Book Review: Arrows of Rain by Okey Ndibe

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“Rain has two faces…It can give life, but its arrows can also cause death.”

Publisher: First by Heinemann Educational Publishers

Year: 2000

A prostitute has drowned after being raped on the beach.  The last man who spoke to her is Bukuru who everyone calls a madman. The police take him in as the suspect and two weeks later he’s put on trial and investigators conclude that he’s responsible for other rapes and murders of prostitutes that have been going on at the same beach. After the first day of court the judge decides that Bukuru should be assessed by a second psychiatrist. This appointed doctor arranges a meeting with Femi, a reporter who wrote a piece on the case and whom Bukuru asks for to tell his story.

Bukuru tells the whole story from when he was born to when he took his post at the Monitor paper. He later meets a prostitute whom he becomes close to. He decides to write her story and he discovers that a well-known man, Isa has returned to her life. Bukuru abandons Iyese and fears taking the risk of having Isa come after him. He also doesn’t want her reputation as a prostitute linked to him. The same Isa later rapes and murders her, after she gives birth to a boy and she, believing that the baby is Bukuru’s, doesn’t let Isa into the its life. The child who survives with a slash on the leg is taken to an orphanage. When Isa is appointed the leader during a coup, Bukuru believes that he will come after him and so he leaves everything and lives on the beach as a madman until the day of his arrest. After Femi reads the story he travels back to his own personal story and how he found out that he was adopted. Trying to sort out the puzzle, with the knowledge that he was in the same orphanage that Bukuru had mentioned, and that he bears a scar on his leg, could it be that the madman is his biological father?

The beginning of the story starts with a bang, a case to follow, questions are raised and there’s a mystery to follow, a truth that seeks to be found. This just moves the story forward at a good pace and is worth following. The plot! Ndibe did well, I have to say. All the events are so well connected, cohesive, interesting and entertaining. There’s nothing in his sketching of reality that is incomprehensible, all the information he throws at us is at good doses and he never digresses. There are books that have parts that can be skipped and nothing’s lost but in this one, he made sure that every line has something to offer and isn’t to be lost. Even when the active voice changes, we are kept on track with the story, all the events breeze through the story so easily and smoothly and interact so impressively with the rest of the story.

The main character is a rollercoaster, one minute he’s worth all the sympathy in the world and the next, he’s just an annoying coward who one can feel really needs to get a steel pair. However, it’s such a good way of making him and everyone around him believable and gives space to love and hate him. All the characters are well-developed, their attitudes, appearances, defects and relationships are spot-on.

Ndibe’s way of placing topics such as prostitution, power and fear is worth a cheer. There’s a way he shows the ways in which prostitutes start, live, struggle, are treated and it’s not in a manner that begs for pity but more in a realistic and honest way. The power hungry and the ones who are victims of that power also play a role, but what I like is that he didn’t throw all of that in our faces in a way that would’ve made his story what people label another “typical African story.”

I just cannot fault this book in any way, and the end is also unpredictable. Once I reached the climax, I thought I could predict how it would all turn out but the author knew how and when to stop. I would recommend this book for people who prefer a mobile story, events going forward with revelations along the way. African literature lovers will enjoy this and anyone just looking for an entertaining story.

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(Image: OkeyNdibe)

Okey Ndibe was born in 1960 in Yola, Nigeria. Before moving to the US he worked in Nigeria as a journalist and magazine editor. He earned his MFA and PhD degrees from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. In 1988, in the US, he was the founding editor of the award-winning magazine, African Commentary which was published by the great Chinua Achebe. He also worked as a professor at several colleges, he has contributed many poems and essays to a various publications. Arrows of Rain is his first novel, and after it he published the novels, Never Look an American in the Eye, and Foreign Gods, Inc.

Pretty in Pink with Jackie and P!nk

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Pages and melodies – bliss!

“Falling in love is like getting hit by a truck and yet not being mortally wounded. just sick to your stomach, high one minute, low the next. Starving hungry but unable to eat. hot, cold, forever horny, full of hope and enthusiasm, with momentary depressions that wipe you out.” – Jackie Collins

“The truth about love is it’s nasty and salty
It’s the regret in the morning, it’s the smelling of armpits
It’s wings, and songs
And trees, and birds
It’s all the poetry that you ever heard.”

