A Conspiracy Of Ravens – Othuke Ominiabohs.

Othuke Ominiabohs’s A Conspiracy Of Ravens.

The politics of Nigeria’s oil industry has always been as fascinating as it heartbreaking. The intrigue, corruption, and betrayal that is oft reported, to be afoot, in the media and elsewhere, is expertly articulated in Othuke’s ‘A conspiracy of Ravens’.

The book is written in a fast-paced and humorous way making it quite the joy to read. Also, Othuke is not afraid to slot in a ‘complicated’ word or two every so often throughout the story which lends a certain sophistication to the novel.

This is a book that will keep you glued to its pages until you either must absolutely put it down to attend to an emergency or you have finished reading it.

This review, of Othuke Ominiabohs’s A Conspiracy Of Ravens, was written, for Turn The Page Africa, by Lynn Gitu Turyatemba.

You can purchase a copy or more of the tile from our online bookshop by following this link A Conspiracy Of Ravens.

Questions For Ada – Ijeoma Umebinyuo

Ijeoma Umebinyuo’s Questions For Ada.

Questions for Ada is a collection of poems, but, mostly, it reads like a manual for your healing.

 

Reading the book, it is obvious that Ijeoma Umebinyuo has the uncanny ability to weave magic from her pain and the pain of others. I first saw her poems in those inspirational quotes online, and so I followed her on Twitter. By the time I got a copy of the book, I was head over heels with her personality and her sass. The book, thankfully, did not disappoint.

 

She tackles femininity, masculinity, the lives of women, mental health, colonialism, identity, and so many other important issues in a way that is both brave and compassionate. Many poems are short and poignant, suited to be daily mantras. Others are long and elaborate, especially when she wants to tell a story. Her poems are reminiscent of folklore in some parts, reflecting her commitment to authenticity and preserving our culture.

 

I like to read fast, and then come back and linger over books this good. Yet, for this book, I had to read slowly, savoring it like a good meal.

 

As a woman, reading the poems in “Questions for Ada” was an especially spiritual experience. She chided me for shrinking myself, more than once. She reminded me of my beauty, my grace, my strength, my poise. She knows so intimately the demons that black girls fight: a painful lack of self-esteem, hurt and disappointment from abusive relationships, the pain of heartbreak, the fear of love, the lack of self-love. She is the big sister and the best friend: showing you she gets it, telling you how to get past it.

 

Yet, keeping with the (in) famous feminist cry “The personal is political”, she shows how politics affects individual lives with the way she critiques colonialism and institutionalized sexism. Reading the book, it is obvious that the author is committed to speaking out about all the things that would destroy us as she so aptly described in her TED talk. This is a book I will read until the pages are frayed. A true gem.

This review, of Ijeoma Umebinyuo’s Questions For Ada, was written, for Turn The Page Africa, by Ophelia Kemigisha.

You can order for copies of more of it from our online bookshop by following this link Questions For Ada.

 

Cassandra – Violet Barungi

The cover image for Violet Barungi’s Cassandra.

Set in the Kampala of the late 1980s, and the early 1990s, the story of Cassandra, a beautiful, opinionated, somewhat sensible young woman, is predictable.

Cassandra is entangled in a sort of love triangle with two brothers – one, a famed Casanova, and the other, a stoic and moody Darcy. She chooses the Casanova, Raymond, who is estranged from his wife, has a son but treats her like a queen. Bevis, Raymond’s brother, admires Cassandra from afar and secretly believes his brother does not deserve her at all. He is, however, too gentlemanly to make any moves on her now that she has chosen his brother.

As it turns out, Cassandra’s choice of the Casanova brother is not as favourable as she hoped as she deals with one incident of drama after another. By the time the novel closes, though, Bevis and Cassandra are together and Cassandra is at the top of her career game. It can, thus, be said that all’s well that ends well.

The novel’s author, Violet Barungi, is evidently talented, weaving her words together nicely to form the story. She, also, skillfully tackles the difficult issues of that time in Uganda including the AIDS scourge and civil war making her story relatable. However, she is let down by attempting to pursue multiple storylines that she has difficulty linking effectively to each other. The reader is, thus, left with the task of trying to keep track of which character is which and how they connect to which storyline.

This review, of Cassandra, was written, for Turn The Page Africa, by Lynn Gitu Turyatemba.

You can purchase the book from our online bookshop by following this link Cassandra.

Infinite Wonders – Poetry Potion.

The cover image for the anthology Infinite Wonders.

