“Metaphoric, Refreshing,  Deliberate” – A Review Of Odafe Atogun’s “Taduno’s Song” by Kikelomo Muchachos

By | Featured | No Comments

PUBLISHER: OUIDA BOOKS

YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2016

NUMBER OF PAGES: 218

ISBN: 978 978 956 569 6 
He thought it very strange that no one had recognised him since his arrival. The taxi driver averted his eyes and avoided conversation. He wondered why. For a moment, he remembered the legend the legend of a great painter who was forgotten by his own people. Saddened by his fate, the painter had gone to a crowded square where he had drawn a life-size portrait of himself — Excerpt from Tadunos Song (pg 8, Chapter Two)
The above excerpt all but captures the moving tale in Odafe Atogun’s debut novel. In it, the author uses the fairytale trope in a way that is reminiscent of its use in J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, with the theme of the lifelong battle between good and evil.  

The book is about a musician, Taduno, who fights the tyranny of a military government with his music. A beacon of hope for the people, and a threat to The President, he is attacked by government soldiers and left for dead. This forces him to go into exile. But three months later, a strange letter from the girlfriend and lover he left behind, Lela, prompts his return to a country where the voices of the masses have been silenced and their wills broken by the whips of tyranny. He discovers his girlfriend is nowhere to be found, and no one from his past recognises him or his music. The plot is thrown into motion when he sets out to unravel the mystery of his lost life and to find his lost love.  

Taduno’s Song is a fairytale set in Nigeria in the early 90s; a fictional, allegorical representation of the angst experienced by the masses during the time of notorious dictator, Major General Sani Abacha, and his likes; men who use the military as puppets to do their bidding. 

True to form, serious names are excluded in this allegory. Characters are known simply by their first names only and a few others via their roles and actions e.g The President and Mr. Player. This is because, they are all but symbols in this didactic tale and their real identity is revealed only through the unfolding of their actions and inactions. 

The plot is new and refreshing to read through. In this work, Odafe employs a fresh perspective to portray the foibles of government/leadership under a dictator. He also skilfully weaves a symbolic cluster of masses drawn from all works of life; the rich, the average, the homeless, the hustlers, the greedy—the good, the bad and the ugly. 
Odafe’s narrative reveals the effects of a tyrant government in a society where love, reason and truth has been silenced. This is showcased in the fall of good and the meteoric rise in the mediocre and downright ugly. The ruin of all that is good and progressive is exemplified in TK, who exemplifies truth, togetherness and progress; Thaddeus who represents innovation and economic growth; Sergeant Bello who imbibes the role of the corruptible security system that is mowed down at its attempt to side with truth; Taduno, the voice of truth, reason, love and justice, whom the dictator wishes to control and use as a tool to better his stand. The rise of the ugly is exemplified by Mr. Player, who is promised millions to side with evil and help control Truth’s narrative; Lela’s parents, who side with tyranny at the possibility of upping their class with money gotten from selling out one of their own.
The characters also stuck rigidly to the trope of the narrative. They started out as symbols and remained symbols throughout the tale, with the exception of Taduno who grew somewhat stiffly because a choice of two evils had been forced upon him. They had no discernible futures as they had all somehow mysteriously forgotten their pasts. For what is one without his past? They showed no curiosity, no restlessness, the fundamental urge that leads every human on a path of questioning that heralds discovery and possibly, solutions. This also hints at the moral, emotional and spiritual indolence of the masses who in turn must share in the blame for being so easily suppressed and silenced. The characters therefore came off as stick figures moving stiffly around the pages. 
Taduno’s Song is a purely symbolic work of fiction, the most powerful symbols being Taduno’s guitar, Taduno’s voice and Lela, his girlfriend. The guitar represents the vehicle for truth and it grants the bearer the fortitude to face all odds. Much like the Holy Bible, it bears about it an unsettling quality especially for a heart that has closed itself to good. The guitar also represents Truth’s indestructibility. In Taduno’s voice lies a paradox: free will. It has the power to proclaim truth and also to accredit evil. Taduno’s voice symbolises the power that lies in mans tongue, hence Taduno goes through a gruelling process of regaining it when he loses his voice. Lela on the other hand represents the power of love, its selflessness and its ability to break barriers and also heal. Only after Taduno sees her does the world suddenly remember him and his music. 

