By Tony Onyima
A review of three books – Two Plus One, English Incorporated, and Secret of the Egret and other stories — written by Azuka Onwuka, a columnist with Punch newspapers, at the public presentation of the books at Radisson Blu Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos.
I really consider it a privilege to be invited to partake in this literary feast. Book writing is one of the most emotional and engaging undertakings in life. It is mentally demanding and drains you of your being. Therefore, when one in a challenging environment such as ours churns out three books in a row, that person should be commended. We are all here then to harvest this triple heritage of Azuka Onwuka. My assignment is to attempt a review of these books and perhaps offer an opinion.
The first book Two plus One is an intriguing novel about marriage, trust and infidelity. The story is set in Nigeria and the central figures are Kene and Victoria. In 201 pages and twelve chapters, the author weaves a love story about Kene and Victoria whose marriage has “all the trappings of a perfect union, eliciting envy and admiration”. They are real people who face real issues. They face the storm of childlessness, withstand it and weather it. They face financial challenge and overcome it. They face sexual temptations and come out fine. But when the temptation of trust comes, their marriage receives a knock. Will it survive? That is what the author tries to unravel in Two plus One. And you need to read the book to find out. The title – Two plus One – is an obvious rhetorical question, which mathematically is equal to three. But emotionally the answer equals heartbreak, confusion and betrayal.
Infidelity is every marriage’s worst nightmare; it is a betrayal of trust and a break in the bond of marriage. The author painstakingly demonstrates the effects of infidelity on marriage through the eyes of Kene and Victoria. In this book, the author creates an intricate plot to the point of excruciating suspense and successfully holds the reader’s attention up to the last page through his deft use of flashback technique.
The style of the book is absorbing and gripping. The author’s power of description is compelling and his relentless use of local phrases is unique. The very first sentence in Chapter One grabs your attention and creates the thirst in you to know more.
“Victoria’s chest rose and fell rapidly. Her heart pounded gbim, gbim, gbim. Her head felt too heavy for her neck. Her legs wavered as if they were those of a midget bearing the bulk of a giant. Then it seemed as if a river had burst its bank: warm tears gushed down her cheeks” (page.1).
This type of vivid description draws in the reader to follow the story. The author consciously and deftly deploys some local words to good effect. Such words like akwunakwuna, tufia, koro-koro, 419-ed, mugu, akpu, orishirishi, mammywater, otumokpo, ogbanje, Papa ejima, ofe akwu, danfo, area boys, oga, flasher, omugwo, tear-rubber, post-office face, etc. are generously used in the novel without apologies. Most times, their meanings are contextually derived.
In a past article, the author rationalizes this technique. Hear him: “Every non-English word must not necessarily have an English name. Ogbanje is ogbanje; abiku is abiku; chi is chi, banga is banga; edikaikong is edikaikong; suya is suya. You can explain them but you don’t have to force an awkward English name on them. If they gain currency, they can go into the English dictionary as new words.” One of the strengths of Two plus One, perhaps, lies in this creativity.
Onwuka has also tried to promote the use of grammatically sound words and expressions in his novel. For example, we see the use of “flip-flops” rather than “slippers” on page 31. We see the expression “the gift of the gab” (page 52) instead of the wrong but common “gift of the garb.” On page 46, we see that people can “demand bribes” but cannot “demand for bribes.” On page 27, we see that when a woman loses her virginity, it is said that she’s been “deflowered,” not “disvirgined”. When one throws more light on an issue, the person is said to have “expatiated on it,” not “expantiated it” (page 27).
Onwuka has also used the novel to talk about some social issues like the booming baby factory: looking at the causes and solutions (pages 23-26). He raises the issue of communal format of raising children which has given way for the personalized method (pages 44-46). He talks about the curious issue of Christian men having to undergo three types of marriage with the same woman: traditional, civil and Christian (pages 28-30). He raises the issue of demonization of Egypt for the enslavement of the Israelites without any praise for Egypt for saving Jacob and his family from hunger and starvation as well as providing refuge for baby Jesus when Herod wanted to kill Him (pages 108-110). All these issues are raised in passing while the story flows.
