Thirsting for Sunlight: Testing for Light, Tasting of Myth | A Review by Isidore Diala

Christopher Okigbo 1930-67: Thirsting for Sunlight. By Obi Nwakanma. Suffolk, UK: James Currey, 2017. pp xxviii+276. £17.99, paperback. (ISBN 978-1-84701-179-4)

Christopher Okigbo’s generally acknowledged charm, intrepid exploits in sports, breathless adventures, penchant for imaginative self-portraits, gallantry as well as his enchanting, if often misunderstood, poetry rendered him larger than life in the imagination of his contemporaries and cut him out as a virtual figure of myth. Countless colourful anecdotes about Okigbo’s life and his lionization in a folk war song upon his heroic death in battle during the Nigeria-Biafra war played a role in the creation and sustenance of that mythic image.

Obi Nwakanma’s biography of Okigbo, Christopher Okigbo 1930-67: Thirsting for Sunlight begins the process of understanding and demystifying the poet. Thus, Nwakanma identifies the primary aim of the biography as “placing Okigbo in time” (x), no doubt by providing a compelling account of the ascertainable facts of Okigbo’s life and death and subjecting them to sober reflection, as opposed to the ethereal light of myth. However, by casting himself in the obvious image of a worshipful acolyte at the enchanted feet of the great poet with the declared intriguing purpose not only of locating Okigbo in time and place but “of clothing him with spirit” (xi), Nwakanma can perhaps only ultimately reify the canonical myths of Okigbo’s life and reinforce our image of an inscrutable poet.

Thirsting for Sunlight is a powerful portrait of the poet as a rebel. Rigorously researched, breathless in its revelations, stylistically absorbing and often humorous, the biography is driven by the crucial insight that particular “influences . . . conspired to shape [Okigbo’s] life and poetry” (x). In eight chapters, Nwakanma zealously scrutinizes both Okigbo’s cultural and Catholic family backgrounds, circumstances of his birth, his Igbo culture, education, his astonishing reading in the world’s literature, and Nigeria’s volatile political landscape for clues of formative literary influences. Notably, Nwakanma’s focus is the totality of contexts and movements, cultural, intellectual, political, indigenous, and international that nurtured Okigbo’s consciousness and art. On occasion, though, the handling of international politics seems rather artful.

Following a chronology of events in Okigbo’s life, thirteen photographs in black and white, two maps and the Okigbo family tree, the first chapter of Nwakanma’s book focuses on the first fifteen years of his growing up in his hometown of Ojoto. The careful and detailed mapping of the geographical terrain of Ojoto pales in significance only beside the even ampler examination of Igbo worldview, especially the worship of the river goddess Idoto, which Okigbo’s poetry so powerfully brought to world consciousness. Okigbo’s famed priesthood to Idoto is fully set in the context of the Igbo belief system of reincarnation and presented as instructive for the poet’s self-portrait as a prodigal. But Nwakanma is keen to foreground Okigbo’s “double consciousness,” and highlights the equally deep impact of Catholicism on Okigbo’s early life as the son of a father who was a pioneering Catholic schoolteacher. Nwakanma clearly considers the death of Okigbo’s mother Anna when he was five years old the single most important experience of his early life capable of explaining his entire complex personality from his remorseless womanising to his daredevilry; a mindset Nwakanma hints at as a search for that lost ‘mother’.

Okigbo’s Western education at the elite Government College Umuahia and thereafter at the University College Ibadan, where he studied Classics, constitutes the main focus of the second and third chapters respectively of the biography. Nwakanma’s attention is still keenly focused on Okigbo’s cosmopolitan background and the hybridity at the core of his writing. He is equally fascinated by Okigbo’s leisurely attitude towards his school work which was in sharp contrast to his outstanding intellectual gifts and wide reading. Nwakanma highlights the deep impact of some of the extraordinary individuals such as William Simpson, Saburi Biobaku, Charles W. Low and Ben Obumselu that Okigbo met at Umuahia and Ibadan on his intellectual and artistic growth. Okigbo’s political discipleship to Dr Chike Obi, a mathematician at the University College, Ibadan, gave him a first-hand knowledge of the distinctive terrain of Nigerian politics and no doubt prepared him for the central roles he played later in national events. In this book, the crucial subtext of the biography is the temper and potentials of Okigbo’s generation and their contribution in shaping the nature of Okigbo’s poetic fervour. By constantly linking Okigbo’s career with those of his contemporaries and providing regular and extensive catalogues (occasionally repeated) of Okigbo’s peers and their profiles, Nwakanma aims not merely to set in relief the catholicity of Okigbo’s friendships but even more importantly to foreground his thirst for the limelight by imagining the poet as a nexus of connecting lines of intellectual influences. Thirsting for Sunlight is a multi-layered narrative of the poet’s generation and times, with the poet at the centre.

