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For the Love of Flight by Lola Shoneyin (Author)

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[Untitled]

Women Liberation . . . what is that?

It’s just a figment of your imagination.

I was born free, not in chains

I sucked on the same breasts that suckled you

Why then do I need to be freed by you?

Why must I sit on your important-sounding committees and smile gratefully,

Content to be decorated with the shackles of your brand of freedom?

Thanks, but no thanks!

– By cedarreview [From my Anthology of Sheltered Poems]

 

 

For me, writing a literary response to a poetry collection is a fancy matter. The reason is simple. Every poem in an anthology has its own character and evokes a distinct set of emotions. The complexity of these undulating panorama of human feelings would prove difficult to capture in one breath.

More so, when it comes to Lola Shoneyi’s For the Love of Flight, I have a better scoop to share with you. Why waste time measuring meter and probing rhymes? Listen, I was in the privileged audience that heard Lola read and talk about her (then) brand new collection of poems, For the Love of Flight.

Hearing Lola that time at the AWF Guest Writers Session, I began to think, as always, how much good poetry is wasted in print, how much of the poet is lost in the publisher’s office, what disservice the pages do to the poems. As an art form, poetry finds a nexus in music and lore; in its earliest form it is believed to have been sung or recited. Written poetry often feels to me like light trapped in a sepia-stained prism.

As she read a few of her poems from the collection, including my favourite, For Kiitan, if it had not been so heart-wrenching, her fierce devotion as a mother, passion as a woman, fervour as a feminist, brazenness as a patriot, and cynicism as a seeker of Truth all rang out clearly. Ancient sentiments rose up within me. This is the real deal, I thought. None of that defensive, reactive ‘women are the victims’ nonsense you hear around. This is a woman sharing what it feels like to be a woman; how she perceives her world; what she sees when she looks out through those thick, lush lashes . . . just sharing.  This is the good stuff, the type that leaves your mind richer for reading it.

I came away from that meeting with three things. First, an impression of Lola Shoneyin as a woman who is comfortable in her feminineness and confident in her view of the world. Her insightful poetry celebrates every day in its uniqueness and experiential richness, for which she ought to be super proud. Second, I came away with a burden for the urgent need for Nigeria’s literati to explore the audio books option with particular regard to poetry. And third, a copy of For the Love of Flight, which I shall cherish for a long time because it is impressed with the poet’s touch and,  although she was less so as she penned them down, it is inscribed with the words “For (me) with warm wishes.”

There is a curiosity I observed with this collection. Most of the poems are rendered in the first person, even the teeny bit uncomfortable ones. How, for instance, can you feel easy about anyone reading Distance and thinking about you, Lola?

Written by cedarreviews

March 30, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Spider the Artist by Nnedi Okorafor (Author)

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Written by cedarreviews

March 25, 2011 at 9:22 pm

Posted in Critical Reviews

Spider the Artist by Nnedi Okorafor (Author)

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My infrequent encounter with science fiction has been limited to the mediums of film and cinema. Science fiction is an entirely unexplored area of my literary awareness. I subscribe to literary naturalism; I do not have the pristine gift of disproportionate imaginings.  The inclination to read Spider the Artist came from two things. One, the story is a short one, just about five thousand words long. Two, it is written by a Nigerian, never mind, in the Diaspora. I had never read (of course not), or heard much of a Nigerian science fiction, or science fiction written by a Nigerian – two separate things, by the way. And apart from the ill-received cinema feature District 9 (which is neither Nigerian in the any sense of the word nor was it written by a Nigerian), I could hardly think of science fiction and Nigeria together. You can imagine my fascination when I discovered that Spider the Artist is both a legitimately Nigerian story and written by a Nigerian.

In spite of my literary inclinations I firmly believe that literature ought to be versatile and dynamic. Spider the Artist is nothing if not a definite shift from what you would expect to find on Nigerian book stands.

Science fiction is new in the scene of Nigerian literature. With good reasons, too. It is not because Nigerians lack the creative imagination required to spin out-of-worldly tales. It has to do with the fact that Nigeria is not a scientific or technological nation. This, then, would tend to stymie scientific imaginations since writers invariably have to depend a lot on their environment for suggestions for themes, plots and storyform.

