My Thoughts on ‘Miracle’ by Tope Folarin

*This is one of five posts on the Caine Prize for African Writing 2013 Shortlist. A group as organised by Aaron Bady will be blogging about the entries (one per week) for the next five weeks until the prize is announced on the 8th of July. Please see the links below for details and a schedule.

My Thoughts on ‘Miracle’ by Tope Folarin 

By Veronica Nkwocha

‘Miracle’ (read herebegins with an all too familiar tale in the diaspora, a people uprooted and fragmented leaning close together huddling with the familiar. The thread that binds them in this story is religion and its ‘familiar’ rituals of service. The particular service presents an extreme focus on a man at the apex and a shivering pool of the faithful expectant of the heady feelings that herald a shared knowing as to their wholesomeness.

A most fascinating attribute about the story lies in the things it doesn’t say. ‘Miracle’ presents the congregants as almost child-like. Like a group of uniform wearing kids sitting up straight jacketed in class afraid of breaking any of the many rules, whether written or unspoken. The service is orgasmic but even when they dance happily and ecstatic, they do so in tandem with the dictates of an unseen conductor.

It is a church service and the supernatural typically trumps the physical, a spring where the faithful can draw strength to face the tough world outside. (Edit) It’s everyone doing the same thing lost in an ‘other-worldliness’  that creates an unsettling feeling, is that how its adherents are really perceived from the outside looking in?

Here wishes and desires take a front seat before reality; hope is worn leaving the dress of truth behind. The eyes of the boy were not healed but the glasses were cast aside. Is that faith? Will he see with perfect clarity? As the (more…)

My Thoughts on Bayan Layi by Elnathan John

*This is one of five posts on the Caine Prize for African Writing 2013 Shortlist. A group as organised by Aaron Bady will be blogging about the entries (one per week) for the next five weeks until the prize is announced on the 8th of July. Please see the links below for details and a schedule.

My Thoughts on Bayan Layi (A Short Story by Elnathan John)

By Veronica Nkwocha

Bayan Layi‘ boils down the effects of socio-political problems of a certain kind of abandonment, distills it and presents it to us as Dantala and his friends. Nature abhors a vacuum and we are cast into a tale of the repercussions. And one wonders how this [edit] ‘travesty’ became a reflection of us as a people, tied as we are to the author’s vivid description. It sets the tone where one feels a revulsion but can’t quite look away.

There is the niggling sensation as one reads this story; is it our failings as nurturers that spawn the ones who view killing as no more than a fly to be swatted? Empty spaces filled up with perverse watering holes feeding the plains where teenagers can strut their stuff boldly. Enabled by puppeteers who weave their hypnotic lies into the webs in which the Bandas and the Dantalas roam, stars in their eyes, believing they are free. They are there, barely mentioned in the story, a metaphor for real life; behind the scenes, unobtrusive but superlatively influential.

‘Bayan Layi’ peels all the layers of the onion and as we read, our eyes water at the hopelessness of the situation, babies bearing arms, the (more…)

An Iroko has Fallen – A Tribute to Chinua Achebe (Poetry)

A spiral stack of copies of the 1994 Anchor Bo...

A spiral stack of copies of the 1994 Anchor Books edition of Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An Iroko has Fallen

By Veronica Nkwocha (a tribute to Chinua Achebe)

An Iroko has fallen
Who can disguise the din
An Iroko lays prone and all of the forest
Rise in silent tribute
He whose head and honour rose high in the sky
Is bowed
Not in trembling and fear
But as one who has performed great feats on the theatre of the world stage
Bowing as he takes his exit to heed the timeless call.
He leaves the forest and the testament of his earlier presence
Rings true and loud and unbroken
Only the silent can hear
May they heed the din from the Iroko
Rise to the stars
Stand tall and strong
Unbowed by life
And unbroken by the elements
An Iroko has fallen but the Iroko lives;
Long may it live.

Iyeji and Ikinabo (An Adaptation of an old Idoma Folk Tale)

Tortoise

Iyeji and Ikinabo (An Adaptation)

By Veronica Nkwocha

 

“Grandpa, Grandpa, tell us a story! Tell us a story please?” the chirpy group of children yelled out all at once.

Grandpa Ediga was tired but it was a cool evening and the gentle breeze grazed against his moustache tickling him into a genial mood. He was curved against his Ukonobo, the curved elongated chair made out of polished dark wood old men relaxed in. He toyed with the chewing stick almost permanently attached to his mouth; he only removed it when he was talking or eating. He smiled beckoning the happy group and a few of them called out to the others who were not around. Then they sat in a neat half circle at his feet on mats spread out, the older ones cradled the toddlers who were being lulled to sleep after the evening meal. The full moon sat high up the sky lending some light to the otherwise dark village, candles and lanterns dotting the area, their pale tongues flickering here and there. The evening meal was over and the compound was nice and tidy in readiness for another day. Older women lay sated on mats here and there tired from carrying out the day’s chores and content at having some time to themselves.