Nwakanma’s characterisation of Okigbo as a deviant is at the core of the biography. His habitual tantrums as a child and deviations from family norms, as well as his disregard for authority, demonstrate for Nwakanma the enigmatic temperament of a genius. Typically indulged and granted generous concessions, Okigbo trudged through school with modest grades and had to re-write his degree examination at the University of Ibadan before he passed it. Nwakanma painstakingly shows how Okigbo’s contempt for the conventional and orthodox and his bohemian attitude to life meant that his careers in the civil service and in business ended disastrously. Okigbo resigned his appointment as Regional Sales Manager at Nigeria Tobacco; left his position as Trainee Manager at the United African Company; was sacked from his post as Administrative Officer in the Federal Ministry of Information and Research because he ran a private company while still in the civil service. At any rate, his business enterprise was soon to go bankrupt too because he lacked both the competence and commitment required to succeed in a business venture. Leisurely and self-indulgent, Okigbo clearly envisaged work as the primordial curse.

The rest of the book highlights the paradox of Okigbo’s discovery of poetry through adversity, the growth of his art, and both the multicultural character of his work as well as his increasing involvement in national and African political experience. Offered a job as a Latin teacher and Vice Principal of Fiditi Grammar School by his friend and principal of the school, Alex Ajayi, Okigbo gradually recovered a zest for life and the therapeutic value of poetry after the trauma of the loss of his job in the civil service. Nwakanma emphasises Okigbo’s discovery of the Muse of poetry in Fiditi and notes the influence of Virgil and T.S. Eliot, and a reflection of his childhood experiences on Okigbo’s earliest poetry.

Leaving Fiditi in 1960 for the new University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he worked as acting University Librarian, Okigbo was unusually absorbed by the challenges of his new position (even while his womanising became even more adventurous). Greater access to international poetry and the intellectual vibrancy of the university environment had a beneficent effect on his art. Nwakanma especially emphasizes the influence of the Welsh poet Peter Thomas on Okigbo’s poetry at this period. Similarly, on Okigbo’s return to Ibadan in January 1962 as the West African Regional Manager for Cambridge University Press, the intellectual stimulation provided by the university of Ibadan and the intense cultural and political developments in the city led to the maturation of Okigbo’s art. The Mbari Club played a pivotal role in the cultural life of the city and Okigbo soon became its secretary as well as the editor of Mbari publications. 1962 saw the publication of his seminal collections, Heavensgate and Limits.

Nwakanma examines in considerable details the national political crises leading to the military coup and the counter coup of 1966, and remarks Okigbo’s involvement with these issues through his association with the key figures, such as Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, one of the leaders of the first coup d’etat in 1966. The biographer documents the gory details of the pogrom against Igbo people resident in northern Nigeria, the onset of the civil war, Okigbo’s audacious undertaking to procure arms for Biafra, and his enlistment in the Biafran Army. Nwakanma’s speculations on why Okigbo enlisted into the army are legion and insightful and his documentations of Okigbo’s gallantry as a guerrilla soldier, fighting without training and in defiance of personal safety and conventional rules of warfare, are impassioned. The portrait of Okigbo as a soldier is a culmination of the colourful legend of the hero, hitherto believed and publicised in the historization of the war. The headstrong child who risked death in jumping from a tall tree for the adulation of his peers; the outlaw with a penchant for raiding the school orchard even when he was not particular about oranges; the stuntsman toying with electrocution in the name of a sentimental attachment to an ancient ghost radio: all these anticipate the daring Biafran guerrilla soldier killed in a lonely confrontation with an armoured tank.

Thirsting for Sunlight is a boon to the reader of Okigbo’s poetry even when Nwakanma claims he “does not aim to raise critical or philosophical questions about the value of the literary text” (x). The crucial contexts of many of the poems are exemplarily highlighted. For example, Nwakanma’s inscription of Okigbo’s anguished recollection of his mother’s funeral as the background to the solemn sequence, “The Passage” in Heavensgate, enriches our understanding of the poem by foregrounding its autobiographical source; he thus clarifies the intensity of the poem’s sobriety through his evocation of the gripping image of the poet as he “grapples with the terrifying scene as it unfolds in a child’s vision” (11). Crucially also, by Nwakanma’s acceptance of the challenge of reading up the enormous intellectual background that nurtured Okigbo’s art, he is typically able to guide Okigbo’s readers. Many intriguing phrases and allusions are contextualised. “The stone surface” of Siren Limits, for example, is traced to the architecture of Cambridge House, Ibadan. Besides, some of the enchanted figures of romantic legend in Okigbo’s poetry are given a local habitation and historical names. Kepkanly is clothed in human flesh. The nature of Okigbo’s mystical relationship to Idoto is examined in details, with Okigbo revealed as the reincarnation of his maternal uncle who had been the priest of the deity, a duty the poet inherited; Okigbo’s aunt Eunice is identified as a source of his passion for music, and an element of his satiric wit is traced to the historically ascertainable character, Jandum. Nwakanma places Upandru in this category, identifying him as “Up Andrew,” a “travelling minstrel,” “a gifted, handicapped performer from Achina” whom he likens to Tiresias, the blind prophet, and considers a model of the prophetic element in Okigbo’s poetry (26). However, unusually, Nwakanma cites no reference to authenticate this kind of claim.1 Occasionally also the reader is offered a poem’s background as its meaning.