By definition, science fiction describes a genre of fiction habitually set in some imaginary  time or place, or which deals with imagined civilisations, travel in space, marvellous beings, new inventions and technologies, or simply put, events that could not really happen in the real world. It is however agreed that a work of science fiction must not violate what is known to science, or yet, what is common knowledge. In other words, it may freely speculate on the unknown, but not in the sphere of the known. However, to my mind, whenever a work begins to speculate on the unknown, it has ceased to straddle science and fiction. It has, speaking strictly, made the cross over to fantasy. For, science fiction is not a term describing a miscellaneous-type genre for spinning absurd or wild spins. The rule of thumb has always been to present the stories in a rational manner.

The author of science fiction fancies himself a bit more than an entertainer. He is a seer; he predicts the future. Whether such predictions have proven to be less than accurate or not, the interesting fact remains that the author tries to look into the future to ascertain what kind of world future generations will be plunged into as a result of the way we are living today. He is a predictive historian.

In earlier times, futuristic narratives held more hope for the future. They usually explored romantic notions of technological advancement – a world of human bliss made possible by robots replacing manual labour. But in more recent times there has been a tendency to mistrust the role of robots in the future, with technology posing more of a threat to human societies.

Spider the Artist doesn’t quite reach the grim proportions of artificial intelligence taking over the human society. It is at the point where powerful forces (Nigerian Government) employ technology to suppress the weaker elements, the masses. However, it stops just short of reaching this pinnacle of chaos as the robots in this story are proving difficult to contain by Nigerian law enforcement:

“Wahala! Trouble!” the soldier frantically told television reporters. His face was greasy with sweat and the sides of his eyes were twitching. “Evil, evil things! I’ve believed this from start! Look at me with grenade! Ye ye! I could do nothing!”

The story is set in the Niger Delta region where oil has become a curse rather than a blessing. Where the people suffer helplessly the consequences of oil exploration: environmental degradation, pollution of water bodies, and in the words of the writer:

The fish, shrimps and crayfish in the creeks were dying. Drinking the water shriveled women’s wombs and eventually made men urinate blood. . . . In some places, it was always daytime because of the noisy gas flares. My village was shit.

The ‘pipeline people’ resort to oil pipeline vandalism and militancy but the Nigerian Government, supported by the foreign companies responds by creating zombies to keep the people in check. The zombies, it would appear, are sound sensitive, responding quite rapidly to even the slightest tap of the pipelines running through the backyards of the rural Niger Delta people to unleash terror of disproportionate dimensions, ironically described by the Government officials as “little harm as possible.”

As a futuristic narrative, Spider the Artist, is a very engaging story with an even more compelling opening. The preluding lyric from Fela Kuti’s song Zombie is also an additional perk.

The narrative voice is unmistakably that of “a simple village woman living in the Delta region.” To its merit the story captures the frustration, restlessness and apprehension of the people of this region in the face of such deprivations and abuses. It incorporates aspects of living belonging in the future very effortlessly. For one thing, I can hardly imagine a cell phone ringing in my childhood, or my great grandmother lying on a pipeline.

As speculative fiction, it is a rather depressing forecast. It seems to suggest that the region will still be in the sorry state it is today years from now, that such technological ingenuity and such abject ignorance can exist side by side. It makes the important argument that the future of the Niger Delta people is potentially bleak, a pessimism that is not unfounded, and shows the crisis management faculties of the Government in very shabby light.  It is therefore a wake-up call for the Nigerian Government to reconsider who and what is important in the oil wealth equation.

We must not overlook the equally important underlying message that the Niger Delta people could also be contributing to the problem. Through the symbolism of the central character’s grandmother’s bemused wonderment at the steel pipelines, exacting ironical laughter from her. In the face of such a sorry state of affairs, it is would prove to be no laughing matter. If these people refuse to see the humour of the situation, they may not have to face shiny steel zombies who are shy of embraces, I might add.

But like a preacher I once heard said, sometimes a problem might exact so much wonder that we just sit and admire it. Perhaps the Niger Delta one is just this kind.

