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.”

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.

All the light we cannot see.

Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.

First off, I have to say how proud I am of myself for completing this book in February- yes I only read two books last month but it is the shortest month so give me a break. In my last book post I did say that it would probably take me the rest of February to finish this book, and it almost didn’t happen. See, it is hard to read with all the distractions available so I actually did not pick up the book until Saturday the 27th of February when I was suddenly hit with the desire to keep my word and finish the book in February. At 10pm February 28th, I did, and it was the only thing I managed to achieve that weekend. The book has over 500 pages and it became a mission; read 100 pages take a break, another 100 pages and you can watch a YouTube video. It is amazing how much one can achieve when one turns off the television and focuses. I’m realising now that the tv will always be there, and it doesn’t hurt to turn it off once in a while and do something else. Anyway on to the book.

All the Light We Cannot See is a book by American writer Anthony Doerr. Published in 2014, the book went on to win the Pulitzer and numerous other accolades. Set around world war two, the book simultaneously follows two people; Marie-Laure, a blind French girl living with her Locksmith father in Paris; and Werner, an orphan German boy living with his sister in a Children’s home in the coal mining town of Zollverein. Marie-Laure is doted on by her father, a locksmith who works at the Museum of Natural history, who builds a model replica of their street so she can be familiar with her surroundings, and buys her books in braille so she can satisfy her incessant thirst for knowledge.

Three hundred miles northeast of Paris, Werner and his sister Jutta are enchanted by radio. They find a destroyed radio which Werner manages to restore, and from it comes a French voice talking about light and science. Werner, described as a small pale boy with hair whiter than snow, is exceptionally bright and preternaturally skilled at repairing radios, and he soon receives acclaim as the neighbourhood repairman.

Reality is shifted when Germans invade Paris; Marie-Laure and her father flee Paris by foot in a long torturous journey. They are not alone, in his pocket is the sea of flames (or a replica)-an extravagant diamond from the museum which is rumoured to be cursed. They end up in Saint-Malo in her grandfather’s childhood home where her great uncle still lives. Her great uncle is a veteran and victim of World War I; a shell-shocked recluse whose days are marred by hallucinations. Here, Marie’s ever doting father sets out to build her a model of Saint-Malo, similar to the one she left behind in Paris. He is picked up and sent to a prison in Germany.

On the other side, Werner’s skill gets him noticed and he is sent to a National school and from there to the war where he and other people ride across Europe detecting and intercepting enemy transmissions. Werner puts on a brave face and does not publicly questions anything, but inside him are seeds of doubts and confusion-are they doing the right thing?

Eventually their paths cross, and it is radio that brings them together.

There are other notable characters- Madame Manec, the maid who has lived with and tended to Marie’s great uncle since he was a boy; Claude something- an opportunistic parfumier who profits from the war by selling out others, and of course Von Rumpel, the sergeant major who is on a quest to find the sea of flames and will stop at nothing to get it.

I found the book interesting enough, and very well written; It could be argued that the writing is better than the story itself. The story is unique enough but it is the writing that elevates the book. The writer eloquently conveys the sadness, fear and confusion that war brings, as well as the little triumphs and pockets of joys that we manage to find in the midst of the storm.

“…yet everything radiates tension, as if the city has been built upon the skin of a balloon and someone is inflating it towards the breaking point.”

The book is split in thirteen parts which oscillate regularly between time periods. I found this quite unnecessary. It may have helped build the suspense a little but I felt it wasn’t needed. By the time I returned to a time period I had to remind myself of what is going on. The chapters are short, some only a page. This was fine especially as we are moving between time periods and characters.

I liked the main characters and found them both interesting to follow. Despite the trials and tribulations life has thrown their way, they are both gifted and passionate about their interests. Both Marie and Werner liked to learn and I wish there was something that fascinated me as much as radio did for Werner, and the ocean/mollusks did for Marie.

The crux of the novel is that Marie and Werner live different lives in different places, and their paths meet in a stroke of fate. I read the book eagerly awaiting this meeting; it was almost 400 pages in before their paths crossed, and when it happened it was brief and unsatisfying. The writer avoided the wartime romance cliché, and perhaps it is better that way, but I wanted more. In short the book was nice but it was not as gripping as some other books I’ve read and enjoyed. There were times when I was just reading it to finish, and there were times when I had my heart in my mouth. I wanted more. Werner’s sister could have been utilised better. The story of the diamond and Von Rumpel’s search for it was initially interesting, but after I while I tired of it and thought why is this man still here?