Moreover, one feels that such statements as “Hart Crane[’s] . . . influence is also obvious in Okigbo’s poetry” (203); “Okigbo’s admiration for this poet [Tchicaya U Tam’si] is reflected in the echoes of U Tam’si’s Bushfire [Feu de brousse] in Okigbo’s Path of Thunder written at that period” (222) and many other such claims would have been more insightful with even the slightest substantiation. And when Nwakanma pronounces Peter Thomas’s poetry the irrefragable source of the title of Okigbo’s sequence, Heavensgate (158), he ignores Okigbo’s considerable critical heritage, and especially the exemplary labours of some of Okigbo’s most distinguished scholars such as Obumselu and Dan Izevbaye on the subject in their own published works.

Thirsting for Sunlight is a poorly proofread work. Repetitive, digressive, littered with grammatical blunders and misprints, it is also rather indulgent in its attitude to its subject. It should be noted that Nwakanma’s exaltation of Okigbo’s gallantry does not completely erase his hero’s thousand other faces. After all, Nwakanma’s relentless documentation of Okigbo’s womanising is a fixation perhaps only comparable to Okigbo’s own obsession with sexuality. Pleading the deep impact of Okigbo’s early loss of his mother and making the Beat poets the flagrant offenders for teaching Okigbo their radical moral vision, Nwakanma recurrently invokes Freud to no avail to absolve Okigbo of the stain of what this biographer calls his “immoderate infidelities” (117). For sure, some of the many women that Okigbo toyed with, even when they were sincerely devoted to him, are unlikely to be among the entranced devotees at Nwakanma’s Okigbo shrine.

Many of Nwakanma’s interviewees for this book strain to indulge Okigbo even in complete disregard of evidence pointing otherwise: Nwakanma’s biography of Okigbo perpetuates his myth. The reader is asked to accept Okigbo’s irresponsible extravagance as “disdain for money” (185); his aversion for enduring relationships with women is presented as an “affirmation of the transcendence of the imagination” (190); and we are asked to see his casual indiscriminate liaisons as “democratic, determined by neither class nor status” (190) and, moreover, as “emblematic of his courage” (161). Even with his wife Safinat Atta, the Igbira princess he wooed for long because her family had deep reservations about Okigbo’s lifestyle, and their daughter, Obiageli, Okigbo preferred a long-distance arrangement because, according to his biographer, Okigbo “felt distracted by continuous feminine presence in his space and could not perform his artistic and creative functions” (190). Appraising the controversial topic of “plagiarism” in Okigbo’s poetry, Nwkanma praises Okigbo highly for “stealing with genius and originality”! (135). On occasion, the biographer indeed seems taken in by his own myth-making. When Nwakanma reports with no sense of irony that Okigbo “wrote the best essay on Greek tragedy ever submitted by any student in the Classics department of his time at Ibadan” (95), did he perhaps forget that he actually used a euphemism when he noted earlier that Okigbo and his friend Obumselu “collaborated” (82) on the said essay?

Nwakanma could count only two biographies of African writers—Armand Guibert’s of Leopold Senghor and Ezenwa Ohaeto’s of Chinua Achebe—when he was at work on Okigbo’s biography, and when the cloth edition was published in 2010. Since then, several biographies of Nigerian writers have been published. Among these include Ezechi Onyerionwu’s Ahmed Parker Yerima: The Portrait of an Artist as a Dramatist (2017) as well as his Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo: Life and Times (2017), and Sule Egya’s Niyi Osundare: A Literary Biography (2017), to mention a few. However, even in this august company, Thirsting for Sunlight remains preeminent. It is hoped that the recent paperback edition will place this invaluable work in the hands of the many readers thirsting for knowledge of Christopher Okigbo, gifted poet and fascinating man of action.

Isidore Diala, Imo State University, Owerri, Nigeria

1. Notably, in his introduction to his A Concordance to the Poems of Christopher Okigbo, MJC Echeruo considers “Upandru” a pun on Ezra Pound and notes that in describing him as the “village explainer,” Okigbo adopted precisely Gertrude Stein’s phrase for describing Pound.

This book review was published in: Africa Book LInk, Spring 2018

A Companion to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | A Review by Sola Adeyemi

Ernest N. Emenyonu (ed.). A Companion to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. England: James Currey, 2017. Cloth. ISBN: 978-1-84701-162-6 (Africa only paperback ISBN: 978-1-84701-163-3). pp. 300+xii. £25.00 hardback

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is undoubtedly one of the most engaging literary figures to have burst onto the world’s literary landscape in recent times. Her writing has introduced new motifs and narrative styles which have invigorated contemporary African fiction as well as posed challenges to the multicultural nature of our modern life. Adichie’s first novel, Purple Hibiscus (2003) launched the writer as a serious commentator of human relationships and a notable new voice.