– Pink, The Truth About Love

In the Darkness

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Silence has sirens

Cardiac sounds burn to the grounds

Romantic nights of sore endings

Stars quit their morals

Skies betray the eye’s trust

The moon wears his lewd ornaments

Around his thick fleshed neck

He makes a deal with the hungry sun

“Hide until greedy graves feed”

 

Eyes are bleached in pale shadows

Unblinking mistresses of the face

Silence has melodies

When the sockets run free in bloated seas

 

Darkness dips its toes in sloppy pores

Death becomes a smiling whore

Gyrating its thighs on the laps of our beloveds

Kissing their eyes with its sooty mouth

 

Here we are the ones left behind

Buffoons circling the eyeballs of coffins

Death and life juggling our tender lungs

Gambling with the ones we breathe for

 

In this long and short while of endings

Hearing silent sirens

Here we are with nothing

But a night gone with everything

Book Review: Oil on Water by Helon Habila

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“We believe the sun rising brings a renewal. All of creation is born anew with the new day. Whatever goes wrong in the night has a chance for redemption after a cycle.” 

Publisher: First published by Hamish Hamilton. Now Penguin Books.

Year: 2010

The wife of a British oil engineer has been kidnapped and two journalists are recruited on a mission to find her. Zaq is an infamous journalist who was well-respected in his times, while Rufus is a young reporter who’s craving to make a name for himself in the industry and he’s a great admirer of the ageing hack. They set off on what may seem to be a straight-forward mission but the unknown awaits them as they journey into the dangerous oil zones of the Niger Delta.

At first there are other journalists added but after they return to Port Harcourt, Zaq and Rufus find themselves carrying on to find the truth. They end up being guided by an old man and his son, moving from one abandoned and destroyed village to another. Along their journey, people have been taken by the military, death has left a scent behind, the waters where people depended for fishing have been contaminated, the air is heavy with the smoke from the burnings and animals and plants have been killed. Zaq contracts a disease and his love for the bottle does not help his condition, yet he’s determined to carry on. Rufus makes a great deal of discoveries about the darkness and corruption in the world he has entered and learns about the events that led to the disappearance of the woman he’s out to find, while his life could be in danger and there’s a possibility of him losing his fellow journalist.

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Oil on Water expresses the real catastrophe that took place in those oil-abundant regions. There’s a good illustration of environmental decay, the struggle for power, political corruption and the destruction of communities that were once closely knit and thriving. Habila writes the story by jumping from one period to another; relating the present and then shifting to recalling memories. It is a good form of writing and most of the time, if you are willing to keep up and pay attention, it makes the read interesting. However, there are parts where you can find yourself lost in some of the temporal shift. At one point the main character is in a terrorised village and the next page you find yourself in a different location that sounds similar but you have to focus hard to find out where exactly he is. The protagonist is realistic and very easy to root for. At times he appears to be a novice who may have found himself doing the job because of circumstances far from passion yet along the way he seems to have the knack for the job. A combination of fear and guts, which makes him an acceptable character and one that people can relate to. The ending was not as thrilling as I had expected, I was left wanting more and hungry for real excitement. It could have left me with my mouth hanging, a major discovery that grabs balls with sharp nails but there was just something flat about the ending. Overall, the entire story itself is well-written and there’s a good flow that pulls you into the pages so that you want to see what happens next.

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Image: British Council

Helon Habila is a novelist and poet, born in Nigeria. He did his studies of English Language and Literature at the University of Jos. In 2001 Love Poems, one of the stories in his short story anthology, received the Caine Prize for African Writing. His debut novel, Waiting for an Angel, came out in 2002. It went on to win the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best First Book (Africa Region). After winning the Caine Prize, he was invited to be the first African Writing Fellow at the University of East Anglia, where he stayed as a Chevening Scholar, and later as a PhD Candidate. Together with Parrésia Publishers, he started a publishing company called Cordite Books in 2013. Some of his works include Measuring Time, Dreams, Miracles, and Jazz: An Anthology of New Africa Fiction, Prison Stories and many more. Habila divides his time between Nigeria and USA.