I like that the story has managed to retain its Nigerianess in its language – the narrator often  interpolates in pidgin – and  mood, as well as in the handling of the issues at stake. I think, too, that it fits well enough into its intended genre, having sufficiently developed and resolved a real crisis.

I did dictate a few inconsistencies in the storytelling, though. For instance where the meals of a “poor (although), not starving” family includes a “dinner of pepper soup heavy with goat meat, chicken and large shrimps” and how it contradicts the general poverty painted by the author in the story. Matter of fact, such a meal in nearly any Nigerian setting depicts a rather cosy station of life. Also, I kept wondering how any one of the pipeline vandals could outrun the zombies to escape to tell the story, the same zombies described as resembling “a herd of super fast steer” in their motion. I realize that that may have been an excuse permitting the author to describe the zombies from a first-person POV but it might have been more realistic to write this knowing down to propaganda spread by the government itself. Again, we are not told where the zombies come from, even though common knowledge tells us that things occupy space. It is a little too much to leave such important information to our imaginations, especially seeing that the information potentially affects the future of the plot as a whole.

Spider the Artist is a great leap with potentials to change the face of Nigerian literature. More so, as a short story it seems suited for our particular audience who may find it easier to ruminate upon the unusual ideas in small palatable morsels.

I only wonder how this story might have fared if it had been written in a language other than English. Might the storytelling have crossed that fiction-fantasy line and wandered into climes reminiscent of grandmothers’ tales under the moonlight, thick with fantastic humanoid creatures at every turn and rich in morals resounding across generations? I wonder.

One thing is sure, speculative fiction as this writer has written allows one to comment upon the really important things – humanity and its future. Consequently, Nnedi Okorafor has distinguished herself as an important writer and Spider the Artist, an important piece of writing.

Written by cedarreviews

March 25, 2011 at 9:18 pm

The Rape of Lysistrata by Obi B. Egbuna (Author)

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Book Cover

Obi Egbuna’s greatest strength as a writer lies in his conversational narratives which is totally believable. With Egbuna there is simply no breach between his reading audience and his characters, nor does he slowly pull you in, like most writers would, until you are trapped inside the story lanes. No, Egbuna whisks the reader away immediately along the conversational byways into his world of characters, even sometimes stopping all literary protocols to address his reader, as where he gives whom-it-may-concern a quick tip regarding a love spot he himself discovered where he might rendezvous on an unplanned romantic evening!

Obi Egbuna successfully suspends all disbelief from the very first sentence. It is in this manner that The Rape of Lysistrata takes off:

“In the remote mountain region of New Mexico, not far from Los Alamos, there is a small convent habitation concealed in the desolate tranquillity of silent hills. A huge sign outside the main gate proclaims the compound out of bounds to visitors of nondescript intentions. Not many people know of the existence of this convent. And those who do never speak of it now, except perhaps in whispers. There is a reason for this. The place is not really an ordinary convent. It is in fact a Home for Alcoholic Nuns. I know. I was there. Sister Stella Maria Dominique, as I left her that last time, was reading The Seven Who Were Hanged, by Leonid Andreyev. It made sense under the circumstances. That was of course long afterwards . . .”

I am certain that the large part of this success has to do with the stories themselves; how close to truth they ring. In The Rape of Lysistrata the reader may be distinctly aware of the feeling that the writer is offering bits of himself to his audience through his work. Even the first-person protagonist is given his own name, Obi. And let me warn you, too, you may catch yourself trying to guess how much of it is fiction as the line between truth and make-belief is precariously thin. Now, that is the hallmark of a good writer, as the writer will bring you back to earth in the end by placing important notice to the effect that the narrative and incidents in it are entirely fictitious.

The story is set in Iowa, USA, where a community of writers are gathered from all over the world in an International Writing Program hosted at the university in Iowa. From the beginning, I think that the writer has selected an excellent backdrop from which all the action can most naturally develop.

The story opens on a very decisive note where we are taken right to the crux of the matter through the literary perceptions of the Program participants, of course, viz, the issue of racial superiority and the absorption which each participant seems to have in his own country. Matter of fact, the pervading theme of racial prejudices prevalent in the entire work is captured here in a single, albeit very lengthy second paragraph. And the author, through the subtle voice of the Poet-director of the Program, sums the argument of this story and the conclusion which he intends for you to draw from it as follows: “. . . all literatures of the world, in spite of their many-sounding languages, make one literature . . .”