Purple Hibiscus is a multidimensional novel set in the Igbo region of Nigeria and deals with issues related to celibacy in the Catholic priesthood, the legitimacy of traditional Igbo religion and the resilience of a citizenry faced with political instability and the acute poverty in a wealth nation. The novel was followed a few years later by Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), one of the most important fictions written about the Nigeria-Biafra war (1967-1970).

Numerous works of fiction, faction and biography, including drama and poetry, have been written on the war by popular Nigerian writers and historians such as Elechi Amadi (Sunset in Biafra: A Civil War Diary, 1973); Wole Soyinka (The Man Died (1972), Madmen and Specialists (1970), Season of Anomy (1973), and Poems from Prison (1969; republished as A Shuttle in the Crypt, 1972)); Chinua Achebe (Beware, Soul-Brother, and Other Poems (1971), Girls at War and Other Stories (1973)); Cyprian Ekwensi (Survive the Peace (1976), Divided We Stand: a Novel of the Nigerian Civil War (1980)); and Ken Saro-Wiwa (Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English (1985)). Adichie lists thirty-nine similar texts as being influential to her writing Half of a Yellow Sun. However, none of the texts on the list had been written by someone who was not directly involved in the war. Adichie’s Yellow Sun is therefore unique in the sense that it was written by someone who was not involved in the war. In fact, Adichie was not born until 1977, seven years after the end of the war, yet Half of a Yellow Sun exposes the pathos and anguish of the period in a refreshing way. Her latest novel, Americanah (2013), ‘blends ingenious craftsmanship with extravagant and versatile innovations’ (Intro, p. 1) and probably inspired the compilation of a Companion to examine and expatiate the writing of this important writer.

A Companion to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, edited by Ernest N. Emenyonu, is an attempt to ‘examine, explore, and analyse the ramifications of Adichie’s creative outputs from a variety of perspectives that demonstrates a thorough understanding of her art, ideology, and vision as writer’ (p. 4).

Explaining the initiative for the Companion, the editor hinges it on an attempt to complete ‘unfinished conversations’ between Adichie and participants at the “Renowned African Writers / African and African Diaspora Artists Visit Series”, a forum organised in September 2014 at the University of Michigan-Flint, USA as a collaborative project of the Department of Africana Studies and the Flint Public Library to specifically discuss the writer’s work. The Companion is composed of seventeen research essays, plus an Introduction by Emenyonu. Despite the wide scope and depth of the discourse presented in the essays, the organisation is simple, with the chapters arranged to address Adichie’s works in the chronological order of the publications to date, beginning with Purple Hibiscus and ending with Americanah. There are six chapters devoted to Purple Hibiscus; four on Half of a Yellow Sun; two on The Thing Around Your Neck (2009); with the last four chapters on Americanah. Apart from the Introduction, there is a ‘lead’ essay by Louisa Uchum Egbunike, which tries to define the ideological premise of Adichie’s writing.

In “Narrating the Past: Orality, History & the Production of Knowledge in the Works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie” (pp. 15-29), Egbunike outlines the Igbo worldview out of which Adichie emerges and which informs and influences her writing. This first chapter is important in understanding Adichie’s novels as well as the discourse in the other chapters because it identifies aspects of the Igbo oral tradition and history from which Adichie draws her literary vision and inspiration. Though this chapter is introduced as authenticating the originality of Adichie’s narrative forms and techniques, this is a speculative assertion as the chapter in fact invokes and affirms the indebtedness of Adichie to Igbo oral forms and narrative techniques popularised by writers such as Chinua Achebe. Egbunike refers to overt intertextual references between Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1959) and Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck (2009) (p. 23), especially the short story “The Headstrong Historian”, which she remarks as bearing a striking resemblance to [that of] Things Fall Apart, and which deals with subjects connected to the Purple Hibiscus (pp. 23-24). This chapter therefore expands the vista through which we not only view Adichie’s work, but through which we can evaluate the other chapters. Egbunike helps in this by locating Adichie’s literature within a long tradition of Igbo literary cultural production (p. 28), and connected to modern fiction of Chinua Achebe, among others.

The six chapters on Purple Hibiscus focus on various critical perspectives on the novel. Janet Ndula in “Deconstructing Binary Oppositions of Gender in Purple Hibiscus: A Review of Religious / Traditional Superiority & Silence” (pp. 31-43) hints at the novel as the establishment of Adichie’s brand of feminism which she adumbrated in her pamphlet, We Should All Be Feminists (2014). Ndula is of the view that Purple Hibiscus endorses individual efforts over gender dispositions or aspirations, and that validating gender and gender-based constructions end in dislodging the hierarchies so constructed, therefore transforming unequal societal structures into recognised equality. This summary encapsulates the direction of the argument in the remaining five essays and adequately points at the importance of Motherhood in the face of stark, unyielding masculinity, as explored in Iniobong I. Uko’s “Reconstructing Motherhood: A Mutative Reality in Purple Hibiscus” (pp. 57-71).