A Review of Lolita

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Author: Vladimir Nabokov

Publisher: Olympia Press

Year: 1955

“A man with an unfulfilled childhood romance whose obsession with a young girl leads to a trip on the wheels of tragedy.”

 

It took me a while to finally get a copy of Lolita because I was afraid of what I’d find in it. I had only heard a few comments about the read and they weren’t exactly pretty. When I read about the difficulty of defining aesthetics in art, an example was given about the difficulty in forming a definition when (im)morality is thrown in – can an art form still be defined as aesthetic if it challenges our morals? An example of such was Lolita and I thought maybe I didn’t really want to be that person who’s known to enjoy such books. Then I said to myself, ‘What the heck? Let me read it and I’ll judge it for myself.’ I read it in a less than a week and that, my dear friends, I only do when a book has me by the sack.

Humbert meets his first love, Annabel while they’re still young and unfortunately she dies from typhus, leaving him in a spell of an ‘unfinished childhood romance.’ The English teacher has a good career but also spends some time in a mental institution. He has an obsession with young girls; nymphets, who remind him of Annabel. He marries an adult woman but the marriage fails and he moves to the US. He views a room in a widow’s house, Charlotte Haze, out of politeness and does not plan to stay there until he sees the twelve-year-old daughter, Dolores – his Lolita. Humbert falls in love with the child and records these feelings in his diary, including his hate for Charlotte. The widow confesses her love for him in a letter and gives him two choices; to continue living in the house if he feels the same way or move out if he doesn’t. To be close to his nymphet he marries Charlotte. Humbert contemplates killing her just to be with Lolita but soon a discovery of his diary by Charlotte leads to the events of her death in an accident.

Humbert takes the child on a journey far from home and around the country. At the first motel they stay in he tells the child of her mother’s death. Humbert claims to be seduced by the child and that is when the sexual activities between the child and the paedophilic step-father begins. He gets a job at Beardsley and she enrols in a girl’s school. His obsession is so intense that he dictates everything about her life so as to keep her all to himself, depriving Lolita of a normal childhood. They go off on the road again when he suspects that she’s being unfaithful and on their trip there seems to be someone following them. Lolita falls sick and ends up in hospital, but after her stay there Humbert finds that she has checked out with an uncle. He searches for her for two years and at seventeen she finally writes to him sharing her state of life and asks for money. Humbert traces her place and after the visit he goes on to find the man who had taken his Lolita from him. When he finds the man, nothing stops him from taking drastic measures for revenge.

 

If the story was not narrated with this much humour, the marrow of this story would have just appeared more disturbing than it actually is. Lolita is the kind of read that joins the circle of books that without even being read, is already exposed to criticism and questions of morality. However, when you do read it you find that the sadness and shock are carried well through by the strength of the Nabokov’s use of words in an exquisitely artistic manner. He plays well with language; the use of intimation to hint at certain shocking and disgusting details. The rape, paedophilia, incest, murder and pornography are not always explicitly mentioned, rather he uses literary shadowing to refer to them in a way that makes the reader appreciate his method and at the same time completely get what he is on about.

The story itself is an unpleasant and unlikable topic but the art is one to be appreciated. What could be a bit of a miss is that the narration comes from Humbert and everything is from his perspective. It is more about his passion for the child and for every foul move he makes it’s almost as if he wants us to understand where he’s coming from, which is inexcusable for the kind of crime he commits. We also don’t get to know Lolita that well, all we know is the way that Humbert sees her – through the eyes of a man with a twisted mind. We don’t get to actually get a picture of how she feels about the whole arrangement or hear her voice. All we get is what Humbert tells us, which is biased and that’s all we have to go with.

Overall it’s an excellent piece of literary art that draws us to a world of moral corruption that is not alien to real societies where monstrous men like Humbert do exist. It also manages to demonstrate the imprisonment of a child’s mind or victim by painting a dead-end picture where it appears that the only road they can take is the one with their predator.

I would recommend this book to readers with a sense of humour and a willingness to read the book without bringing any preconceived ideas to the table, and actually give the pages a chance to turn. There may be parts while reading where you might think, “Why in hell’s a**e am I reading this?” but you may not be able to resist carrying on.