Grandpa began the story as he always had and they all listened intently.

“Once Upon a Time, a very long time ago, Iyeji, the hare and Ikinabo, the tortoise were on one of their many fabled long journeys once again. Ikinabo had been promised a feast like never before in the village of his in-laws; mountainous white and fluffy pounded yam, Ohupi garnished with delicious spicy abahi and chunks of the goat meat fattened on the choicest and freshest grass. The never ending flow of fresh palm wine was a given and Iyeji massaged (more…)

Ribbons of Hope

Ribbons of Hope 

By Veronica Nkwocha

Listening to Zahara’s Loliwe inspired this post. I love her sound and its distinct South African vibe.

Welcome to the 21st Century, she teased me. My friend, much younger than me but one with whom I shared lots of laughter and affection. It was 2008 and she was shocked I was only just joining Facebook. After our fits of laughter, I spent inordinate amounts of time tracking old friends, some I had last seen at University in the early 90s. There were joyful reunions and happy tears, finding new wrinkles, bald patches and widening waistlines from having babies or may be eating a bit too much!

I typed a friend’s name and because it was quite common in South Africa, I couldn’t tell which of the many search results was him until I typed same against our university and it returned a tribute page to him; he had passed away in the years we had lost touch. I thought to myself how sometimes, life doesn’t give one any more chances, no chance (more…)

My Thoughts on Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

My Thoughts on Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie

By Veronica Nkwocha

Ifemelu drifts into a world where people like her; African, not of the poster with the forlorn child are a bye line. She seeps into a world where the dominant images are of the western world, shiny and set apart and straddles her own world, a colossus even though they do not know it. To the outside she is a mere shadow, her light barely flickering. They enter her world and see through her eyes; the author’s narrative allows a prime spot, a vantage one and they become one with her. The World, a fragmented puzzle is put together and is seen from a different perspective; one gains a greater understanding and for that, we are richer as humans.

And so we move on and see one who would otherwise be a mere statistic. But far from being idealised, if she who was wordless and unseen becomes a face, we must see her for who she is; warts and all. She is a hard worker and battles the odds to become a Fellow at Princeton. She also uses the new invention,’the weblog’ to blog about issues thereby allowing a conversation on race by the protagonists. But she is not perfect; she is charming and can be a straight talker if need be but she comes across sometimes as a bit selfish. Maybe not more so than most humans are but it is a god with clay feet situation, the halo wearing saviour who inserts herself as a legitimate person in Today’s narrative. She has friends with whom she laughs but one doesn’t sense much of an affection from her. They do things for her but others, save her parents are rarely at the receiving end of her charity even when she becomes able. The walls she built to keep Obinze out were swift and impenetrable, although one can understand that the trauma of her experience with the coach blighted the innocence of their once perfect relationship.

She appears utterly consumed throughout the text by her own introspection. It would appear she went through the motions of living, hiding her real self and stoically holding on to an invisible camera with which she viewed life and ultimately ‘the other’ without immersing herself in their own feelings and emotions. Even with her American boyfriends she looked to be perching on the edge ready for flight. The only redemption is her unfailing love for Dike where she is laid bare and vulnerable; not even for Obinze which the reader had been teased and lured seductively with the promise of a great love story.

By the time one thundered through the captivating read, expectant, there was a mild concern that the few pages left for the reunion with Obinze would not be enough to do justice to their story. Kosi’s demonization as is wont in romance novels, typically presented in order for the reader to accept a triumphant reunion of the estranged couple is tepid and a tad unbelievable; she did not read! Sitting at the periphery of the pontificating literature enthusiasts, one almost pities her. She also did not stir with indignation at her husband’s sexual ‘acrobatics’ with his ex, even though at the start of the book she seemed obsessed with him. One would have expected a hint of jealousy, some tears; it was a shock to see her practical, coldly proffering that the marriage should not end despite the infidelity.

Ifemelu’s entire lack of empathy for his family even in passing, especially towards his daughter presented her as cold and calculating in a way that seemed removed from the character we got to know from the start. Was it a defence mechanism? There was no hand wringing considering how she looked down her nose at those who dated married men. To her, his family barely existed or were akin to weed in her perfectly groomed garden of love starring Obinze. Even that did not appear quite distinguished from her relationships with her exes save for their shared tender flowering as teenagers; she still appeared in her renewed relationship with Obinze, perched at the outside, looking in, prepared for flight.