I am now fascinated by radios and how they work. I have never given much thought to them and I cannot remember the last time I actually listened to a radio, but now I am enthralled. The fact that anyone can send out signals and depending on how strong they are they can be heard by others far away is so interesting. I wonder if I can create one in my room.

Elizabeth is Missing

“My reflection always gives me a shock. I never really believed I would age, and certainly not like this.”

Hello cool cats and kittens. I finished my first book of February (fourth overall in 2021), and it was a book that was not even on my to-read list. I randomly came across this book on eBay while ordering another book- the seller was doing a buy one get one 20% which I couldn’t skip, and this was the cheapest option so here we are.

Elizabeth is Missing is the debut novel by Emma Healey, and what a fine debut this is. The book follows the protagonist Maud, an elderly grandmother who is dealing with dementia and the gradual loss of her memory. Maud can barely remember where she is sometimes, but she knows for a fact that her best friend Elizabeth is Missing. She tries to communicate this fact to those around her- her dutiful daughter Helen, her carers, the police, and even Elizabeth’s son- but no one will listen and they think she’s just a dotty woman rambling about nonsense. Elizabeth is not the first person in Maud’s life to disappear with no explanation; in 1946, nearly seventy years prior, her older sister Sukey vanishes without a trace, leaving the family bereft. The book switches seamlessly from present to past, as the parallels in the cases come to light. In her increasingly befuddled and erratic state, Maud presses on in her search for the truth even as she looses her hold on reality. 

First off, wow. The author, Emma Healey, does an amazing job depicting dementia and capturing life from the lens of a person dealing with this condition. I could feel the fear and confusion that Maud felt, and also the shared frustration of Maud and those around her. This for me was the true sadness and terror of the book- the thought that one day I might lose my faculties due to old age, I am already quite forgetful as it is. Just now I was watching a YouTube video on my phone and I paused it, got up and went around my room looking for my phone. Such a Maud thing to do. It is so scary and I pray I don’t get dementia (or Alzheimer’s which apparently is a form of dementia. I was always confused about the two).  The book reminded me of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time in which the main character was a 15 year old with some sort of autism spectrum disorder.  I felt it gave a good insight into the life of a person on the autism spectrum and was surprised to see that the author said this was not his intention. He probably just didn’t want to get cancelled. 

The book is well written and easy to read. The transition from present to past was done really well; I particularly liked how the writer segued into the past by linking something Maud has just done in the present. Quite a few of her idiosyncrasies are actually events from her past which her muddled mind has sprouted up much to her confusion and everyone’s annoyance.  There were a few times when I did not know if we were in the present or past, but that was quickly resolved when I read a bit further. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and I’m glad I came across it. While reading the book, I kept trying to imagine how it would be depicted in a movie (I do this quite often when I read). The emotions, thoughts, anxiety are so vivid in print that I always struggle to see how these could possibly be adequately captured in film.  I googled the book and it has already been made into a TV film. I’m waiting for it to be free on Amazon Prime so I can watch it, and I hope they do the book justice. 

On to the next book! This one might take me the rest of the month to get through. Now that I don’t have a daily commute I have to carve out the time to read. Between work and Netflix/Youtube I barely have any time left.

The Go-Between

The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.

“Do you remember that book in which this boy saw two people having sex and then lost his memory?” This is how my friend introduced me to this book during a conversation. After wrongly guessing Lady Chatterly’s Lover, google provided the name of the book: The Go-Between.

Published in 1953, The Go-Between is a book by British writer L.P Hartley and it is set in 1900. The book opens with the iconic opening line quoted above, and we are introduced to the protagonist; sixty-something year old Leo Colston as he comes across a diary from his childhood, which brings back memories of a traumatic incident that he has repressed for decades.

The memories are from fifty years prior in 1900, when as an almost 13 year old he is invited by the family of his schoolmate, Marcus Maudsley, to spend the summer at their country estate. At Brandham Hall, Leo is transported from his middle class life with his widowed mother, to the grand upper class life of the Maudsleys. Even his clothing is out of place, and for the first time he is aware of social inferiority.

Hitherto I had always taken my appearance for granted; now I saw how inelegant it was, compared with theirs; and at the same time, for I was acutely aware of social inferiority. I felt utterly out of place among these smart rich people, and a misfit everywhere.

Leo becomes completely infatuated with Marcus’ older sister Marian, who he sees as his first encounter with beauty, a pure goddess in human form. Marian is to be engaged to the Viscount of Trimingham; a disfigured war veteran named Hugh (this sparks numerous Hugh-You misunderstandings throughout the book).