The themes in the book are those of choice, the power of love, tyranny, oppression, good versus evil, greed, identity, and buried deep somewhere, is a theme bordering on the religious which, sadly has eluded me. 

Taduno’s Song is laced with a bit of comedy too, especially the parts where The President sends in his Accountant and his Mathematician to convince an unyielding Taduno. The dialogue is apt, quirky and deliberate. One also feels hope, grief, loss and the angst that presages mans freedom of choice. 

Odafe Atogun’s debut novel is a great read. It deserves your opinion too. Grab a copy today and be kind enough to share your thoughts in the comment section. 

Ayobami Adebayo, Jowhor Ile, Lesley Nneka Arimah Make List Of #BMTopTen Reads For 2017

By | About BM, All That Bookmatazz..., All That Bookness!!!, Features, Reviews | No Comments

The year 2017 has been, to say the least, a great year when it comes to books. Not only did a Nigerian finally emerge as a winner in this year’s edition of the 9mobile (formerly Etisalat) Prize for Literature, we also had so many African authors churning out new literary offerings this year, some of them clinching notable prizes for some, or getting into shortlists at least.

We here at BM have been privileged to sniff, read, and review quite a number of books, whether here on the blog, or at the Book On Review Show on Nigerian radio station Classic 97.3 FM, for whom we are publicists. As is the custom, we are compiling a list of the reads that wowed us the most when they greeted our eyes. This is not to say that we didn’t love all (or to be more honest, most of) the books we came across, but there were some that got us staring into the pages again and again, made us underline paragraphs, and got us tingly all over. So, in ascending order, we present you the books that made our eyes bulge and our minds wander in 2017, beginning with;

Honourable Mentions

A Tiny Place Called Happiness (Bura Bari Nwilo, Nigeria): The 2016 Writivism Short Story Prize finalist released a collection of short stories mainly set in his native Ogoniland, a region in Rivers State, Nigeria. The book evoked a feeling of sitting round a fireside at night listening to stories, and even where Nwilo was criticized by Okadabooks reviewer Jerry Chiemeke for “hurriedly ending some of the stories like premature ejaculations”,  his work earned him a nomination for the 2017 ANA/Abubakar Prize for Short Stories.

Son Of Man (Amara Nicole Okolo, Nigeria): The lawyer and alumnus of the Farafina Creative Writing Workshop published her second book, a collection of six short stories which dwelt on life in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “Son Of Man” also involved narrations from the perspectives of inanimate things (like shoes and cutlasses), and Amara should be commended for serving up an easy read.

Behold The Dreamers (Imbolo Mbue, Cameroon): A novel that traverses continents, dealing with themes like immigration, economic disparities, “green card marriages”, and loss. To say the least, a laudable debut from the Cameroonian.

And now, the countdown proper.

10. The Yearning (Mohale Mashigo, South Africa): Mashigo delivered a disturbing but beautiful narrative which involves a woman haunted by a dark past, while trying to balance her relationship with a doting Frenchman with a nomadic career. An insight into the urban and rural parts of South Africa, as well as a touch of the traditional.

9. A Good Mourning (Ogaga Ifowodo, Nigeria): The lawyer, columnist and rights activist churned out a collection of 26 poems which highlighted issues from history to war, from dead heroes to economic instability. “A Good Mourning” was described by some as pandering to intellectuals, but it got him into the shortlist for the 2017 NLNG Prize for Literature, which he narrowly lost out to Ikeogu Oke’s “The Heresiad”.