The chapters on Half of a Yellow Sun explore and examine the Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967-1970 more than they do Adichie’s intertextual narrative on the war. Understandably, this is a relevant thrust for several reasons: Adichie’s novel is a fiction based on oral and literary narratives about the war and therefore needs to be contextualised in the discourse. Further, the intertextual relationship of Adichie’s novel to the war deserves precise complications to provide a basis for a deep discourse on Half of a Yellow Sun. Emenyonu in his Introduction to the Companion asserts that the ‘great Nigerian novel’ on the war did not exist before Adichie because earlier writers could not ‘detach themselves enough to bring their imaginative vision to bear’ (p. 7) on the event. However, this statement does not properly consider the immense contributions of Cyprian Ekwensi, especially in Survive the Peace, or the works of Buchi Emecheta among others. Adichie’s novel may have been nouveau by being one of the first to be written as a popular fiction – this excludes the dramas of Chukwuma Okoye, Dele Oladeji and John Iwuh – by someone not involved in the war, but it is a novel that exists upon the imaginative construct of the thirty one texts listed at the end of the novel, and more importantly, on the recollections of Adichie’s parents. This is not denying the position of the novel in recuperating the events of the war, but it is yet another in recent works on the war, and the essays in this collection underline that. As the four contributors on Half of a Yellow Sun agree, Adichie’s contribution is important because it prods the collective amnesia on the Nigerian political stage about the war, history of which is neither memorialised in public discourse or taught in schools. More particularly, as the contributors impress on us, especially Pauline Dodgson-Katiyo (“‘Fragile Negotiations’: Olanna’s Melancholia in Half of a Yellow Sun”, pp. 115-127) and Chikwendu Paschalkizito Anyanwu (“Corruption in Post-Independence Politics: Half of a Yellow Sun as a Reflection of A Man of the People”, pp. 139-151), Adichie’s focus on characters and characterisation, historical importance of the war, intertextual engagement, and representation of gender imbues a special relevance to the work, and makes this Companion a necessary reader.

The tact changes with the contributions on Americanah. The essays in this section of the Companion interrogate Adichie’s notion of mobility and migration as they apply to women, and how the sense of location and dislocation is not dependent on physical territoriality but could be more universally placed and identified with gender oppression, mental imperative and psychological attitude.

In support of Adichie’s idea of feminism, which espouses harmonious mutual relationships across genders as a means to creating a better world, with relationships defined along capabilities, Gichingiri Ndigirigi (in “‘Reverse Appropriations’ & Transplantation in Americanah, pp. 199-211) concludes that deterritorialized females with ‘flexible citizenship’ (p. 207) emerge as autonomous ‘objects of appropriation’ (p. 211) able to traverse traditional cultures and borders. In several interviews, including her 2012 TEDxEuston Talk (later published as We Should All Be Feminists, 2014) and lately as a guest at the annual La Nuit Des Idees (A Night of Ideas), hosted by the French government in January 2018, Adichie re-members her hairstyle and the position of maintaining that style as she wants, as an emblem of feminine independence, and a symbol of created identity. The last chapter in this book, “‘Hairitage’ Matters: Transpositioning & the Third Wave Hair Movement in ‘Hair’, Imitation & Americanah” by Cristina Cruz-Guthiérrez (pp. 245-261), recuperates this point and contextualises Adichie’s hair as a representation of personal and political identity, self-perception and ‘a sign of black women rejecting previously internalized discourses of normalized femininity and appearance’ (pp. 253, 258); and transforming the women’s identities from a position of controlled submissiveness to that of empowerment.

The essays in this Companion informatively present Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s artistic vision, ideology, and intertextual engagement. Helpfully for those not very familiar with the work by or the writing of Adichie’s, the Companion concludes with an appendix of her works between 2004 and 2016, compiled by Daria Tunca (pp. 263-290), with a listing of nine books and key references, forty four short stories, ninety three essays and lectures, one hundred and eighty four interviews, and more than sixty other sources and resources that provide further insight into the writing of this important literary voice.

With her rising profile and importance as one of the major world writers, this Companion on Adichie could not have come at a better time.

Sola Adeyemi, Goldsmiths University of London, UK

This book review ws published in: Africa Book Link, Spring 2018

An Interview with Abubakar Adam Ibrahim | by Elizabeth Olaoye

Questions for the author of Season of Crimson Blossoms, a book that blew my mind.

EO: Recently in Nigeria, in a dramatic turn of events, an Igbo grandmother was caught having sex with a much younger man shortly after her husband’s death. The community shamed her by parading her on the street and banishing her after making her pay some fine. The internet was agog with the news, as people wondered how a bereaved grandmother could be engaged in sex with a younger man. The first thing that came to my mind was your novel and the fascinating way it deals with the sexuality of older citizens. Do you think the collective unconscious of Hausa people among whom the story is set, and by extension that of Nigerians, accommodate female sexuality outside marriage for older citizens? What does your response say about the way Nigeria is positioned in a global order of things?

