African Classic: The New Tribe by Buchi Emecheta

the-new-tribe

Reverend Arlington and his wife Ginny are not able to have their own children and when a baby girl is abandoned at birth and brought to their doorstep, they are happy to adopt her. A Nigerian woman living in England hears about the story and unable to look after her son, Chester, she decides that the Arlingtons would be the perfect family to provide a home for him. Chester is the only black child in the area and soon as he grows up he can tell that something about him is different. At some point the Reverend and his wife decide that it’s time to let Julia and Chester know about their adoption. Chester keeps having a recurring dream of his people in Nigeria and grows up with the images continuing to play in his head. Chester leaves St Simon without telling anyone where he’s going, driven by the need to find out about himself. While he had been working at the Clinton’s holiday place during the school vacation he had met a Nigerian man and so he heads to Liverpool to stay with them. He finds a job at the local leisure centre where he meets Esther the co-ordinator, and a Nigerian man named Jimoh. He tells him of his dream and Jimoh tells him that he has a calling to return him to find his people, with that he also convinces him to travel to Nigeria where he will be staying with his family.

Chester travels to Nigeria and the events that greet him are far from what he expected. They help him look around for an African king called Oba who had lost his son, and this son could possibly be Chester. They have no luck at all. Later on while Chester lies in hospital with Malaria, no passport and no money, back in Liverpool Esther and Julia meet. Julia has been looking for her brother and eventually tracked him down through Mr Ugwu’s details from the holiday place that he used to visit. Esther had already planned on going to Nigeria to look for Chester and had been given details of where he was by Jimoh. They return to Liverpool, finally giving in to the feelings they have had for each other all that while. Chester gets a visit from Julia and she has a lot to tell him about the death of their father, what happened to her and most importantly, about his real parents who are still very much alive. She also hands him a storybook from Ginny that she had made for him when he was a little boy, in her attempts to keep him in touch with his people. It is when Chester reads the book and sees the pictures that he discovers where what he thought was a calling to Africa actually came from.

 

It’s a quick read, in some parts the story feels rushed. Ginny’s character is my favourite, her strength as a wife and as a mother. The protagonist, however, is not that easy to get into and fall in love with, it feels as though the writer did not bring out all of him. There could have been a lot more about him that she could have given us and so a lot of him ended up being a little vague. However, the challenges that he faces as a black child are real and easy to understand, making it easy to sympathise with him. His quest for his identity also makes a lot of sense, as a black face in a pool of whites. I also liked the way Emecheta portrayed Lagos, in its real appearance and how Chester couldn’t belong. That is expected, he had grown up in a completely environment, different culture and beliefs and if he had immediately fit in like a missing puzzle piece, it would have killed the story. The New Tribe has a straightforward plot and it’s written in simple and easy language. It’s enjoyable and I would recommend it to people who enjoy African literature that does not focus on racism on heavy issues that stereotypes associate with the genre.

emecheta

Buchi Emecheta, (born Florence Onyebuchi Emecheta) is a Nigerian author, born in Lagos in 1944. When she was ten she won a Methodist Girls’ High School scholarship where she remained until she left school and was married by seventeen. She accompanied her husband to London where he was a student and at after being in an unhappy marriage, she finally left him at the age of twenty-two. While working to support her five children on her own, Emecheta took an honours degree in sociology. She worked as a library officer for the British Museum in London, then worked as a youth worker and sociologist for the Inner London Education Authority and later as a community worker. Her success as an author grew and she travelled around as a lecturer and visiting professor. Her works include The Bride Price, The Joys of Motherhood, A Kind of Marriage, Second-Class Citizen, Destination Biafra, The Slave Girl and many others. She has also written plays, articles and children’s and young adult stories.

 

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