8. Carnivorous City (Toni Kan, Nigeria): The PR expert and Editor-in-Chief of Nigerian online magazine Sabinews, affectionately known in literary circles as “The Mayor of Lagos”, tells a story where a schoolteacher in search of his missing brother, finds out more about the latter’s lifestyle from the perspectives of a cougar, a cut-throat banker, a compromising police officer, a street kingpin, a treacherous wingman, and a cash-hungry journalist. “Carnivorous City” has been described as an ode to Lagos, with sights and sounds so accurate that one may not need Google Maps to sail through the city after reading the novel.

7. Collective Amnesia (Koleka Putuma, South Africa): The award-winning poet and theatre maker took no prisoners with her most recent literary offering. Rendered in unconventional and gripping verses, the book explored mental health, black heritage, religion and queerness with more depth than we are used to.

6. The Lazarus Effect (Hawa Jande Golakai, Liberia): The beautiful mother of one, who describes herself as a “modern nomad and cultural sponge” (not least due to the fact that she has lived in Ghana, Togo, Zimbabwe and South Africa), penned down a gripping crime fiction thriller centred around the mysterious disappearance of a teenager in urban South Africa. Golakai’s novel is a journey through complicated family trees, social class struggles, intense fraternal relations and the haunting effect of past indiscretions, with subtle references to race.

5. And After Many Days (Jowhor Ile, Nigeria): A debut novel about a boy who goes missing, a family that is torn apart, and a nation on the brink. Set in Nigeria’s South-South region, the book attracted mixed reviews from critics, but that did not stop Jowhor Ile from winning the 2016 9mobile Prize for Literature, whose award ceremony took place in May 2017.

4. Stay With Me (Ayobami Adebayo, Nigeria): A tear-evoking narrative set in South-Western Nigeria which spans two decades, and tackles the subjects of polygamy, sickle cell anaemia, societal pressure on women as to childbirth, and marital complexities. The story is told from the perspectives of the two protagonists, the emotions are palpable, and it is no surprise that the book made the Baileys Women’s Prize for Literature shortlist as well as the 2017 9mobile Prize longlist.

3. When We Speak Of Nothing (Olumide Popoola, Nigeria): This novel set in contemporary London, Lagos and Port Harcourt, explores the depths of friendship, racial tensions in a first world country, the complexities of the family unit, and the struggles of growing up as disillusioned adolescents. It also dwells on teenage crushes, gender fluidity, queerness, acceptance in a largely conservative society, and a bit of mental health. The stream of conscious narrative is the dominant style in the book, and the touch of the personal in the storytelling is difficult to ignore.

2. What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky (Lesley Nneka Arimah, Nigeria): A collection of twelve short stories bordering on speculative fiction, from babies made of rags and hair to mathematicians who calculate emotions and grief. Lesley, a winner of the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize and two-time Caine Prize finalist, had readers anticipating her full-length debut, and she did not disappoint. Described by some as “darker than Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck”, the book boasts an abundance of emotions and personal journeys, and its presence on the 9mobile Prize longlist is well deserved.

1. Easy Motion Tourist (Leye Adenle, Nigeria): Described by Okadabooks reviewer Jerry Chiemeke as “a middle finger to convention”, this novel sheds light on prostitution, as well as the complex web of organised crime, effectively juxtaposing the scourge of ritual killings with something more complex and less talked about – organ hawking. It is a fast-paced crime thriller, where we have girls wielding guns and Nigerian cops putting in the work, and it is one of those books which we would love to see adapted into a movie.

 

So, there you have it, the books that piqued our attention the most. Compliments of the season from us here at BM, and cheers to a “book-ful” 2018, hopefully with a more robust list next year (a top 20, who knows).

Cassava Republic Press Reveals Cover For African Edition Of Nnedi Okorafor’s “Sunny And The Mysteries Of Osisi

By | All That Bookmatazz..., All That Bookness!!!, Press Releases, Print Design | No Comments

What happens when one of the top publishing houses in Africa teams up with one of the best speculative fiction writers in the world?

