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.