To a very large extent, this one statement just a page into the book is a complete giveaway. Indeed, you could shut the book at this point and not think to miss a thing. Yet, I am telling you you would, in fact, have missed a lot embedded in the structure and dynamics of this compelling story. You would miss an ambitious sex strike, the soul-tugging Asikatali song, to mention just a few ingredients of the story.

Because of the many hinged subplots in The Rape of Lysistrata, it would be difficult to re-tell the story briefly in a straight forward manner. However, it begins with a first meeting on a bridge between Obi and Kazuko Fujimoto, a Japanese Poet and returning participant in the International workshop. As a matter of fact, we begin to experience the story through the eyes of Kazuko; it is also she who makes the ominous prediction of doom, which did come to pass, I might add. Kazuko may not be the central character but she does exert some control on the story, even to the point of staying relevant in the scheme of things long after her exit from the scene.

As the story populates and the actors appear one after the other, the action begins to heat up. The main impetus of the plot is that “a scar-faced ugly nigger from Brazil has raped a lily-white American woman,” an act so repugnant that it is tantamount only to urinating on the Statute of Liberty (Pg 135).

At the center of the rape saga is Mimi de Beavoir, a beloved student activist well-known for organising the successful sex strike which ends the campus fraternity war fought on racial grounds, and as a virgin, and on the other part is Moses Camilo, a Black Brazilian who arrives Iowa preceded by his reputation as an angry black man – his undoing. For, when Mimi stumbles upon some pages of an article, presumably written by Camilo, only some weeks before their wedding, she considers his ideologies a crime so vile that rape is the least that could label it.

Mimi’s horror at such blatant odium is real. Her hard and unrelenting stance will bring about a sad end to Camilo as well as to our story. But it is completely justifiable, if indeed one may justify a perjury. You see, according to the article it would be impossible for a Black man to love a White woman let alone consider marriage to her. In the real sense, no Black man ever makes ‘love’ to a White woman unless he despises her very badly because of what she represents to him, “her mascot value ” (Pg 178).

A White woman is in fact many things to the Blackman but a woman. She is a piece of England or any other white civilisation that has rampaged over his fatherland all these centuries and stands for what is beautiful in it. Every piece of jewellery that adorns her body has a history of unrewarded Black toil, sweat and blood behind it. She is also the vehicle for birthing “future threats to Black manhood”, “the one thing that soldiers and rapists of Black women hold sacred.” All these make her deserving to be ravished by the Blackman, his opportunity for revenge for the many sins committed against him. When he gets the chance to make ‘love’ to a White woman, he is really a guerrilla activist in the thick of action. Sex between a White woman and a Blackman is counter-sex, a protest.

But the writer’s recriminations are not only for the Whiteman but also for the Blackman whom he accuses of sublimating away the energy that would be needed to squeeze a trigger in battle against the oppressor in bellicose relations with the Whitewoman. Like in the Greek parallel, Lysistrata by Aristophanes, which provides fodder for Egbuna’s work, people in dire situations tend to balk at the prospects of applying their inner strengths, whatever they are, in saving themselves, preferring instead to go about their mundane lives subserviently.

To her credit, Mimi does not jump to conclusions at this horrid piece of literature but first goes to Camilo and offers her body to him in the hope that he will have a change of heart and not take his ‘vengeance’ upon her. She is horrified when he goes ahead to ravage her, proving his aversion for her and his willingness to carry out his vengeful retaliation against White people for years of oppression suffered by his own race. She therefore heads to the police station with a trumped-up charge of rape.

I shall pause here to give you a bit of the background to this ‘hate literature’ that proves so fatal to Camilo. The article, The Little Boy of Brussels, is an actual work, one of three essays written in a London prison and published under the title “Destroy This Temple.”* In it the writer describes an experience in prison in which a new prisoner, a young Black boy barely 17, is brought to prison. As the writer looks on their eyes meet and the boy suddenly smiles, perhaps relieved to see another black man in a White prison. But a White prison officer seeing the smiling chap mistakes his smile for recidivistic lust for a passing White nurse and flies into quite a rage. The writer alludes by this incident to the general intolerability of the society at the time of White and Black love, considered one of the highest degree of offence. The writer is thus lashing back when he avers that any attraction of the Blackman to a White woman is abnormal and can only exist in the context of revenge.