The answers are not that difficult, really.

Cassava Republic Press + Nnedi Okorafor = Magic!

Quality print and publishing + expert, masterful storytelling = eye-gasms, rejoicing in bookstores, smiles on the faces of book lovers.

Fantasy Fiction + Africa = Mind Blown!

Yes, yes, ah, Yes! (hey, hope you are not getting any ideas)

Cassava Republic Press is proud to reveal the cover for the African and European edition of Sunny and the Mysteries of Osisi by award-winning fantasy writer Nnedi Okorafor, the spellbinding sequel to What Sunny Saw in the Flames, published as the Akata Witch series in the USA.

The second instalment of the YA fantasy series takes us one year into the future, as 13-year-old Sunny Nwazue continues her juju training in Leopard Knocks, a city in Nigeria inhabited by magic wielders. With the help of her friends and her mentor, Sugar Cream, Sunny must harness her newly discovered powers to defeat Ekwensu, a terrifying lake monster who is determined to usher in the apocalypse. If that wasn’t complicated enough, Sunny must do all of this without revealing her true identity to her family.

Designed by Anna Morrison, this arresting cover is a rich blue, flecked with gold, that hints at the magic within the books pages. The sophisticated design and mix of colours will appeal not only to a YA audience, but to adults as well. At the centre of the cover is a beautiful image of Sunny in profile, illustrated by Greg Ruth, which showcases Sunny’s hidden strength. Layered over the image are Nsibidi symbols and a mysterious red spider, whose significance will become clear as the book unfolds.

As well as being a fantasy novel, Sunny and the Mysteries of Osisi is also infused with Okorafor’s astute critiques of contemporary society, as she draws attention to issues like police brutality misogyny within the family unit. However, in true Afrofuturist tradition, Sunny is a creative re-imagining of the African past where book knowledge is centre stage and rewarded, where an albinism is sacred and gendered capabilities are dissolved. Weaving together culture, history, magic and adventure, Okorafor has created a rich and mystifying West Africa that is at once ancient and modern.

Nnedi Okorafor is a multi award-winning novelist of African-based sci-fi, fantasy and magical realism. Born in the USA to Nigerian immigrant parents, Nnedi is a professor of creative writing and literature at the University of Buffalo, New York. She is the winner of the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards, and the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. Nnedi also writes for Marvel comics, and her novel Who Fears Death is being developed as a TV series for HBO with Games Of Thrones’ George R.R. Martin as an executive producer.

 

Not Brand New, But Gripping & Impressive – A Review Of Lesley Nneka Arimah’s “What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky” by Jerry Chiemeke

By | All That Bookness!!!, Featured, Reviews | No Comments

“I wanted to tell them about how Anita had started the Girl Club after claiming that her father had sent her expensive bras from London edged with barely-there lace and soft ribbons and powdered with fairy dust, and how she made the rule that only girls with bras could be in the Girl Club and that if you weren’t in the Girl Club you couldn’t sit in the Girl Area and you had to play with the boys. Anita would confirm who was Girl by escorting each applicant behind the school to check if she was wearing the required undergarment. They’d emerge short minutes later, the Bra Princess followed by her newest lady-in-waiting.”

Lesley Nneka Arimah, born in the U.K and currently living in the U.S.A, is a darling in modern literary circles, and not without good reason. Her stories have been published in magazines like Granta and The New Yorker, she is the winner of the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize For Africa, and she has been a Caine Prize finalist for two consecutive years. Her writing style is daring, with significant appeal to a younger generation of readers, and literary enthusiasts consistently rub their palms in anticipation for what she churns out next.

Weeks earlier, I was part of a panel discussing something in the lines of “New African Literary Voice”. At that panel, I cited Lesley’s work, and asked if her prowess would have been met with the same level of appreciation if she was living in Nigeria, but I was quickly hushed by a participant who stated that her book was going to be published by Farafina, one of Nigeria’s leading publishers. I took note of that, and once the book dropped, I wasted no time in getting myself a copy.

