By Henry Akubuiro
Tales of Sorrows, Ndum Egole, Pacific Publishers, 2020, pp.151
When a bad man gets his comeuppance, not many would flinch. But when a good man’s life peaks with vistas of pangs and tears, you cringe at every turn and cry a river at the height of vicissitudes.
As you make your bed isn’t always the way you lie. That old aphorism has been rewritten here. The protagonist of Egole’s Tales of Sorrows reminds us of that on page 144: “I have no parents now. All died. They left me desolate without a relative. My master and his children all died during the invasion of Alaocha City by the soldiers and the war that erupted thereafter. Where do I go from here? I am a stranger in my father’s land.”
The themes of fatality, cruel fate, determination, poverty and political instability echo in this novel. It’s a work that also revisits the tragic essence where hubris plays no significant role in a man’s downfall.
Ibuobi’s sad fate is inherited from his lineage. Omenwanne, his great grandfather, was kind to a fault, yet became a victim of his own goodness. His grandfather, Nweokeoma, and his own father, Ogomegbulam, didn’t fare better, as their forbearance and love for peace boomeranged. Having learnt this curious background from Nnem Diamaka, his grandmother, he decides to avert the disastrous fate of his paternity.
Egole, the author of the novel, prepares the minds of the reader on the tragedies lurking in Tales of Sorrows early. The first character we encounter is “Jimmy, a very neat, lovely dog with beautiful jade-green eyes and Grey coloured, fleshy, smooth skin” (p. 3). Ibuobi’s pet dog was killed by a hit-and-run driver, leaving him disconsolate. With nobody to care for him, Ibuobi increasingly becomes tired of the wicked world.
A new ray of hope appears in the horizon when his grandmother informs Ibuobi of the plan of his father’s friend, Ikwunna, to take him from Amaukwu to the City. “We considered his proposal to take you to the City so that the eyes of the enemies would be taken away from you,” she says. The prayers, incantations and advice offered by his grandmother before he sets out reminds us how culture and moral rectitude commingle in traditional society. The Ezeukwu Festival is another showpiece to relish.
If you think Ibuobi’s relocation to the City would change the course of the tragic event, you are dead wrong. The author merely offers the reader a momentary opportunity to take a deep breath before the ante of misery ups.
Life for Ibuobi, in the City, however, begins well, with his host offering him hospitality as he starts his apprenticeship. Egole’s novel, remarkably, offers us a close view of how the Igbo apprenticeship scheme works, a scheme that has produced many billionaires in the country.
In keeping with the ubiquity of woes in the life of an unfortunate man, Egole uses the remaining part of the novel to perfect the Ibuobi archetype. Wherever he goes, ill luck trails him. His good friend, Chiedozie, the son of his master, gets drowned in a river and he himself gets robbed of huge sums of money on a business trip for his master. A hardworking man, he forges ahead in business, nevertheless, as a freeman, and grows in leaps and bounds.
His sad fate, though, continues as his first wife dies during childbirth and he contracts TB. War breaks out in the country. He survives the war but doesn’t survive the adversities arising from losing everything. You can overlook the slipshod production and concentrate on the subtle fibre of this work.