The irony, though, is that this article purportedly written by Camilo was in fact written by Obi, giving the story a sad twist, indeed.

It would be easy to confuse the subject of The Rape of Lysistrata with the theme of racial prejudice ubiquitous in nearly every page. Yet, while the book does make some potent points condemning the obnoxious claims of one race to superiority over another, there are larger issues closer home which it seeks to address, chief among them, preoccupation, whether with one’s race or self, giving rise to assumptions with attendant negative implications. Matter of fact, every plot (subplot) of The Rape of Lysistrata hinges on this. In this way, the story involves the reader at a very personal level.

It is Camilo’s self involvement that blinds him to the extent of sacrifices which his late wife Marya Belbina had to make to support him just because he would not revise the end of his novel to make it acceptable to publishers, preferring “to die in hunger like a man than live in plenty like a zombie.” Unfortunately, it is Marya Belbina who ends up dying – in prison – for his convictions when she is caught stealing money from a dying patient at the hospital where she worked in order to support them both. Again, it is Beth MacShane’s unhealthy self-indulgent love for Camilo that leads her to plant the extract from Obi’s work among Camilo’s books with the evil intention of giving Mimi the benefit of his supposed real feelings about White women. And, it is Mimi’s single-minded and dogmatic belief in her own causes that secures Beth MacShane’s desired effect – Camilo commits suicide while in prison, falsely accused of rape by his own fiancée. Finally, it is Obi’s consumption with anger that provides the weapon of destruction.

It is not until the final chapters that all these come together offering explanations and filling in the gaps for the reader.

In the end Obi lets himself off. Mimi and Beth, too. Perhaps too easily when he declares Lysistrata raped by the Mannikin boy of Brussels.

The Mannikin boy here is an allusion to The Little Boy of Brussels, a painting by the same title, which, to the author’s mind, represents the servitude image of the Blackman etched on the European mind and monuments. Mimi de Bevoir, just like Aristophane’s Lysistrata, stands for the force fighting against suspect ideologies. Therefore, to say that Lysistrata was raped by the Little Boy of Brussels is to assert that a victim willing succumbs to oppression when he refuses to fight back his oppressors squarely and fairly but allows him all kinds of advantages by his weakness. In this sense, it is the mental state of the victim that must bear responsibility. And, in the author’s own words, “What we need to do is not to throw stones at devils, but to get rid of hell” (Pg 188).

Obi’s convenient run-away tactic thus serves to reinforce the issues. It does duty to the living, too.

With all due respect, Egbuna’s sentence structures sometimes suffer to the point of breathlessness, alternating between windingly long sentences and jerkily short ones. However, these obviously jaundiced strings of sentences do no real harm to the story overall. I see a story moving seamlessly in the direction it was intended.

* Although the title “Destroy this Temple” by Obi Egbuna does in fact exist, I am yet to verify that “The Little Boy of Brussels” does form part of it but rely here on the author’s explanation to Mimi de Beviour in the work itself. Hence, I hesitate to make a categorical statement about this & wish my reader be aware of my reservation especially since the author goes on to state in his caveat that the narratives are purely fictitious.

I like this short biography of Obi B. Egbuna http://www.jrank.org/literature/pages/3911/Obi-B-Egbuna-(Obi-Benue-Egbuna).html

Written by cedarreviews

March 22, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Midnight Angel

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MIDNIGHT ANGEL by Jesse Unoh (Author)

When I first came across the phrase Shy Novel as an appendage to the title of the book, Midnight Angel, it struck me as a rather quixotic expression. How in the world did a word like ‘shy’ begin to qualify a noun such as ‘novel’? What is shy about this novel? I wondered. After reading the collection of Short Stories, I find that there is a very practical and sensible explanation for the coinage.

Jesse Unoh, author of Midnight Angel and propounder of this very intriguing expression, offers a simple explanation in his introduction: ‘The Shy Novel is what you get when you take the first two letters of short and the last letter of story and use it to qualify novel . . . it is first a collection of short stories and then a novel.’

