Rating: 3 stars
Initially, this was difficult to get into. An alien culture to me, a different way of thinking, traditions and social norms that differ greatly from my own. I couldn’t get a fix on the characters, felt at a remove from them, an observer uninvolved in their lives.
I had to think about the Nigerian women I have worked with at the museum, the community groups, their strength of character, their humour, the rhythms of their speech. I had to think about the couple of men who have been involved in the community work we have done, the difference in attitude between men and women in Nigerian culture. I had to think about what I had been told by these women and men about the differences between Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa people. Only then did I begin to feel immersed in the novel.
I found Ikenna and Boja difficult characters to empathise with. I found it easier to understand Obembe and Ben. The transition between Ike and Boja’s story and that of Obe and Ben was heart-rending. There was a change in the whole family. The remote, authoritarian father became more human. The mother who struggled to have authority completely lost control. The boys’ lives were ruptured. I felt the tragedy of their loss more than the tragedy of Ike and Ben’s story arc.
The book contains detail about the political situation in Nigeria in the 1990s that I didn’t know. It has educated me and given context, to the extent that a novel about family tragedy can, to the current political situation in the country.
It has confirmed in me that all religion is superstition and we are better served by logic, rationality and science. All of the tragedies would have been prevented if the people in the book had been less credulous, had weighed the facts rationally, and dismissed their superstitions. I think that credulity, among adults and children alike, contributed to the difficulty I had in getting involved in the story. I had to work to put myself in their shoes and accept their choices as believable.
It’s an interesting, well written book, even a good book, but I didn’t find it an amazing one.