AAI: I was made aware of that incident through social media when people drew my attention to it because—in a case of life imitating art—it echoed what Season is about. I think it was an unfortunate occurrence from all perspectives. The fact that in the 21st century, people could be subjected to public shaming in this manner for what effectively was a private act is symptomatic of all that is wrong with our society. I don’t think this woman was shamed for indiscretion. That was only an excuse. That woman was shamed for being old and for being poor. If she had been wealthy, that wouldn’t have happened. If she had been male, that wouldn’t have happened. What this shows, for me, is that people are often their worst enemies, and that society that shamed, the individual members of that community that participated in this primitive melodrama, are not without their own indiscretion.

If you change the names of the characters involved in this incident, and change the locale, it could fit perfectly into any place in Nigeria, irrespective of religious inclination. This is not about the unconscious mind of the Hausa people. This is about the prevalence of these practices across ethnic and religious lines on the continent. The suppression of female sexuality has been one of the greatest psychological accomplishments of all time, and both men and women played active roles in this tyranny. In some cases the females are the most active agents in perpetuating this culture, but that is a subject for another discourse.

With regards to our positioning, I think that has been determined by other factors such as our history and our race, among others. Practices like public shaming have helped to maintain this position when other cultures and people have evolved and continue to do so. I think it is important to retain certain aspects of our cultures and values, as these form our identity as a people, but this is certainly not one of them.

EO: In Freudian psychoanalysis, a clear distinction is made between the ego, the super ego and the id. In Freud’s formulation the id is the source of our bodily needs, wants, desires and impulses. Freud believed that the id acts according to the “pleasure principle”—the psychic force that motivates the tendency to seek immediate gratification of any impulse. It seems to me that in Season of Crimson Blossoms, Hajia Binta, the major character in this novel, struggles to impose her ego on the id to no avail. Are you suggesting that there are desires that cannot be tamed?

AAI: There are seeds that are, by the constitution of our personalities, implanted in the id. External circumstances, such as society, peer pressure or other forms of socialization may impair the growth of this seed, but some of them persist over a lifetime. Sometimes there are things we want to express or experience, but because of the nature of our upbringing we are forced to curtail those desires. For Binta, the notion of right and wrong was clear, had been clear all her life, up until the point she meets Reza and the opportunity that encounter brings along with it. He watered the seed that had been implanted in her from the very beginning. So to answer your question directly, I have long come to the conclusion that the only battle one is certain to lose is that one fights against himself. And sometimes when desire is innate, deeply implanted in one’s id, it is only the unavailability of opportunity that will prevent the expression of this desire. Not many people succeed in getting away with these things.

EO: Are you familiar with Freud’s theory of Oedipus complex? The character of Reza seems to be forever longing for reconciliation with a lost mother. Is it coincidental or are you aware of the psychoanalytical implication of the relationship between Reza and Hajia?

AAI: I am aware of the Oedipus Complex and the reverse, the Electra Complex. I find them both strange and intriguing. What I find even more intriguing is the circumstances that lead to the manifestation and expression of such complexes. For a writer that is the greatest point of interest, because that is where the story is.

In terms of Binta and Reza, I am, as they are, very conscious of the lines and the certainty that there is no blood relation between them, but then again, both of them acknowledge the strangeness of that relationship because it is a thought that occurs to both of them. At the same time, as if to reemphasize to himself and Binta, Reza says to Binta, “You are not my mother.” For me, that was something he had always had in his head, even when he thought about the strange borderlines of their relationship.

EO: Now to trauma. Hajia’s niece, Faiza, cannot stand the colour red. It is interesting how Hureira links this to genies. I have heard of this a lot. Nigerians, especially Hausas, seem to believe this so much. The trauma theory explains Faiza’s predicament, but seems to repudiate the seeming superstitious aspects of genies. I am afraid that we are explaining away aspects of our existence that are inexplicable, using Western philosophy to nullify some strong mythical aspects of our existence as Africans. Why, for example, do people frequent ritualists if they are completely ineffective? Don’t charms work at all? Are there no demons for real? Why do our people continue to pray about these things?

AAI: The belief in the supernatural is pervasive and universal. It is not the preserve of African societies, as some people want to believe. The belief in Djinns spreads across parts of Africa and the Orient. The myths of genies, for instance, are prevalent in Africa, the Arab world and in India. In other cultures and climes they are called by other names, like shadow people, or shape-shifters. But closer examination will show that these entities share similar characteristics, regardless of what names they are called or in what part of the world they are thought to manifest. I have said before that my point of interest is not necessarily in the proof of their existence, not of djinns or other supernatural beings, but in interrogation of peoples’ belief in their existence and how they act and behave as a result of these beliefs. I am not trying to prove or disprove their existence. I am only trying to mirror how people behave because of the belief they have or don’t have about these things. Are there logical explanations for strange occurrences? Yes, sometimes there are. Sometimes there aren’t. And that makes them all the more intriguing. Is trauma real? Does it affect people in these parts of the world? Does the constant stream of assorted violence that people here are subjected to have an impact on their psyche? Yes. They may be mentally stronger but they do suffer, a lot, and the sooner we acknowledge this the better.