Published in Nigeria by Nesma Xandria Limited, the book is well proofread and edited. It was printed on cream paper and pleasing to the eyes. This book is good for young people who are courting, newly-weds and even those who have been married for many years.
The second book, English Incorporated, is a vital English handbook for every one who speaks and writes English. First published in 2001 and completely overhauled and revised in 2019, this is a useful book about common mistakes in written and spoken English. The author is at home with the book, having studied English at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and the University of Lagos, where he is also pursuing his doctorate degree in English. So the book was written from a position of authority.
In well-laid-out 13 chapters and 266 pages, the author takes the reader through topics like confused words, non-existent words, expressions that should never be altered, tricky expressions, frequently mispronounced words and modern trends in English.
As the author rightly points out in the preface, “language is an embodiment of communication, correctness, beauty, style, class, order and delivery. And for a structured and dynamic language like English, which has absorbed many foreign words and phrases, anyone who employs it in communication must ensure that it is used, not as the user wants, but as the language demands”. The quality of a message, he insists, is diminished if the language is faulty. And I agree. The author also laments that the mass media, which should be a trusted source of learning good English, has ironically become the greatest platforms of promoting the so-called common mistakes and errors, because of a drop in thoroughness and attention to details. This book is, therefore, a vital guide to proficiency in the use of English.
Chapter One discusses the right and wrong use of 86 confused words with examples from the Nigerian media. The right and wrong use of words like severally vs several times, taxing and tasking, vicious circle or vicious cycle, late and blessed memory, ordinance vs ordnance, driving licence or driver’s license, delay tactic or delaying tactic, you and I/you and me, abide with/abide by, fatal and ghastly, lend and borrow, each and one another, etc., are carefully explained with examples.
To show the dynamic nature of English, the author in Chapter 12 lists some words and expressions that have undergone changes. For example, the sentence – ‘everybody loves their children’- is now accepted as Standard English, even though language purists still reject it. Also, the plural forms of some words that were adapted from their Latin plural are changing. So these days, it is fully accepted in Standard English to use “stadiums” as the plural of “stadium.”
Expectedly, the book is written in simple, flowing and conservational style laced with humour. The copious use of examples gives the book a unique strength. Being a book on the use of English, I spent some time looking for errors but couldn’t find any. Perhaps, I didn’t find because I couldn’t recognize errors because I am not an English expert like the author. Overall, this book is recommended for everyone irrespective of your discipline or age.
The third book, Secret of the Egret and other Stories, is a storybook that seeks to fill a void. African children know more about Superman, Spiderman, Captain Planet, Bob the Builder, Alice in Wonderland, Alladin, and the like than African stories and heroes. In the absence of the moonlight tales that were passed on from parents to their children, today’s children are disadvantaged. Their world is filled with Western books and cartoons. They know little about Africa. This colourful book is, therefore, a child of circumstance.
Like every parent raising children in cosmopolitan cities, the author was faced with the challenge of finding storybooks with African background for his children. After searching at many bookshops in Lagos, he noticed that African storybooks for children were few. “I was challenged to write stories for our children and other families whose children may face the same challenge”, he said. So far, the author has written 33 stories for children. Consisting of three illustrated stories, Secret of the Egret and other stories is the first batch of the 33 stories. Each story is set in an African country and teaches the wisdom in African sayings, as well as the capital cities of countries, important personalities and key natural sites. At the end of every story, the meanings of some new words and expressions are explained. Key facts presented in the story are also stated and explained.
The book is printed in colour, which makes it more appealing to the children. Almost all the pages are illustrated to make the book more interesting for children.
Secret of the Egret is a book that every child of between 6 and 12 years will love to read and read again. Even older children will love to read it and get a lot of value from the volume of information packed in it. Even as an adult, I learnt a few things from it.
On a final note, Azuka Onwuka, in my view, has done a great job by producing three books which cater for the needs of the family and different segments of the reading public. He has also tried to remind us of the importance of reading from the cradle, because a reading nation is a leading nation.
Make sure you beef up your library with these books. Thank you.
— Onyima, former Anambra State Commissioner of Information, Culture and Tourism and former Managing Director of Sun Newspapers Limited, is the Managing Consultant of Bridgehead Communications Network Ltd, Abuja