This definition is descriptive only, though. The functional definition of the Shy Novel is not as simple a matter. To understand it, we may do well to attempt a comparison of the two art forms being fused into one dynamic species: the Short Story and the Novel. The Short Story usually describes a work which often employs complex writing techniques to produce a single, focused effect, or provoke a specific emotional or intellectual response in the reader as opposed to the novel which may stimulate any range of responses through its many and often complex characters. Again, whereas a novel usually gives more scope for plot development, a short story tends to limit it. This is not without reason. Major characters, the kinds that novels create, require a lot of space to grow and develop and so economical handling is hardly possible. Moreover, the central character of the novel dominates the narrative space absolutely. Other characters, who may be quite well developed themselves, usually have one duty thrust upon them, that is, they serve one single purpose – that of helping the development of the central character around whom the plot revolves. On the other hand, a Short Story typically lacks that ingredient of a central omnipotent figure but instead concentrates more on expounding a central message.
In practice, however, the terms ‘novel’ and ‘short story’ are never truly absolute: They tend to straddle the definitional line, the unwitting result being the Shy Novel.

This, in my view, is what makes the Shy Novel a literary phenomenon. It makes a daring attempt to force the matter by taking as ample space as required for the chief character to grow. In an interesting twist, the other characters do not merely stand around as stimulus for the protagonist. They themselves are important participants and appear to be more responsible to the plot, which they help to unravel, rather than to the central character.
Of course, not many writers in the past have made the conscious effort to write their novels shy. Unoh, therefore, pushes the edge on the form.

The proliferation of the Shy Novel perhaps marks the emergence of a new sub-genre. The writer offers the following prescriptions for the Shy Novel: it should ideally have one storyline, one locality and same cast of characters.

In this regard the Shy Novel closely resembles a Short Story Cycle (in which a series of stories are often unified by the reappearance of a character in the same locale) as developed by the American writer Sherwood Anderson in his collection, Winesbury, Ohio.
However, this is where the resemblance between the two ends. Unlike in a Short Story Cycle where the unifying factor is not necessarily the plot, the Shy Novel needs that single thread to hold it together.

Further, the Shy Novel seems to envisage a work in which each story in the collection is complete in itself and capable of independent existence, but is nonetheless fitted together and sustained on a single lifeline, as an important part of a whole; not unlike looking at your face in a fractured mirror – you may pick a piece, any piece, and still see the whole picture.

The Shy Novel is, in essence, a practical piece of writing but without all the unnecessary baggage and circumlocution which sometimes plague the longer form, the novel. It is as such a novel in every sense, but a no-nonsense one!

Indeed, this twelve-story fiesta, Midnight Angel, is just shy of being a novel – a near miss too. It chronicles the journey of Usonne as he ventures out from his sedentary existence in his native Cross River State to faraway Ibadan in Oyo State for the one-year compulsory National Youth Service. The reader is invited to travel along with Usonne and make the acquaintance of the people with whom he shares this literary space: from the man on the streets, Dele, to the antics-full J.T. and even the intimate happy-hour friendship he cultivates with Rita.

On this journey the reader is taken without preamble to the heart of the matter, many of which will play out shortly. As a matter of fact, sooner rather than later, as Usonne is caught up in some of the ‘miseries of the road’ as he dubs them, though no serious drama ensues.

In a way, the first story presents us with all the elements of Midnight Angel in a nutshell. It identifies for us the issues as well as the dilemma that life’s little dramas frequently plunge us into, forcing us to make choices that cast us either as angels or devils. This can be gleaned from the way Usonne’s enthusiasm at being called up to serve his country wavers in the face of the apparent dangers and discouraging conditions of service. Usonne begins to wonder whether perhaps his patriotism is wasteful.

No matter the story the writer employs, he masterly returns his focus to his message which is essentially urging that there is a need for a close examination of the fabric of our society, which scrutiny will expose the decay in its thread, stitches and dye. It highlights the collective culpability of both the government and the governed.

