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.
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.
Wine And Water was published and launched in 2017.