Associations. When I put the book down, a little of Oedipus Rex came to mind, a little of Romeo and Juliet, a little of A Thousand Splendid Suns. However despite all the remembrances, the book was a new shocking but captivating story that explored the associations of ethnicity, religion, politics and sexuality.
The story’s movement is always in the background of Northern Nigeria even though it is mainly centred in central Nigeria where you are brought into the intersection of the lives of Binta Zubairu and Hassan aka ‘Reza’, an uncanny association seeing as the latter is a street thug thirty years the junior of the former, a widow of fifteen years.
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s introduction, even while itself speaking of a puddle, introduces you into the puddle of politics, religion and love in Northern Nigeria. It’s an unfortunate history, that of the endless variance between Nigeria’s two foremost religions Christianity and Islam and this book shows you the likeness of its effects on the people who live in its hot zones – Maiduguri but most importantly, Jos.
The violence and loss that Binta and her family experience in Jos is what leads her to the fringes of Abuja- Mararaba, to be exact. There, for a while of about 15 years, she settles with her niece Fai’za and granddaughter Ummi with occasional visits from her remaining children who include, Hureira, the hot tempered and Munkaila the well to-do.
The best thing about this book to me is the synchronous growth of the characters with the history of the country and how each individual character tries to deal with all these forces placed on them.
Binta and Reza’s story are the limelight. Their relationship riding on the fact that each of them had troublesome relationships with their corresponding relations – Binta and her strained relationship with Yaro, her first son whose name tradition could not let her speak, Reza, whose mother was a prostitute working in Jeddah.
Somehow fate works to bring them together to fill the roles of the people they needed most. At the beginning when I spoke of Oedipus, it kept ringing at the back of my mind. What if the Binta just wanted her first son back? What if Reza simply wanted his mother? The circumstances that bring them together create an unusual relationship which is consummated.
Yet those are not the only things affecting these two characters. There is that Mallam Haruna fellow who because of some unusual attraction to the widow uncannily calls curtains on the whole affair. The manner that Abubakar presents Haruna makes you loathe him. You wonder what his mission in life is.
Yet he’s not the only one that affects the relationship between Binta and Reza. There is the issue of the politicians, pulling the strings, using and disposing of people as they please. Like the Senator boss. When you read this story and look at this man, you somewhat feel helpless as a normal citizen. If the works are being controlled by a few older, well connected, well sourced people, what hope is there for the younger and the poorer not connected to them?
Fai’za’s story speaks to a lot of things. The one particular thing that spoke to me was the pervasion of homegrown art and literature in Nigeria. Her crush on Nigerian star actor Ali Nuhu, her consumption of Soyayya novels which are steadily delivered by her friends showcase this and in a small way show us why Nigeria’s art is big on the continent.
The sadder part of Fai’za’s story is her “sepia dreams”. The ethnic politics of the country led to her loss of a beloved brother Munkaila, whose face, as time goes on, she forgets and is drawn into near madness. A budding artist who uses art to vent, forgetting Munkaila’s face becomes problematic.
There are noble characters in the book, such as Ustaz Nura whose approach to religion is that of a continual cleansing such that there is little room for condemnation or judgement. There is a deeply engaging part of this book as regards religion/spirituality.
At the beginning of the tale, Az Zahabi’s “The Major Sins” is a highlight on Binta’s table but her indiscretions somehow lead to a time when it’s at the bottom of a pile of books. Binta is religious but struggles deeply with this attraction to Reza. It’s unwitting that all the while even in her sin, her consciousness of sin but her helplessness to prevent it is present.
The book is quite a journey. The characters are deeply human and are deeply present with you. Doesn’t matter whether you’re in the gang controlled San Siro, or the Senator’s plush residence drinking tea just for the fun of it. You realise humanity is both wicked and desperately trying to be righteous. Questions posed are whether we become who we are because of our circumstances and this book pretty much agrees to this, for very few of the characters are driven by a pure need to be good.
There’s so much to chew on this volume. So much to say yet inexhaustible but for sure, it does give me a clearer picture of Nigeria and makes me sad about the intricacies of life and makes me wonder, that stranger you passed by today, do you even have a clue how complex their life could be, beyond that smile or that hijab or that key swinging?
It was a compelling read.
This paperback version of Season Of Crimsom Blossoms is published, in April 2017, by Cassava Republic. The image is a Google one. The title is not yet avaibale on our online bookshop, but copies of it can be ordered for by contacting us by way of e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), or through our social media channels (@TTPAfrica).