Lesley’s full-length debut, “What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky” is a collection of twelve short stories, a number of them previously published in notable literary magazines. In a little less than two hundred pages, she attempts to capture various perspectives to life in Nigeria and the Diaspora, with a little reliance on the passage of time. “The Future Looks Good” is a story spanning three generations which dwells on sisterly affection and toxic romance, “War Stories” juxtaposes a father’s post-war trauma with a daughter’s quest for popularity amidst school shenanigans, “Wild” sees a rebellious lady ‘condemned’ to spend holidays in Nigeria and forced to bond with a cousin who can’t quite bear the ‘shame’ of being a single mother, and “Light” is a narrative about a girl whose wings are clipped by societal expectation as her doting father watches in horror. “Second Chances” has a grown-up not taking kindly to her mother’s re-emergence after being dead for eight years, while “Windfalls” is a piece about a mother who makes money off her daughter’s public place accidents.

In “Who Will Greet You At Home”, a young woman who works in a hair salon nurses babies made from wool and hair, while “Buchi’s Girls” chronicles the struggles of a widow who tries to take her of her daughters under the roof of a mean brother-in-law. The title story, “What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky”, is one of mathematicians who calculate grief and subtract sadness from emotions in a future where continents are submerged and Biafra peacefully co-exists with Britain. In “Glory”, a lady bedeviled by ill-luck all her life runs into a man whose fortunes are the exact opposite but she is unsure of what to make out of it, a war lasting centuries ensues between the god of ants and the goddess of rivers in “What Is A Volcano?”, and a teenager is fascinated by the guts and sheer wit of her neighbor’s maid in “Redemption”.

Lesley’s collection has females as lead characters in all the stories, even the one involving the elements (“What Is A Volcano?”), but that is by no means a negative thing, and in any case, she owes it to no one how to structure her characterisation. The book explores a number of relevant themes too, from societal expectations of women to family bonds, from disillusionment to growing up in a world that is indifferent to a given gender, from chasing dreams to simply trying to get by. There is less of theories or political agenda, and an abundance of emotions and personal journeys here.

If, however, you were expecting to see flying goats or fowls bearing horns in these pages, brace yourself up for disappointment.  Only three of the stories in this collection come with the speculative prose that has endeared Lesley to younger readers, the other nine are pretty regular well-written stories bordering on love, family and some of the other usual stuff. When I purchased the book, I was gearing up for something madly different, but I found that it was not all that crazy. The book felt like a popular music artist treating us to a blues album after releasing two chart-topping hip hop singles earlier on. Scratch that, it felt like John Mayer settling for a stripped down acoustic album after teasing fans with electric guitars, or Coldplay releasing a pop record after wowing music enthusiasts with all the synthetic drums that characterise rock music. Good as the songs may sound, if it is different from the genre you anticipated, you’d still feel hard done by.

This is not to say, though, that “What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky” is a bad literary offering. On the contrary, it is well-scribbled, meaningful, and while I would have loved to see dragons breathing fire, I can actually afford to read it twice, and I don’t share that compliment with many books. The stories here are darker than those in Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Thing Around Your Neck”, they come with more urgency than the ones in Chinelo Okparanta’s “Happiness Like Water”, and even where I am not left with my mouth gaping wide, I will not be quick to lend out this book, at all.

Rating: 7/10
Jerry Chiemeke is a lawyer, writer, editor and critic. He has been published in The Kalahari Review, Brittle Paper, Viva Naija, True Nollywood Stories and Pulse Nigeria. A lover of finger foods, Jerry runs a column on Bellanaija where he reviews African literature on behalf of Okadabooks. He is the winner of the 2017 Ken Saro Wiwa Prize for Book Reviews and Literary Criticism.