EO: To what extent should we call to question the morality that traps women like Hajia Binta? And to what extent should we allow our questioning instincts make us transgress the unwritten codes of culture?

AAI: It is our ability, as humans, to ask questions of existence, reality and morality that makes us a higher class of animals. It is not because we are stronger physically or faster than other animals, it is this ability to ask questions that distinguishes us. And, throughout human history, the greatest moments of change have been motivated by periods of intense questioning of morality and values. Today we find ourselves in that place once again, where tough questions are being asked of morality as humans seek to redefine themselves, their identities and what is acceptable or not. And that is why today we have people who twenty, thirty years ago, would be considered pariahs, assertively, in some cases belligerently, hurling questions that make the established order uncomfortable. So today we are reconsidering definitions of sexuality and gender roles, religion and generally what is considered right and wrong. Christianity and Islam were entrenched because men like Jesus and Muhammad (PBUH) questioned the norms of the day. This is how societies have evolved. In as much as society must evolve, however, there must be a certain level of stability, and I think people who are in a hurry for society to be more open or liberal take it for granted that the absence of any kind of moral fibre by which society is defined is as dangerous as the values they are battling to overthrow.

EO: At the end of the novel, I felt so bad for Reza, and for Hajia’s son, and for Hajia. The catharsis was too much for Hajia. I kept on telling myself, it is just a story, it is just a story. But do you think our realities are any better than the stories we tell? How do you see the relationship between the Nigerian society and fiction?

AAI: For me this is a reflection of how I see society, especially the Nigerian society, in which one gives a lot to be compliant, to flow with the norm and then at the point of divergence, and I think we all feel the urge to stray occasionally, how viciously intolerant our society could be. The Nigerian society is one that is governed by some strict codes and these codes have a way of reasserting themselves through the agency of people who often don’t realise the impact of what they are doing. Fiction is a tool that could and has been used to interrogate our relationship with society and how various little individual acts serve to preserve the pervading powers of society. In this instance, Binta and Reza were the tools I chose to explore this phenomenon.

EO: I would like to refer to an article I just read on Literary Hub about the need for authors to protect the inner life. You can read it here: What is your idea of an inner life and how have you fared since winning the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) prize for literature?

AAI: I have always been a private person and have always wanted to keep my private life private. Today, reality shows are the norms where public figures bare it all on TV shows. And the non-public figures have social media to showcase the daily dramas in their lives. The consequences are that, in order to have greater appeal, some people go an extra length to fabricate dramas in their lives and showcase them to the public to remain relevant. This is not something I particularly fancy. And since I started writing, there have been all sorts of intrusions in one’s life. There are strangers who genuinely want guidance or advice or just someone to look at their manuscripts. After the NLNG Prize, things have escalated significantly, to the point where people who don’t even read have seen one’s face in the papers and on TV. In a way that has hampered the liberties one enjoys. There are instances when it is nice, like when you go to the airport and the officers recognise you and don’t hassle you, or when people who have connected with the characters in your books, and thank you for writing the story as if you had done them a personal favour. But there are also instances where one just wants to walk quietly into a public space and enjoy some kind of normalcy, coffee with friends or just a normal conversation. Those days are increasingly hard to come by now. Sometimes you go to do normal things and someone shouts, I know you. It all means I have to be careful what I do in public, because I never know who is watching. And so I guard my private space a lot because that is where I am free to be myself.

Elizabeth Olaoye, independent researcher currently based in Nigeria. She has taught at universities in Nigeria including Ajayi Crowther University in Oyo

Season of the Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Cassava Republic Press, 2016, ISBN 978-1-911115-00-7, 320p.

This book interview was published in: Africa Book Link, Spring 2018

The Day Ends Like Any Day | A Review by Sola Adeyemi

Timothy Ogene, The Day Ends Like Any Day. Berkshire, England: Holland House, 2017, pp.264. ISBN: 978-1-910688-29-8 (paperback); 978-1-910688-30-4 (kindle)

The Novel that Ends like None Else

There is no sun today,
save the finch’s yellow breast,
and the world seems faultless in spite of it.
Across the sound, a continuous
ectoplasm of gray,
a ferry slits the deep waters,

bumping our little motorboats
against their pier.
The day ends like any day,
with its hour of human change
lifting even the chloretic heart.
– “A Half-Life” by Henri Cole (

The ninth line of Henri Cole’s poem is an inspiration for the title of Timothy Ogene’s novel, The Day Ends Like Any Day, published by independent publisher Holland House in 2017.

The novel is divided into three parts, with an epilogue. Part one is about the early years of the protagonist; part two is the coming of age years at the university; while part three is devoted to the relationships that Sam, the protagonist, forms during his university years and how they influence his life and experiences. The epilogue is ‘written’ by one of these friends, Osagie, who presents a revealing commentary about Sam’s life.

But, I am getting ahead of myself.