Almost all the poems in the collection, despite the varying ways they approach life, present to the reader that which is both ordinary and overwhelming; there two lives to a poem. The poem feels like it’s re-imagining itself through the subject it’s chosen to embody.  The poem moves like it’s diving in and out of the water, gaining a slipperiness that allows us to call it “a poem and another thing” after we’ve read it. This, however, does not affect how the poem is received. While reading it, we accept that it’s creating a route to another world right before our eyes, that we playing a part in its fate, that we’re not mere spectators of an unraveling.

 

In her poem, Give Me A Poem Please, Gameedah Riffel argues that a poem is not the final word. It’s also not a single person’s word but a work of collaboration, like in cloud computing. As one moves the cursor to its head, another is changing the original contents of the body. I think this means that the writer has to be ready to let their poem go into the world for good so that it can become (like) whatever it has found.

 

Give me a poem and I’ll the words for you

I’ll swap all the letters around while also twisting the truth.

What’s false will now be believed.

What’s wrong will now be true.

Give me a poem please and I’ll show you what I can do.

 

If we think of that scenario from the “while also twisting the truth” angle, then we start to doubt the authenticity of the final poem. Is the poet a representative of our opinions or theirs? If we give him/her a poem that already bears our truths, how much distortion is he allowed to do? And what’s there to applaud a poet for if all they do is edit an already existing idea?

The poets featured in this collection have managed to create poems that exist as worlds bordering the everyday landscape. The poems are like fences, and you can lean against them as you watch the goings-on of another place. They do not stop you from escaping. Their only role is being present. However, the imagery used by poets like Kylin Lotter, Soma Bose, Ulrike Kissing, Amlajyoti Goswami and Kabelo Mofokeng cuts. It cuts so deep you have to go back and read a poem again to heal. In Goswami’s poem “Star Gazing” for example, the simple act of watching a baby play becomes an inward journey to a world of unimaginable beauty and serenity. Babies represent what has escaped the grip of an adult and now they can only see it in a different body, a little version of themselves.

 

Babies are another universe,

Sovereigns of an unexplored galaxy.

A blink holds time still,

Like gods of another time,

Sitting on lotuses.

 

In another poem about gazing at the sky entitled The Aliens Soma Bose imagines the possibility of another world beyond the clouds. But what makes his fantasy an “infinite wonder” is that the morphology of its inhabitants is upon whoever is looking (“Inside it, there may be many looks like spider, /They may look like big bug or like any creature”. “…..maybe they are robot-like machine! / Maybe they are human-like or of divine doctrine!”).

 

The sky has been a thing to marvel at, from the earliest man to the present. We wonder what could possibly be up there, and if it has a direct influence on our lives. We wonder if there’s anything worth more than space. And for those who have watched SCI-FI films, the question of whether there exist aliens, more advanced in intellect and technology than we are, comes into play.

In some of the poems in the collection, celestial (life) is a major factor; from assumptions to how aliens look to something like “The stars were silver like the fake teeth of an early twentieth-century whore” in Ali Znaidi’s poem Celestial Illumination.

 

Of all the poets featured in this collection, I am most impressed with Kylin Lotter. The imagery used in writing her poems is meant to make her stand out. I love how it feels like she has no option but to become, to shed her skin as she falls from one line to the next, like one going through tree branches. The words make her vulnerable. The words make her honest. The same words that pushed her are waiting for her on the ground. There’s no time she’s not a captive:

 

“Armour”

Let me never be sheltered again.

Let me drown my naivety in my sin.

Let me breathe in the smoke of whim.

Let the flames lick my raw skeleton.

 

“You”

but I –

but you, are just a landscape of pale skin stretched over white bones.

I could spend my days skimming, drifting, with my fingertips

across the dry ice of your subtle flesh.

 

Whenever we let ourselves to get lost in fantasies about far-away lands, we fail to notice the tangible beauty in our midst, in our own lands. I like Welcome Moyo’s poem Eternal Wonders because it makes my point valid. What makes her wonders eternal is that they are “held in between melanin and bone.” The human being, we’re convinced, is to be here forever. His body form might change but he’ll still bear something in him that surpasses all the wonders we could imagine.

 

It’s an unwritten religion to search for infinite wonders outside of us

It’s an unspoken practice to look for eternal marvels in the pastures that lay afar

In fact, very few have told of the rolling riches that quietly reside within us,

 

She says.

 

But, what do you say yourself?

 …

This review, of Infinite Wonders, was written for Turn The Page Africa, by Raymond Lule.