So that is what it is to be beautiful, I thought, and for a time my idea of her as a person was confused and even eclipsed by the abstract idea of beauty that she represented.

She was not of our clay, she was a goddess, and we must not think that by worshipping her we could lower her to our level.

Leo comes into contact with Ted Burgess-a tenant farmer-and he soon starts passing messages between Ted and Marian. It is (or should be) immediately clear that there is a clandestine relationship between Ted and Marian, but sweet naive Leo is completely clueless. He assumes there must be some business between the two, and his imagination even goes as far as to contemplate the possibility of them being involved in a murder legal case. Upon realising the true nature of the correspondence, Leo becomes quite uncomfortable with his role as a go-between, and he worries about how the illicit affair will affect Hugh. Though Leo is aware that Ted is from a lower social class, he does not understand why Marian and Ted cannot be married.

“Not Adam and Eve, after eating the apple, could have been more upset than I was.”

Leo seems to slowly break down from the weight of the secrecy and deception. His experience at Brandham Hall which had been relatively pleasant and even incredible in some parts, is now tainted by all this pressure and he just wants to go home and leave all of this behind. He makes up his mind to stop passing the messages but his resolve is shot down and he is persuaded to continue. Childishly, he thinks that if he stops passing the messages then they will have to quit their relationship and Marian can focus on her engagement to Hugh. Of course this does not happen, and in reality the lovers are caught. This leads to disastrous consequences and Leo’s full nervous breakdown and repression of memories of the summer.

In the epilogue, the older Leo reflects on how that summer altered the course of his life, and shaped the man he is now. He decides to go back to Brandham Hall which has changed in the time since he was there. Marian is still there, much older and estranged from her grandson who finds it difficult to come to terms with the events of half a century ago. Marian once again asks Leo to act as a go-between and talk to her grandson.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. First off, it was really easy and pleasant to read, and I only skipped past a few descriptions (which is a big deal for me because I have little patience and always skip right past long flowery descriptions). Because it was set in 1900 I assumed it would be full of a language of another time but while there were references to that age, the language itself was fine. The writing is gorgeous and the story is interesting so every time I picked up the book I was completely enraptured by the story.

Thanks to my friend I knew that Leo was going to see some people having sex and I spent the whole time eagerly anticipating this climax. Every time he went on a walk I thought oh boy this is it! It came right at the end. I wanted more! I wanted to see in detail the full fallout and scandal rather than just references to it in the epilogue. But I guess that would have been another book.

I very much enjoyed entering Leo Colston’s little world, watching his little idiosyncrasies and moral dilemmas. It was interesting to see the inner workings of the mind of a 12 year old Victoria schoolboy and I was amused by his constant references and adherence to the schoolboy code. I also liked the glimpse into upper class Victorian life; the general fuss and flair of that time. One of the things that fascinates me about that age is their dedication to dressing up and how much of a ceremony it was. Nowadays you see people just wearing whatever-tracksuits to dinner, biker shorts to funerals-which makes it funny to see Leo agonise so much over his wardrobe and being teased over packing the wrong outfits. The existence of distinct social classes and resulting prejudice is the crux of the story. The class prejudice still exists today of course, but it was much more enforced back then and I got Bridgerton vibes.

I was sitting with mama pretending to be a villager-poor dear, she didn’t want them on both sides of her-and she was convulsed, and so was I… (This line had me laughing so loud at 6am)

I did feel sorry for Leo at some points. Poor boy was so naïve and this was preyed upon by the adults around him. He internalised so much and sadly took more blame than he should have, which is why the experiences of one summer when he was barely 13 years old was enough to alter his life. This is the real age of innocence (no shade to Ms. Wharton). Leo is so blissfully naive that he did not even know what spooning was or how a horse comes to be pregnant with a foal. Thirteen years olds of today are definitely more aware.

With the completion of The Go-Between, I am pleased to announce that I read three books in January 2021! I am quite proud of myself and I am already on my fourth book of the year. Though I said I wouldn’t buy anymore books until I have read every book in my collection, I did go ahead and buy two books. I was looking through some quotes from Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine which reminded me how much I related to the protagonist. My sister had lent me her copy to read and I decided I needed to have my own copy. Of course the eBay bookstore was doing a sale so I got another book as well.

I will end this with another quote from The Go-Between, one that so perfectly encapsulates the book.

