Title: Her Eyes Tell Our Stories
Author: Omotayo Sangofadeji
Publisher: CB Fred-Andre Ltd.
Reviewer: Lolade Ademola
A woman on a mission with words as her armour is the first thought that pops into your head after reading Omotayo Sangofadeji’s debut story collection.
‘Her Eyes Tell Our Stories’ is a brilliant collection of short stories written by financial consultant, writer, poet and founder of Fight Against Rape, an NGO. With this book, the reader is charged to drop everything previously believed and follow the strong characters that flock every page of this work of art, with reckless abandon.
The book opens to a gripping start as the author skillfully lets the emotional state of the protagonist jump off the pages right into the readers’ hearts. In the opening story, ‘With Love, Zoey’, we hop into a web of love, heartbreak, betrayal, regrets and envy. It is a romantic tragedy helmed by lead characters, Nonso, whose narration keeps us glued; and Zoey – the woman whose strong personality complemented the already powerful situation. This story follows a conversation between Nonso and Michael, the evident antagonist. Their present-day is unraveled slowly through unnerving conversations and delivered simultaneously with a delve into their history. By the story’s end, we are left breathless. Not hurt, not happy; just breathless. Even months or years after reading this story, its piercing effect will still reverberate.
The second story, which is the title story, cements Omotayo’s identity as a writer skilled in the art of telling profound stories. Any feminist will resonate deeply with the struggle and the pain in each of the sub stories. ‘Her Eyes Tell Our Stories’ is a collection of stories within a story that shows series of events that mirror women’s struggles in today’s traditional world. With each of her characters – Abimbola, Asminah, Ademidun, Amaka, Afolashade and Anita, the author addresses key struggles and softens the blow of the truth by ending on such a dreamlike note with Amanda. As a reader, irrespective of your view or location on the gender battle spectrum, you will resonate with every story as you turn the pages.
With ‘Her Eyes Tell Our Story’, I see Omotayo as a feminist who has internalised it all and is keen on sharing her thoughts and ideologies through the least judgmental avenue for sharing information – stories. Whether it is on rape as experienced by Ademidun, archaic burial rites undergone by Amaka or teenage marriage foisted on Asminah, the author took key issues frequently discussed and created what can be referred to as a storytelling masterpiece for feminism.
Building up on the high momentum set by the preceding stories, ‘The Mistress’ delivers a worthy climax, a tale of infidelity and shame cascaded by a narration that is typically unexplored. We experience life, love and choices through the eyes of The Mistress, Toun, a young woman in love with a man that belongs elsewhere – with a perfect family consisting of his wife and children. Toun’s devotion is evident, her sacrifices excruciating for the reader. We are forced to root for her, a decision we stereotypically wouldn’t take in real life if we were looking in from the outside. By the end of the story, Dioso is still the antagonist, but one we desperately want to keep with the lead character. As always, the writing style sucks you in and doesn’t free you until the final words of the story are unraveled.
‘No Extras’ delves into the health scene; it is a story about how thinly a health condition can stretch the fabric of a family. The lead characters, Yosola and Deolu, are a couple desperate for a child and battling with the shame, pressure and frustrations the unwanted situation brings. When their blessing comes, it is bittersweet, and we are plunged into this emotional rollercoaster while learning about health, life, love and perspective. With the extras, the author shows how judgmental society is to anything perceived as different; how we hate rather than appreciate or care for difference; how life isn’t necessarily in black or white. With the extras, I see classic shameful situations more objectively, and as a reader, I am prompted to do better with inclusivity.
Omotayo seems to have deep love for exploring the uncomfortable issues in our society as in the story, ‘In Life and Death’, where she leaves her readers on the edge of their seats by telling a painful story about sibling love gone wrong. We follow the Omolara character as she shares intimate details of a sore affair. In the end, it might be hard to accept her story as she tells it, but the reader will at least empathize with her situation.
Overall, ‘Her Eyes Tell Our Stories’ is an impressive debut. The stories make you dig deeper, forcing you to examine your prejudice. With her engaging dialogues and knack for descriptive writing, we can aptly state that Omotayo is skilled at translating emotions into words. Save for the opening story, which is a little difficult to get into because of its opening verbosity, by the time we turn few pages of the book, we start to understand that every line, every word and every pause is all part of a literary masterpiece that is out to intrigue your mind.
‘Her Eyes Tell Our Stories’ is a great read for lovers of contemporary African fiction and I look forward to reading more from the author.