You can order a copy or more of it from our online bookshop by following this link Infinite Wonders

Bare – Jackie Phamotse

Jackie Phamotse’s Bare.

At the beginning of this year, a twenty years year old socialite, Karabo Mokoena, was burnt to death by her boyfriend.

Bare documents what may have led to her demise and also to many other unnamed young ladies that are seduced by the flashy lives led by others on social media, with posts about expensive trips, clothes, fancy food and numerous lavish gifts seduce young girls into a life of being kept women for so-called ‘Ministers of Finance’ or #Blessers, or more commonly, known as sugar daddies.

In the book, the protagonist is told the words; “Relax; all you need is a Minister of Finance in your life, someone who will support your desires” by one of her friends, which is a sentiment we see echoed in many a young lady’s life.

Bare is a story of Treasure, a naïve dreamer who leaves her dysfunctional home and walks straight into the greedy heart of Johannesburg, a city disguised as one where dreams come true and she chases fame and a happy ending which is only shown to be an illusion.

But, building a life in a big city doesn’t come easy and Treasure watched the tall buildings, fancy cars and well-dressed men and women zoom past as they drove north through the city. She thought designer shoes, beautiful dresses, and weaves and asked how she can fulfill all that she desires when she hasn’t started working.

Treasure is taken advantage of by all the men around her for their own selfish needs and this has the effect of chirping away her self-confidence and esteem. Her father’s abuse of her mother and his power over their family, losing her virginity, being gang-raped at a club, and also being raped during model casting. All these tragedies lead her to literally sell her soul to a powerful man several decades her senior and married, one who gives her the lavish lifestyle she craves but he slowly owns her life by taking each piece of her soul.

The author, Jackie Phamotse, highlights why Treasure couldn’t resist money and the power it brought and the reason why she chose to stay in a toxic relationship and with a man that was not capable of loving her the way she needed.

While reading, I came to understand why the character made the decisions she did. I found that I could relate to a lot of what she was thinking.

I applaud Jackie Phamotse for writing a book that is socially relevant and sparks the conversation on what really goes on before and after that fly photo with the fabulous dress and the fancy food has been taken and posted for millions of followers to like and retweet.

This review, of Jackie Phamotse’s Bare, was written, for Turn The Page Africa, by Mable Amuron.

You can purchase copies of the title by following this link Bare.

 

Butterfly Dreams And Other Stories – Beatrice Lamwaka

Beatrice Lamwaka’s Butterfly Dreams And Other Stories.

This anthology is a wonderful and powerful contribution to Ugandan literature.

In these stories, Beatrice Lamwaka questions the internal politics of Uganda while also raising very pertinent issues like gender, PTSD, war, the struggle for education, addiction, bullying, and sexuality – which is considered a controversial topic in our country where homosexuality is illegal.

A few of the stories are about the atrocities endured by the Acholi people during the time the Lord’s Resistance Army was terrorizing the northern part Uganda.

The stories are written in different styles but in a way, one that can best be described as both prose and poetry, and in an honest tone which is most refreshing.

Each story stands on its own merit, providing a few surprises and cliff-hangers along the way.

The titular story, Butterfly Dreams, is a short yet powerful read about Lamunu, an abductee and former child soldier that was returned home after five years. Through the narrator, Lamunu’s sibling, we learn the plight of these child soldiers, the way the war alters life itself, the psychological torment the families of the abducted children go through and the swing from desperation to hope like a pendulum.

She expected you to say something. Something that would make her believe your spirit was in that body you carried around. We wanted to know whether your tipu had been buried with your voice. We had never been taught how to unbury a tipu. We only hoped that your real tipu was not six feet under. We wanted to see you alive again.

But even as she speaks on the horrors and the plight the Acholi children suffered, Lamwaka also shows that all is not doom and gloom. She recognizes that there can be, and there is life full of opportunities and hope after the end of the war as we see Lamunu eventually going back to school to fulfil her desire to become a doctor.

This particular story won a nomination for Beatrice Lamwaka for the prestigious 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing.

I highly recommend this book, it is entertaining yes, but it also sparks conversation on a lot of issues that are otherwise swept under the rug.

This review, of Beatrice Lamwaka’s Butterflies And Other Stories, was written, for Turn The Page Africa, by Mable Amuron.

You can purchase copies of the book by following this link Butterflies And Other Stories

 

Wine And Water – Hannah Onoguwe.

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Ah. Breathtaking.