Growing up in Nigeria is always a multicultural experience as most communities are hubs of diversity. Recuperating experiences of living in such communities can be an amalgam of the amazing, the bizarrely wonderful, as well as fabulous tales. This can make a bildungsroman emerging from those experiences both credulous and incredulous, familiar and strange, but writing that the reader can identify with; and adventures that rouse a reader’s memories of their own childhood.

Timothy Ogene’s The Day Ends Like Any Day is a bildungsroman with familiar adventures and surreal experiences. This is a lyrical, vibrant, and challenging coming-of-age account of the multiple identities and multiple personalities of a young Nigerian growing up in a period when everything around him is changing but who refuses to accept that his life has been formed by the traumas and dependencies of his life and past. What makes the tale striking is that our hero grows up in Nigeria trying to find a new direction under dictatorship of the 1990s, after years of wilful neglect of the needs of its citizens.

The above are strong statements that require unpacking through an analytical review of the book. But before I continue, let me confess that The Day is one of the most interesting and unputdownable books I have read in the past several months. It resonates powerfully with my experience of growing up in Nigeria – even though the setting of the book is more than 600 kilometres from my childhood area – and some of the incidents described are not only familiar, but they seem to have happened to people whose acquaintances I had.

After that self-declaration, let’s look at what makes this book good, readable, or perhaps even tedious.

The Day is about Sam. It starts with Sam growing up in Oyigbo, near Port-Harcourt, a vibrant community only identified as O. in the book. The author’s choice of “O” could be a distanciation technique, as there are several towns around Port-Harcourt with names beginning with O, such as Okrika, Ogbogoro, Old Bakana, Onne, or Ogoni, to mention a few. However, the description of the blocks of residence and the environment recognisably describes Oyigbo, “lying east of Port Harcourt, south of the new highway [A3 motorway] that runs from Aba to Port Harcourt, and west of the murky Imo River” (p. 8). This is where the author grew up, and where our protagonist also grew up in a “room-and-parlour affair”, a two-roomed apartment in Block V, Room 7, a place with leaky roofs and cracked walls which are bordered by clogged drainages. This is the environment where Sam the protagonist weaves a vista of narratives that introduces us to exciting and unforgettable characters: his sceptical sister, Ricia; Pa Suku whose mentorship capability moulded Sam into a book lover and thinker; the cantankerous Ma Ike; Dan, the mysterious tailor’s son who has the knack of appearing at eventful moments and vanishing before trouble erupts; the enigmatic and incorrigible womaniser Jide, the only resident with a television set; and pregnant Dora who one day walked naked into a lake, drowning herself. The traumas of life follow Sam from O. to Delta State University where encounters with lover Margaret and musician friend Osagie question his sexuality and sanity.

The narratives constantly shift between the past and present, through metaphors and imagery that traverse the spaghetti routes of memories. Sam’s journey through life is described as it progresses forward whilst still rooted in the past and presents vignettes of emotions in cyclical and repetitive moments. For the author, this is more of a coming-of-language novel than coming-of-age, as he finds new imagery and new language to define Sam’s experiment with life. As the title of the novel suggests, the days become not a flow of time-limited sequences, but an eternal present that shrinks or expands through the power of our own mind. Our understanding of identity is challenged as we battle with factors that shape and define Sam but are reflected in his various encounters and unspoken thoughts. We are convinced that personalities are never identities that are built and fixed but are combinations of several identities; some belonging to us and many belonging to others; our dreams and aspirations; and our past, especially moments that tweak our imagination, such as the suicide of a teenage friend. In the end, we realise that we can never escape ourselves or the components that define our personality. And that is what Sam realizes in this psychological novel of formation.

This is a highly recommended book though description of places and landscape sometimes interrupts the action and the flow of the story. Perhaps this can be excused in a first novel. What however distracts are the grammatical errors and anachronism. For instance, an example of anachronism relates to Pa Suku: “…by the time I was in senior secondary two, that fantasy was swept away by literature” (p. 59). This is in reference to the Universal Basic Education programme in Nigeria – locally termed 6-3-3-4 – whereby pupils spend six years in primary education, followed by three years in junior secondary and three years in senior secondary, and concluding with a four-year university education. However, this programme was introduced in 1988, and given Pa Suku’s age inferred from his war experience and gap to Sam’s he would have studied under the old system of a five-year secondary education without a demarcation.

“Ricia continued to bounced along…” (p. 16); “Those where the good old days…” (p. 60); and “I awoke to Mama’s face staring down at me. had been kicking…” (p. 95) are some of the errors (in bold) that the editor missed. And, I can even pretend to understand what this is supposed to mean: “I have alternativeiivenge viewsay through Agbor, c.meant:April, 2017.I work views on everything” (p. 138).

Nonetheless, this is a highly lyrical – although not described as a memoir or an autobiography – and refreshing prose that paints the past in layers of memories. It certainly announces Timothy Ogene as a new literary voice from Nigeria.

Sola Adeyemi, Goldsmiths University of London

This book review is published in: Africa Book Link, Spring 2018