way to help them to go to school.”



Mood.

Sometimes I feel like a caretaker of a museum; a huge, empty museum where no one ever comes and I am watching over it for no one but myself.- Haruki Murakami

I cannot rid myself of the feeling that I am not in the right place-Franz Kafka

I always wonder why birds choose to stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth. Then I ask myself the same question- Harun Yahya

I need days when I can be alone, to think, to daydream-Margarita Karapanou

I swear to you that to think too much is a disease, a real actual disease- Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

I don’t know who I am, where I am going- and I am the one who has to decide the answers to these hideous questions.-Sylvia Plath

The other day, lying in bed, felt my heart beating for the first time in a long while. I realized how little I live in my body, how much in my mind. –Rodger Kamenetz

I desire very little, but the things I do consume me.-Beau Taplin

I want so much that is not here and do not know where to go- Charles Bukowski

What you seek is seeking you-Rumi

Netflix and Chill: Ghosts of Cite Soleil.

When one door closes, another one opens. All the doors are closed for me.

I will watch anything that is true crime, even more so if there is actual footage and not just re-enactments. and so when this was recommended to me by Netflix I immediately added it to my list. Even before I pressed play I just knew I would enjoy it, and I did.

It reminded me of the Brazilian Epic film City of God which is one of the most memorable films ever. Set in Cite Soleil, a slum in Haiti once referred to as the most dangerous place on earth, the documentary chronicles the lives of gangsters known as Chiméres (ghosts/fire breathing dragons) who serve as the Secret army of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In particular, the story follows two of the gang chiefs, brothers Winston “2pac” Jean, and James “Bily” Petit-Frere for a few months in 2004 around the time Aristide is overthrown. 2pac is the older of the two, and unsurprisingly wants to become a rapper; his little brother Bily has more grandiose dreams of joining the ruling party and becoming president one day. They are all servants of Aristide, a bug eyed accountant looking man who does not blink. 2pac has spent two years in Prison during which he lost all illusions about Aristide’s government. Bily is still a devoted believer in Aristide. This, amongst other things, leads to tensions between the brothers.

Continue reading

The war will end.

The war will end

The leaders will shake hands

The old woman will keep waiting

for her martyred son.

That girl will wait for her beloved husband

and those children will wait

for their heroic father

I don’t know who sold our homeland

but I know who paid the price.

-Mahmoud Darwish

Rest.

“Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”
― Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now

The Stranger

Mother died today. Or maybe it was yesterday, I don’t know.

Ever since I read this opening line in an online article about best literature opening lines, I have wanted to read The Stranger. The line is so simple and captivating; in just a few words the author caught my attention and held it. I finally found the book on Kindle and started reading.

The Stranger (Original title L’Etranger) is a book published in 1942 by French-Algerian author Albert Camus. The book follows the protagonist, a French-Algerian man called Meursault as he goes about doing nothing. The story opens with his mother’s funeral, and his seemingly nonchalant attitude about it. He goes through the motions, observing the people around him and the weather, but not displaying any of the usual markers of grief. As the book goes on we realise that this is just who he is; a loner living a routine life that is so dull and uninteresting that it becomes interesting. It is thus surprising that such a person is able to find himself in the circumstances that he did. In the days after his mother’s funeral, he gets a girlfriend, and befriends a local pimp (or rather does not resist when the pimp drags him into his life). This leads to a series of events that ends in him shooting a man and eventually being sentenced to death. Yes, I did not see that coming either.

Another thing I did not see coming was the end of the book; by this I don’t mean the end was a twist or shocking but that the book was short. I literally turned the page and found that I had finished the book. That was when I decided to look at the book details and it is only about 100 pages.

The book is divided into two parts; part one is everything before he shoots the man and the language there is easy breezy. Part two is after the incident and details his thoughts about his stay in prison and the court proceedings. The language in the latter part is more introspective and existential, and you would be more introspective if you were facing a death sentence.

I liked Meursault, and found that I could relate to him sometimes. In part one of the book I found him somewhat similar to Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye which is a book I thoroughly enjoyed. Meursault just exists. It seems that he doesn’t feel much and just makes his way through life without absorbing anything. His answer to everything is “sure”. This is often how I feel.

If I had to summarise Meursault’s personality in one quote, it would be this one:

Marie came that evening and asked me if I’d marry her. I said I didn’t mind; if she was keen on it, we’d get married. Then she
asked me again if I loved her. I replied, much as before, that her question meant nothing or next to nothing–but I supposed I didn’t.

There is also a scene in the book when his boss offers him the chance to move to a new office in Paris, obviously expecting him to be excited about the opportunity, and he didn’t care either way. His boss was so disgusted which made me laugh.

“I said that people never change their lives, that in any case one life was as good as another and that I wasn’t dissatisfied with mine here at all.”

I am currently experiencing intense dissatisfaction at work (Ion wanna do this anymore y’all!) and in life really, but also not willing to do anything to change it because meh, a job is a job, things could always be worse. So you can see how much I relate to him.

It was interesting to see how a person’s personality and traits influences people’s perception of them. Meursault has been going through his mundane life, not realising that people were watching him and judging him, and all of this spilled out in his court trial. He was criticised for sending his mother to a retirement home, for drinking coffee with milk at his mother’s funeral, for getting a girlfriend and going to see a comedy just days after his mother’s death and so on. Meursault had done these things without thinking, and they became the very things that people used to hang him.

The author himself stated:

I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: “In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.” I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.

Life is a performance, there are so many things that we just have to do because they are things that are to be done. Behaving in a certain way at one’s mother’s funeral is one of them. Those who choose to sit out the performance are judged harshly. Would his story have ended differently is Meursault was not the way he was? If he had thrown himself to the floor at his mother’s funeral would that have made him more sympathetic to the judge? If he had wept silently throughout the trial would he have received a lesser sentence?

All in all, the book was alright. I was a bit disappointed when it ended as I didn’t feel that enough had been written. Perhaps my expectations were too high. I also felt it was unfair that Meursault’s life be cut short in such a manner, and was a little impressed that the author went ahead with it.

I will end it with a poignant quote by Meursault, as he dwells on his time in prison:

After a while you could get used to anything.

A blessing and a curse.