Turn on your audio player, set it to low, load your favourite romance playlist, pour some wine in a glass and start reading this collection. Pure romance that comes from what we can now call the literary heart of Africa, Nigeria.

Wine And Water is a short story collection by Hannah Onoguwe that is, simply, about love and romance. Love, in Africa. Love, in Nigeria. Urban love stories with little to none of the complications that many African stories are about. It’s not easy finding a concentrated and filling telling of love stories from Africa without the bias of the political, cultural, religious or economic.

Hannah concentrates on love. On the flutters of love, on the discovery of love, on the pursuit of love, on the celebration of love. It is romance through and through.

Twelve stories, let’s call it a love dozen, a love album.

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Hannah has a gift in naming her stories. The titles are short and succinct and each time I finished one, nodded my head in agreement that yes, the title was apt. For instance Live Wire, a tale where a lady moving into a new neighbourhood needs an electrician and unexpectedly finds one in an “electric” man next door.

Or The Unwrapping about a rich girl who knows that all, if not most men interested in her, are after her money and has built up layers around her to protect her from such. How one unexpected man unwraps her fears and layers and opens her up to a sincere pursuit of love.

Or Mad Traffic, where love starts after a traffic jam accident. Or “Friends” where friends unwittingly finding themselves in the friendzone break out of it.

The characters are varied. However, most of the stories are of young love. So you will find many of our characters are either at school or working and finding each other.

There is a strong presence of friendship and family in all the stories. Many of the stories indicate that a good love story has some blessing of kinship/family with it. Brothers and sisters doing favours for their siblings so they can find love; cousins making things easier for their cousins by giving some advice or needed knowledge. Friends giving up some things that their friends can find love. It was peaceable. It was soft on the heart.

Hannah goes to great lengths to purify love in this collection. And not just love. About appealing to general decency and goodness. It is as though it is an appeal to readers that perhaps love can be pure, and guileless. That perhaps people can reach for this goodness.

In one story, Baggage To Love, the pursuer, Lawrence quite unlike any man Amina has met, finds himself falling for someone he’s helping. On one of their first encounters, he finds that she has just quit a bad job and kept her dignity intact but despite it, she’s still jobless. He pledges to help her.

In one of their conversations, simple truths can be learned about decency.

―There was a condition,” she said flatly. She could read from his eyes that he knew what it was even before she went on. ―He wanted an affair and when I refused, he fired me.” Lawrence shook his head slowly. ―They‘re everywhere, aren‘t they? With what I see today, I really admire a girl with ideals like yours, especially when you could have obtained a tertiary education if you‘d given in.”” ―Ideals?” Her voice was strangely sad. ―It‘s not about ideals. I just don‘t think anyone likes being taken advantage of.

I was particularly drawn into a story or two more than I should have because it was close to home. I am predicting when you read you will find some stories that draw you in too close too.

One of them was a love relationship that starts at the end of someone’s life. Aptly titled For the Living.

―I can‘t help thinking…” Her gaze fell from his. ―I feel selfish- crass, somehow- thinking about my love life so soon after…last week.” ―The fact that you‘re thinking of the future doesn‘t mean you loved Kevin any less. Life…is for the living, my dear. You‘ve got to live yours; you have your own part to play.

It draws me in a lot because of this quote but also initially due to the fact that Kevin has Sickle Cell Anaemia. Nigeria and Uganda share as much of the brunt of the terminal illness but little of it comes out in Literature. I appreciate Hannah bringing it into literature, even if the circumstances are anything but pleasant.

Another close to home story can be one we all know of. “Fuck boys” or “Fuck girls”. People who we lose our hearts to without thinking. And regardless all the cautionary advice can’t help it. One such tale is between Ibime and Rekiya. The tale goes a little different this time, in Hannah’s redemptive style. Where, perhaps in that “Fuck boy” or “cheat”, someone did love you.

It is truly romantic, in both meanings of the word, this twelve story collection by Hannah. However it is such beautiful romance. She uses techniques like suspense and misdirection quite well.

All the kissing scenes, are something out of the golden age Hollywood. Innocent. Passionate. So full. You will think about your significant other quite often while you read this book.

Wine And Water is a collection of traditional love stories told in the experiences of characters from urban Nigeria. It is love that happens at the workplace, at school, during traffic, at home, at the wedding etc. It is traditional in that it is love stories told the good old way of lovers pursuing their loved ones. It is traditional in that it is men pursuing the women they love. Some being so cocky, you laugh derisively, some so pure, you awww like a child. Yet it doesn’t make the female characters inert. They are the essence of the stories. Their acceptance, or refusal make the story what it is.