“Was there a telephone here in your day?”
“No,” I replied. “It might have made a great difference if there had been.”

The Fishermen.

Those the gods have chosen to destroy, they inflict with madness.

Well folks, 2021 is off to a great start. I finished reading my first book of the year, which is an impressive feat seeing as I barely read five books in 2020. I read a book, full-stop and that is something to celebrate given my attachment to all my screens. A dear friend gifted me The Fishermen for Christmas and it was a very lovely present indeed.

The Fishermen is the debut novel by Nigerian writer Chigozie Obioma. Set in the mid 90s in Akure, a town in Western Nigeria, it follows four young brothers who take advantage of their strict father’s work transfer to a distant city and subsequent absence from home to become fishermen. Unbeknownst to their parents, the brothers and their friends go fishing at the forbidden Omi-Ala river for six weeks, catching fishes and tadpoles. On one of these trips, they encounter Abulu the local madman who predicts that the oldest boy will be killed by a fisherman, which the boy interprets to mean one of his brothers. This prophecy sets off a tragic chain of events that wrecks the family and changes them irreparably.

The writing is so good. The story is told from the first person point of view of nine year old Benjamin, the youngest of the four brothers (who by the way have two additional siblings who are too young to meaningfully impact the story). Each chapter begins with a statement-a metaphor or simile comparing one thing to another- before then poetically expanding on the statement. Specifically, each member of the family is likened to an animal, usually a bird, and then the writer describes how that person embodies that animal’s characteristics. Two examples:

Mother was a falconer:
The one who stood on the hills and watched, trying to stave off whatever ill she perceived was coming to her children. She owned copies of our minds in the pockets of her own mind and so could easily sniff troubles early in their forming, the same way sailors discern the forming foetus of a coming storm.

Hatred is a leech:
The thing that sticks to a person’s skin; that feeds off them and drains the sap out of one’s spirit. It changes a person, and does not leave until it has sucked the last drop of peace from them. It clings to one’s skin, the way a leech does, burrowing deeper and deeper into the epidermis, so that to pull the parasite off the skin is to tear out that part of the flesh, and to kill it is self-flagellating.

Flashback is liberally used in the book; most of the pivotal moments are presented in flashbacks, and I did not mind this. I particularly enjoyed the way he wrote about the past and then connected them to present events. The writer’s descriptions are vivid! There is one scene where he describes the various smells of the madman and it was tough to read. I swear I could smell it. Ugh. He seamlessly wove in the political unrest of Nigeria in the late 90s: Sani Abacha, MKO Abiola, the 93 elections; and there are also references to the Nigerian Civil War.

This is the first book in a while that moved me and elicited a myriad of emotions. Actually that’s not true; I do in fact get too caught up in books and films, and I get so annoyed for the duration- but it is usually the stupidity of the characters and foolishness of the plot and silliness of the writing that gets my goat. In The Fishermen, however I was moved by the writer’s masterful skill in creating drama and suspense. I had my heart in my mouth several times and gasped out loud a few times. The sense of impending doom is heavy throughout the book, right from the moment of the prophecy. I felt so bad for the family as they became undone, one by one. It was fascinating watching Ikenna- the oldest brother- slowly deteriorate physically and mentally as he became engulfed in this cloud of fear and suspicion brought on by the prophecy.

I once heard that when fear takes possession of the heart of a person, it diminishes them. This could be said of my brother, for when the fear took possession of his heart, it robbed him of many things-his peace, his well-being, his relationships, his health, and even his faith.

I didn’t read the synopsis at the back of the novel, so as not to ruin the suspense even a little, so I was unaware of the prophecy until I read it. Even after the prophecy was revealed and the reader could guess what was going to happen, it was still a thrill getting there.

The book may not be for everyone, but I personally could find no faults. Quite a few people have compared this to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, which is actually referenced in the novel. Perhaps it’s because Things Fall Apart was in a rural colonial setting but I did not see the similarities. The feeling I felt while reading The Fishermen is similar to the feeling I felt when I read Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adichie- just pure happiness and excitement at such beautiful writing, and the discovery of a new author. Similar to Purple Hibiscus, I found the end a tad confusing and I have a few questions. Still, this did not at all diminish the wonder of the book and I am glad to have read it.

Chigozie Obioma is a gifted storyteller and the story he tells is beautiful and rich. I am effusive in my praise because that’s how I felt while reading it. I searched online for reviews and to my pleasure they are largely positive, mostly echoing my own thoughts. The Fishermen deserves all the accolades. A book I won’t forget any time soon, and I will be checking out the writer’s other work.

