Friday, 23 January 2015

B is for Blom Blom – Identity Crisis in Bokoru’s Memoir


Attempting to write a memoir at the tender age of twenty five is an ambitious endeavour, but Julius Bokoru has told a tale in this book that is quite memorable.
In the early chapters we are introduced to the fishing village of Ikibiri in the Niger Delta, where we are swept into the village life and plush scenery. This writer has an eye for detail, and he employs it keenly.

Bokoru’s narrative gets assertive at some points, ‘… men began to give her way, for the greatest embarrassment a man could have, after a shrunken manhood was to be beaten by a woman.’ 
This was a reference to his maternal grandmother, Kenan.  He came from a line of strong women as his mother was equally reputed to out-fight men and women in her teens. Even his dedication attests to this: Hetty Lewis, though she is no longer around. Mother, Tigress, Angel.

Bokoru- Memoir
This is a story of a tigress who was sorely scratched by love’s claws. It is the early 80s, she is in the beginning of a nursing career and in the heat of a relentless wooing, the beautiful, light skinned Hetty chooses her 'Baltimore' suitor over her town’s man.  Their romance buds and blooms with the fervour of a rose bush, but less than a decade later, the stalks of this nuptial tree begin to wither and decay. 
Bokoru shows us that through the rot and decay, his mother stood tall to give her children a good upbringing.  The author shows an uncanny sensitivity for the trials of a single mother, his avid eye for detail helps us appreciate her not as a wayward woman as many people are wont to conclude, but as a human being whom circumstances got the better of.

The book is written in two voices, that of the narrator and the inimitable voice of one who is no longer there. Of his conception, we read: ‘We were both blue and brokenhearted, and when a woman is brokenhearted, the only man that could have her easiest was an equally  brokenhearted man. Because shared disappointment creates trust, trust creates preference, and preference opens every heart, whole or broken.’

It is incisive to note that Bokoru situates every chapter in the context of world happenings for the given year or period. This is not a bad technique, except that it does not so much establish relevance within the character’s lives as much as it gives the story a plausible timeline.

A recurring thread in the book is the search for identity. Beginning from when they move to Marine Base, the author says: ‘If poverty could assume an ethnic concept or nationality or identity, then those of us in Marine Base, including my family, would be povertarians’

It is here that one gets intrigued and sometimes moved to tears as a young Julius starts school for the first time, and learns the alphabets with Aunty Eunice(their pastor’s wife) who taught the nursery one pupils that A is for Akamu B is for Blom-Blom, C is for Canoe, P is for Papa and so on! 

Ingenious examples, yes. But the real mover is young Julius’ inability to say what PAPA stands for.  His confusion only gets worse when he asks his mother who a daddy is. If daddy is the head of a family, is he like Jesus? Or is daddy a way of addressing any older male? Recognition comes to Julius throughout the book in painful installments, including an episode in school where children are asked to state which of their parents they resemble. Oh, the dilemma of claiming to look like a daddy he has never met as opposed to a mummy whose complexion is as distinct from his as night is from day!

We also learn of our character’s love for his homeland. The Ijaw and Calabari tussle is mentioned with more than a fleeting glance, and we see that the author evolves into his identity as a native of Ijaw land. We learn of the creation of Bayelsa from the three major towns Brass, Yenagoa and Sagbama, and the impact that this has on his family.
When his family moves to the new Bayelsa, it is unclear however how they transition from ‘povertarians’ to becoming property owners whose tenants come to bid farewell with an offering of a basin of meat. Small thing, certainly; if an editor had taken enough time to work on the book.

The Angel That Was Always There is a beautiful and touching story with so much potential; no doubt the reason why it was selected as one of the ten novels published under the Nigerian Writers Series in 2014. I am saddened that Parresia publishers could do themselves and this young author the injustice of not being thorough. The book is riddled with typos and other errors. I have no doubts that this book may not be the best marketing tool for Paressia. 

The cover is absolutely fantastic though; Victor Ehikhamenor never disappoints in that regard.

In spite of the flaws, I have no regrets about reading it. 

Monday, 5 January 2015

Finding Love Again - A Review

I'm starting the year with some romance. Ominous, you think? Well, hopefully in a good way. Enjoy. And, Happy New Year friends!

Finding love again by Cioma Iwunze-Ibiam
Finding Love Again
113 PAGES.
Published by : ANKARA PRESS, 2013

Finding Love Again is one of the books in Cassava Republic’s Ankara Press Romance Series. 
The opening scene of the book is as captivating as it is heart breaking; a young bride is alone at the altar after her groom elopes with her maid of dishonor. From the opening sequence we are at once gripped with compassion for our heroine; Kambi, as we hope that this storms passes soon for her.
This radio presenter and blogger who moonlights as a performance poet(this part got me interested), is young beautiful and confident, she is every girl’s babe, and the girl any right thinking man would want to take home to meet Mama. And this is exactly what Beba, our hunk of a love interest decides to do when after years apart, the two of them run into each other again, on the picturesque Obudu mountain resort.

One snag though. They are to be a pretend couple, just long enough for his father to give him hints to find his birth mother; this is a promise that can only be kept when our mixed race hunk brings home a fiancé.
We are told that the Author is a hopeless romantic; this is evident in many passages which virtually drip with romance.  ‘…“When he kisses me, my spirit soars, my heart waltzes in my chest and my breathing pauses. I become a goddess.” She stopped, opened her eyes. Was she being too open about her emotions, she wondered. …’
And here’s another: ‘… Beba had never looked into a woman’s eyes like this before. He felt at once that he should preserve the moment; put it on pause with a remote control. His heart pounded against his chest as he reached out and touched her jaw. Kambi’s eyes closed instinctively. He leaned over, brushed his lips against hers. She sighed,…’

Passions jumps at you from the pages; our hero and heroine are on fire for one another. It is so hot that you can almost feel the heat melt the clothes off their backs, but if you had looked forward to some moan provoking, toe cringing, steamy sex, sorry; Kambi is a girl bent on protecting her virtue, and Beba is ready to stop when she says No! Where did they find this type of man, mbok?
In the tradition of your typical romance fiction, our lovebirds get thrown apart when the passion is at its hottest, and we find our heroine struggling to cope with her radio show and her blog. Our hero faces some tough luck in his search for his Caucasian birth mother, and he pines for the love who he never told his true feelings on account of their sham engagement.

This reviewer wished however that some angles were better explored in the book. Such as the search for Beba’s mother, Kambi’s strained relationship with her mother, etc. and I wondered why our hero always danced the moonwalk!

Bibi Bakare of Cassava Republic did say at a book festival in 2013, that this was a new wave of young writers who were telling the stories of men who would not necessarily fit the stereotype. This is very true for the hero in Finding Love Again. None of the chauvinism and offensive machismo for Beba; he is all muscles, charm and respect. And our heroine is quite the independent woman too, who manages to complete her poetry collection and fall in love at the same time.

Despite a few editing errors, It is a captivating read; I kept clicking till I read the last word! I’m sure if/when they decide to go into print, it will be a page turner till the end.
The Publishers claim they bring a different kind of romance, I'd say; buy one or all of the six books in the series and find out.