It is a story collection for lovers of love. For those needing a whetting of their romantic, need to read this book.

This review, of Hannah Onoguwe‘s Wine And Water, is written, for Turn The Page Africa, by the eminent Joel Benjamin Nevender.

Wine And Water was published and launched in 2017.

The Audience Must Say Amen – Peter Kagayi.

On Tuesday, June 6, 2017 Peter Kagayi and his friends staged a performance they titled The Audience Must Say Amen. This is Raymond Lule’s impression of the experience.

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I have been present at all of Peter Kagayi’s poetry production The Audience Must Say Amen, from the very first time, at the launch of his debut poetry collection at the National theatre, to the most recent one, at the Goethe Zentrum Kampala. If there’s any I missed, then, I just wasn’t invited. I won’t claim to have been taking keen observation of the changes, if any, in the production since then, but I can identify some of them.

The first time The Audience Must Say Amen was staged at the National theatre, it could easily be called a one-man show. And, that’s exactly what it was. Before this memorable event in the history of poetry in this country, other poets had dared themselves to recite or perform their poems for a period of utmost two hours, and avail a published collection of their work, for those who managed. This happened at the National theatre still, under a poetry platform called The Poetry Shrine. The platform, which got its name “Shrine” because of the hut in which the shows were held, was being managed by Peter Kagayi himself, and a small circle of like-minded friends.

When Kagayi stepped on stage that day of his book launch, he was taking a shot at something he had helped other fellow poets accomplish. This was supposed to be tough, because he had made a name for himself in our small, but growing poetry community as a remarkable performer. But, that was “Kagayi and friends”. He had to do more, to reach for the sun and still stay alive, to go for the peak of poetry performance – the one-man show.

For most of the previous performances, Kagayi did the reciting and the performing, the dramatization of his work. The people who helped him were selected for simple “supporting” roles like dancing behind a projector-screen as the performance for the poem Nightmares, or reading news for the poem The Headline That Morning.

For his most recent show, at the Goethe Zentrum Kampala, however, it felt, sounded, and looked like a completely new piece of work. Despite what has always happened at his – Peter Kagayi’s – previous shows, like the “mandatory” utterance of the word Amen by the audience, what was happening on stage was a reproduction of what most of us had experienced before.
The people Kagayi was performing with mere not mere props but well-built characters with individual powerful stories to tell, and with the ability to have just as much effect on the audience as the main act himself.
The production took a form of a play. Most of the scenes were conversational enough to keep all the characters alive throughout the entire show, and to not bore the audience with the usual uninterrupted recital of poetry.
I believe what set this particular show apart is that us, the audience, could tell that all the performers were enjoying themselves, and not just maintaining a certain posture or movement so they don’t forget the next line they are supposed to say.

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I remember the conversation I had with Alexander Twinokwesiga as we took the same taxi from Kamwokya to the old taxi park. It was about maturity: of the artist, mostly, and then, of course, of the performance of his work. We also shared a couple of bitter words for people not recording videos of such shows for the purposes of better documentation, and archiving for future reference.

In fact, on telling anyone who did not attend, about how the show was, we both agreed that pictorial evidence would not be enough to tell the story as it was. Here we were, two poetry lovers, going back to our homes with all the courage to say, even if nobody asks, that the poetry in our own country has grown. We were proud. We were satisfied. We said Amen with all our hearts.

Dear Philomena – Mugabi Byenkya.

Dear-Ph

Dear Philomena is a story of pain, suffering, torment, brokenness, stepping into a dark pit of the unknown, and, just as you are about to disappear, someone pulls you back. This someone doesn’t just appear out of the blue, they were there with you all the time. Through the pain and suffering, they held your hand, and their presence detected your final steps into that dark pit of unknowns and they were on hand to pull you back.

Imagine going through something that you are almost unable to explain, or, imagine you seeing dead people (literally). You try to explain to those around you, but either; (a) they think you have finally lost your marbles, (b) they pretend for a while that they see them too, just to humour you perhaps till they get wary of the ghost stories, (c) they hang around long enough to prove to you that you need help (except they won’t be the ones to offer you the help, but know a doctor friend of a cousin married to a sister of a guy you met 5years ago on an international flight, whose card you might or might not have but will check), (d) there at the brave ones who tell you straight away there are no such things as ghosts. But, there is that one person, she hangs around long enough to almost take on your pain, they see the dead people with you, or, for the sake of your mentality, they accept that indeed there are dead people right there in front of you and they see them too.