Books books books!

First off, Happy World Book Day!  Well it was on the 1st of March but I just found out about it so yeah happy world book day.

So far this year I have started reading six books- I have finished four, still reading one and have given up on another. Let’s go through them briefly shall we?

Murder on the Orient Express-Agatha Christie: I only heard about the book when the movie came out. The film posters looked interesting enough to make me want to see the film. Due to work and life I did not have time to go to the cinema so when I went to the supermarket and saw the book on sale I bought it. I then began an internal dilemma about film and books: Is it better to see the movie before reading the book or read the book before watching the film? I knew if I watched the film first then the suspense would be gone thereby ruining the experience of reading the book. On the other hand reading the book first could build up expectations that the film may not live up to. In the end the decision was made for me when a friend asked me to go watch the film in the theatre. I’m not sure what it was exactly-perhaps the acting or the plot- but I did not enjoy the film and by the time the suspense was resolved I was too tired to care. After seeing the film and not caring for it, I knew it would be a battle to read the book and it was. Eventually I said to myself “no more” and I put down the book.

Born a Crime-Trevor Noah: I bought this book last year when I saw a tweet professing that the book was amazing and made them love Trevor Noah. I must say the book met every expectation I had and then some. It was very easy and pleasant to read; the stories were interesting and recounted in a funny manner. The book also gives an insight into South African culture, particularly during apartheid. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Catcher in the Rye-JD Salinger: I bought this book because it is a classic and as with all classics I wanted to see what the hullabaloo was all about. Just before I started reading it a friend mentioned that there was a link between the book and serial killers. A perfunctory search revealed that the man who murdered John Lennon and the man who attempted to assassinate Ronald Regan both read the book which gave rise to the theory. The book is written from the point of view of its protagonist Holden Caulfield. Even as I read and enjoyed it I knew that a lot of people would hate it and deride its status as a classic. I get it, the book has no purpose; it just follows the ramblings of this teenage boy who thinks everything and everyone is “phony.” I am not too big on books that do not have a clear plot and resolution ( as we’ll see soon) but I really did enjoy reading this book and I especially appreciated the character. I guess what I like about the book was the book is the protagonist and his ramblings. We get into his psyche and are taken on this ride through his teenage angst, his likes, dislikes (there are a lot!), failings, and his own phoniness.  This is one of the few times that I actually missed the character when I was done with the book. The way the book is written also adds to its charm. The book kills me, it just does.

and finally…

Kafka on the shore-Haruki Murakami: Boy o boy where do I start? I first came across the author on goodreads. His name sounded so interesting I had to read something from him. Of course I could not decide which one of his books to get so I saved them all to my amazon wishlist. A few weeks back I saw a comment saying Kafka on the shore is one of the best books they have read so I decided that was a good place to start. I must say I enjoyed reading the book- I was in awe of the writing and the authors imagination. Sometimes I read a book and think “oh I could write a book too“; other times I read a book and think “I will never be able to write anything this good, my imagination does not have the range she could never“. Kafka on the shore was the latter. The book follows two people; a young boy who runs away from home and renames himself Kafka, and an elderly man Nakata who lost his mental acuity in a mysterious childhood incident.
Halfway through the book I realised we were entering Helen Oyeyemi territory of METAFICTION. Whilst I appreciated the writing, I cannot say that I am a fan of books in this genre. Not only is there no clear plot and eventual resolution, the supernatural is casually interspersed with reality and no one bats an eye. In Harry Potter, there is a lot of supernatural things but this is expected and acknowledged. In Kafka on the shore there is a lot that is not explained, so much that I needed to be resolved. The book is not as confusing as Ms. Oyeyemi’s books but I resent the fact that so many strings are left loose. I really am accustomed to traditional story structures where there is a climax and a resolution-I need my closure dammit! I wouldn’t mind so much if it was a regular book like Catcher in the Rye but when you add other-wordly stuff then I require an explanation thank you. Now that I have read Kafka on the Shore I am not too eager to read other books by Murakami but I still have one of his books to read so I’ll have to power through and hope for the best. Kafka on the Shore was a good book and though I did not get the closure I was looking for the stories in the book were beautiful to read.

Another book that I have started (last year) and probably will never finish is Among the Lemon Trees by Nadia Marks. I just cannot get into it. I am currently reading The Millstone by Margaret Drabble and so far it is alright but it falls into the “I can definitely write a book” category,

That’s it for now. Here’s to many more wonderful books!