in my mind, because i am notoriously illiterate when it comes time to read the back covers of books, this was going to be a novel about biafra. and i thought to myself—”oh, i loved Half of a Yellow Sun, i will read this one as well and it will be excellent”.
the back of the book clearly says it begins a year after biafra. and that’s fine—it is more about post-biafra coups and reconstruction and the shock of aftermath, politically, but really that is all backdrop for this one woman’s story, beginning when she is eleven years old.
unfortunately, nearly every character in the book is more interesting or likable than her, so the reader is put in a really frustrating position of being stuck with the crappy tootsie roll center of a perfectly good lollipop.
because i am capable of reading the back copy when i focus, i see now that, This novel charts the fate of two Nigerian girls, one who is prepared to manipulate the traditional system and one who attempts to defy it. the manipulating-character is actually pretty great. her story and background and situation are very compelling, and even when she is being horrid, she is still a character you wanna root for. the defiant one—our heroine—is defiant in a way that i do not care for. she is not an unrealistic character, but she is not someone i admire, but i think the reader is meant to. even when she does brave or noble acts towards the end, her behavior in other parts taint any soft feelings i may have otherwise had for her. i understand her frustration, as an educated, middle class citizen of a culture that had infuriating double standards for women in legal, political, familial, and professional contexts, but she is frequently argumentative without being productive, and engages in unnecessary small battles that i suppose are meant to lessen her desire to win big battles that are not within her reach. some would see that as triumphing within one’s own enforced limitations, i see it as wasted energy and fruitlessly making enemies. i am being vague because i don’t want to ruin any plot for anyone, and i liked this book more than it sounds like i did—i am probably just being nitpicky, because i had such high expectations, given my past experience with nigerian fiction.
…and African authors, it seemed, were always having to explain the smallest things to the rest of the world. To an African reader, these things could appear over-explained. Harmattan for instance. You already knew: a season December-January, dust in the eyes, coughing, chilly mornings, by afternoon sweaty armpits. Whenever I read foreign books, they never explained the simplest things, like snow. How it crunched under your shoes, kissed your face both warm and cold. How you were driven to trample it, then loathed it after it became soiled. All these things! No one ever bothered to tell an African! This never occurred to me, until an English friend once commented on how my accent changed whenever I spoke to my Nigerian friends. That was my natural accent, I told her. If I spoke to her that way, she would never understand. She looked stunned. “I don’t believe you,” she said sincerely. “That is so polite.” After I’d come to terms with how polite I was being, I became incensed at a world that was impolite to me. Underexplained books, books that described a colonial Africa so exotic I would want to be there myself, in a safari suit, served by some silent and dignified kikuyu, or some other silent and dignified tribesman. Or a dark dark Africa, with snakes and vines and ooga-booga dialects. My Africa was a light one, not a dark one: there was so much sun. And Africa was an onslaught of sensations, as I once tried to explain to a group of English work mates, like eating an orange. What single sensation could you take from an orange? Stringy, mushy, tangy, bitter, sweet. The pulp, seeds, segments, skin. The sting in your eyes. The long lasting smell on your fingers…
why couldn’t it all have been like that??
there is a lot that goes unmentioned in this novel. in some chapters, time passes swiftly after long drawn-out chapters where everything is explained in great detail. this left me with an uneven reading experience. but this is just blathering. it’s a good book, i mean it.