Black SundayBlack Sunday by Tola Rotimi Abraham
My rating: 3/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne Star

I did not believe in love, in marital love, in righteous men or justice.

this book is cold and sharp, but it’s a little janky in its construction.

i’ve had a pretty good track record with nigerian fiction, so i was really looking forward to this debut, HOWEVER, while there are many positive aspects to applaud, like its compelling themes, strong writing about uncomfortable topics, and some admirably unflinching character work—rich and complex individuals with all of their flaws on display, the way the novel was structured kept pulling me out of the narrative and ultimately left me struggling to see it as a fully-realized novel rather than a series of occurrences that only occasionally communicated with each other.

the story is told in the alternating first-person POV experiences of four siblings; twin sisters and their two younger brothers, taking place over the course of 19 years as their family experiences financial hardships and they are abandoned first by their mother, and shortly thereafter by their father, leaving them in the care of their grandmother. the book depicts their individual struggles on their paths to adulthood, however, the time spent with the characters is uneven—the novel is broken up into four big chunks in which each sibling is given their own smaller chunk, until the fourth and final chunk, which is sisters-only, no boys allowed!! i’m not sure why the brothers were left out of the final part, but even when they were present, the sisters’ stories are more prominent (and more interesting), and the brothers’ voices weren’t really well-differentiated; they kind of blurred into one male blob for me, much more so than the sisters who were, you know, actually twins. i also had difficulty with the time jumps, they were a bit disorienting, and i found myself struggling with trying to pinpoint the characters’ ages and also struggling with how these stories fit together into one cohesive story. it reads very episodic, there’s very little interaction between the siblings, and not much overlap between their stories. there are some similarities between the sisters’ stories, centered around the specific difficulties females experience, but there’s no clear through-line here, it almost reads like an outline of a novel, missing all the transitional bits and narrative connectivity.

there’s a lot of meat here to chew on: poverty-based hardships, predatory men, transactional relationships, religion and hypocrisy, abuse of power, weakness and ruthlessness, but it felt discordant—a series of small meat-plates rather than a satisfying or focused meal.

however, there are some gut-punch moments that are absolutely worth your time:

I was a parentless teenage girl living with my grandmother in the slums of Lagos. Beauty was a gift, but what was I to do with it? It was fortunate to be beautiful and desired. It made people smile at me. I was used to strangers wishing me well. But what is a girl’s beauty, but a man’s promise of reward? What was my beauty but a proclamation of potential, an illusion of choice?

All women are owned by someone, some are owned by many; a beautiful girl’s only advantage is that she may get to choose her owner. If beauty was a gift, it was not a gift to me, I could not eat my own beauty, I could not improve my life by beauty alone. I was born beautiful, I was a beautiful baby. It did not change my life. I was a beautiful girl. Still, my life was ordinary. But a beautiful woman was another type of thing. I had waited too long to choose my owner, dillydallying in my ignorance, and so someone chose me. What was I to do about that?

so, not outta the park just yet, but definitely a writer to watch.

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