In this satirical work, Unoh is a crusader of a literary kind. He sets out to provoke a national self-examination and re-orientation; he is lending his pen to the call for the reclamation of our long-lost sanity as a nation. But, importantly, he draws our attention to the fact that any meaningful change can only begin with individuals.

The urgency of his message seemingly calls for the shocking bluntness with which he delivers it. For instance, one may be troubled by the frequent encounter of the exchange of bribes for official favour and speedy passes on the federal roads but, more so, at the apathy and resulting syncopation in values such as the observation that “Nobody grumbled at the show of shame” (p.18).

The situation is perhaps made worse when we consider closely the setting in which this work is based – the N.Y.S.C Scheme. Here we are confronted with our not-so-future leaders at the critical point of entry into the ‘real world’ already detachedly involved in the system of bribing themselves into or out of any State of deployment. And worse still, when we consider further our individual and collective guilt in the system as a whole; whether overtly or covertly, as when we silently endorse the taking of bribes by the policeman at the checkpoint, or even impatiently (perhaps silently) urging the ‘stubborn’ driver to part with the ‘meager’ sum demanded to allow the journey progress smoothly, or asking or receiving any other undue advantage. The sad truth, though, is that what is saved in time and convenience is lost in conscience.

The abortion theatre drama pulls no punches either in condemning moral decadence. It elaborates the role each of the characters plays in the baby-execution factory: Bayo finds the conscience-bereft Doctor who is assisted by compromising nurses, and girlfriend, Nkechi, submits herself to the cold and cruel instruments, while the rest of the street walks on by. (p.72-73). The story draws out the dangers and stark realities of the procedure in its very gripping and gory details so that it comes as quite a relief that it is only a dream; between Bayo and his pregnant girlfriend there is still a chance to make the right decision.

The work reaches a climax when the system of numerous illegal roadblocks and artificial administrative bottlenecks at emergency wards, bribery and corruption, strike actions in response to self-serving governments et al begins to backfire as Inspector Emenike attempts to get help for his bleeding fiancée. (P.103-104)
In attacking the ills of society in this outspoken and brazen manner, the writer manages to milk wry humour out of an otherwise depressing state of affairs.

It is also very interesting to note that Unoh’s Midnight Angel does not attempt to provide all the answers or nag out the effects of every course of action. Unoh simply leads his readers through a long corridor to an open door and leaves them to walk through it themselves. In this way he endorses nothing. In my view, this ‘open door’ style is very effective. Indeed, a moral lecture if delivered too directly can easily become a sentimental trap.

Ironically, though, Unoh himself inadvertently falls into this trap here and there. For instance, one may detect a subliminal willingness to blame the moral decay in the society on the government. The scale tips a little too much on the side of the so-called suffering masses. Take the writer’s voice speaking through Tunde (The Retentionist) that: ‘when as a leader you do very little to address the embarrassing level of unemployment in the country, it is almost immoral to expect people not to commit crime, most of which is what I call “subsistence crimes”’ (p.94). Elsewhere, it is contrived that a situation where policemen have no ‘roger’ translates to ‘a difficult life on the pittance they (policemen) collected each month from the government as salaries’ (p.101).

Another perspective opens up, of course, when you follow through with the sum of the arguments in Midnight Angel. The writer’s persuasion seems to be that the average Nigerian can hardly afford the moral choice, that doing the right thing comes at no mean price, but that even though there may be no immediately obvious pecuniary reward for doing good, virtue is its own reward. Usonne defends this position in the following words: ‘It has nothing to do with money.’(p.114)

The beautiful thing about Usonne’s conviction is the fact that it is so strong that he is willing to stand alone in his belief in the good and future of the country even when he cannot easily find encouragement in his fellow compatriots (P.113-115).

I am persuaded that there is thus as much justification for this position as for any other.
Although the narrative technique is a bit confusing, in that the author makes use of an omniscient narrator in one or two stories, and, the first-person narrator and central intelligence in others, such that it is difficult to follow the narrative point of view (since it’s all supposed to read as one novel), Midnight Angel succeeds on the whole as a profound social comment with a realistic depth, a truly Nigerian novel capable of arousing the sense of citizenship in the reader while still remaining high in entertainment quotient.

Written by cedarreviews

March 13, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Posted in Critical Reviews