Dear Philomena is a testament of friendship through the good and really ugly, the sort of ugly some wish on their worst enemies. The good is there, but overshadowed by the plain ugly. You may be led to believe it is the story of a boy and a girl (we love these kinds of stories), except, it is not about that kind of boy or that kind of girl.

One could choose to read Dear Philomena from the point of the relationship between Mugabi and Philo as I fondly came to name her while reading the book. It is a long-distance relationship, the kind that Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks have over the phone, in Sleepless In Seattle, but without the mushy stuff. If you were to take away Mugabi’s pain, the endless visits to doctors, the frustrations, the anger, pain, behind it you witness a beautiful long-distance friendship. Though at one point you may choose to see it as a relationship, because you want to believe these two will end up together or were together at some point and one had to move away.

Through the excruciating pain, Philomena is at Mugabi’s side, though not physically, but she is there in spirit. He cannot explain his condition and neither can the doctors, but it stems from a childhood stroke he had, coupled, perhaps, with the trauma of losing his father. The strokes keep coming, he goes on a pillage (pilgrimage of all sorts of medications, traditional and conventional), through all sorts of therapy, trial experiments, sleepless nights. He, at one point, is rendered disable which surprise doctors cannot explain. He has the kind of friends who think he is making it up (including doctors), they diagnose it as being “in his head”, and recommend therapy, the list of friends dwindles down, he is not “fun” to have out with because of his phantom illness, they too grow wary.

He has those who stick around, the ones who say I am with you, I sympathise with you, I am here if you need anything. And then there is Philomena. She almost wears his pain, across the distance, she takes on a second skin, Mugabi’s skin, so she can be there with him to almost carry this cross with him, though it’s not possible.

Reading Dear Philomena, I am reminded of the value of family, and relationships that go with it, relationships with our siblings. Mugabi is living away from his native Uganda, his father is gone, his mother is back “home” and he is living in a different country with his siblings. Some people going through this might choose to return “home”, get treated by family or even taken to a pastor to pray healing into you!

Mugabi stays in the US, his siblings rally around him, especially his sister. She almost takes on the mother role, she attends the doctors’ appointments, monitors his medication, that one point she is able to advise of a medication that had previously had negative effects on her brother. While we don’t read much about Mugabi’s sister, we are left to imagine this bond held between the siblings, they lean on each other.

Reading Dear Philomena in a way makes one feel like they are doing “lugambo”, which in Luganda translates into gossip. We are in essence listening in or rather reading in on these conversations between Mugabi and Philomena, we are eavesdropping in on their communications and during the moments that we are not, the phone calls that we are only told the duration of, even these phone calls, we try to string together and let our imagination run wild. What did they talk about, are their calls interrupted, and who in this day and age has hour long conversations – think of the phone bill (regardless of the popularity of the paaka paaka or tokota business), and, seriously, didn’t we stop having these long calls back in high school?

Nevertheless, these conversations give us a further glimpse into the relationship of Philo and Mugabi, how intertwined their lives are. We are invited into their past, their history and their present, of Philomena’s journey through nursing school to qualifying. At a point, they appear to be having brother and sister conversations, this shifts to what could be perceived as “lovers in conversation”, and then friends. They fill each other in on their days, their lives, milestones, and even love lives, at least Philomena’s love life. She shares with us (with Mugabi) the dates she goes on, and her crushes. We almost want that she goes on these dates with Mugabi and not other guys because clearly they are both just meant to be. But, he never asks her, although he remains supportive. He remains a true friend ready to hear about her dating life and offer advice. We never quite know if Mugabi eventually gets the help he needs, if he gets better or is eventually put on a treatment regime that will see him get better.

The book just ends abruptly, though if it were to continue, I am not sure how the story would unfold. Would Mugabi return to Uganda to seek “alternative” treatment, would he move to the same state as Philomena, return to school, or would the doctors find out what’s “wrong” with him? A very interesting read, highly recommended.

Dear Philomena is written by Mugabi Byenkya, and published, in 2017, by Discovery Diversity Publishing. This review of it is written for Turn The Page by Laureene Ndagire. The title is available for ordering and delivery on our online bookshop and in all our points of sale in Kampala (Orangepine Reading Space and Bookpoint Uganda) for pick up.

Season Of Crimson Blossoms – Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

Season of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

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 (turnthepageafrica@gmail.com), or through our social media channels (@TTPAfrica).