By Olamide Babatunde
Whatever type of reader you are, opening a book with a story that touches a part of your life can be engrossing and comforting. Just because you can relate to the events that happen therein can bring on satisfaction with the writers ability to engage the human mind.
The literary enterprise is one that mirrors the society through a reflection of life, ideas, norms, values, religion and language. Across the globe, over the borders, these things unite the society in more ways than one, irrespective of colour or race. When Theresa May, the newly appointed UK Prime Minister, visited the Queen, she knelt in obeisance to Her Majesty, which would seem like an act common to Africa, particularly in Nigeria, but it showed that good values are not limited to any race or ethnicity.
From daily life, scribblers are apt to write about experiences of people stemming from varying life issues. In times past, writers have hinged their works on subject matters that have to do with racism, war, western influences, colonialism, poverty, power tussle, corruption and gender issues. Iconic authors in Nigeria, including Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Akachi Adimora Ezeigbo, late Elechi Amadi, Buchi Emecheta, among others, have all addressed these themes and more in their writings.
Buchi has focused on feminism. She has told of her struggles as a single mother as it were through the lives of her characters. Over the last two decades, more contemporary writers have emerged with individual style and experiences which provide between-the-line histories and indelible narrative techniques. They emerged with beautiful stories nothing short of spectacular as they tread the paths of the old canons.
From Achebe to Adichie, we now see a recurrence in the themes of war, feminism, poverty, corruption and cultural conflicts all over. Each writer from the new generation has explored these themes in ways relative to their experiences so much that readers have to understand where they are coming from. These third generation writers, though, have succeeded in bringing more excitement into Nigerian literature by gathering accolades from the international audience.
The Joys of Motherhood, written by Buchi Emecheta, broaches on gender imbalance and enslavement. Much of her works border on this issue, how women are represented based on their sexuality. In this most acclaimed novel, she provides validation for women through a successful motherhood experience. Another author, who touches the subject of feminism in her novel entitled Everything Good Will Come, is Sefi Atta. She subtly protests the repression of women as well as corruption.
Feminism came to life since the Aba women riot and got introduced into the Nigerian literary scene by Flora Nwapa. Though she never considered her self a feminist, she wrote about women empowerment. She became the forerunner of modern African literature and the first Black African publisher when she founded Tata Press. Her works include Efuru, Never Again, Idu, One Is Enough and Women Are Different.
In all, Flora told of the struggles of women, their successes and the search for equality. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie needs no introduction. She is the most famous of the new literary school whose works have received a wide audience spread across the world. She has also tilted towards feminism and influences of the western culture in her Americanah novel.
She once stated she wouldn’t mind been called a feminist writer. “I’m very feminist in the way I look at the world, and that world view must somehow be part of my work,” she says. Other themes she has grazed are of the Nigerian civil war, its attendant effect during and after. She details it in her Half of a Yellow Sun, which Biyi Bandele translated into a movie. In Purple Hibiscus, she upturns a religiously fanatical life of a father who becomes abusive leaving his children to find a way away from his dangerous uncontrollable streak of outburst.
Equally, Morayo is set to protect her self and her sister from abuse from her family as she grows up in Ibadan in Yejide Kilanko’s Daughters Who Walk This Path. The story lends a voice to women who have had to suffer in silence within a community where they are subjected to physical and mental abuses in every way possible.
Another family taken by Chigozie Obioma tells the tale of four brothers, conflicts, and redemption on the heels of a prophecy that tore their lives apart in his novel, The Fisherman. The Spider King’s Daughter, written by Chibundu Onuzo, the young Nigerian who got signed by Faber & Faber, a renowned British publisher of literary fiction, takes on poverty and the social caste system of the Nigerian society. Her fascination was piqued when she got talking with a street hawker in her teens. Bordering on corruption, she exposes the gap between the rich and the poor in the Nigerian society. Issues of globalization, race and racism also preoccupy her thoughts.
For a more familiar theme, Elnathan John, a Caine Prize finalist, centres his debut novel on religious and political violence. There is hypocrisy, corruption and religious extremism in focus and Dantala, which translates to the title of the novel, Born on Tuesday, is at the heart of it all. Like it is in the Nigerian political scene, killings abound for misconstrued reasons, the tension is high and John’s characters are tied to a horrendous fate. He succeeds to veer the reader away from the connection of the northern part of Nigeria to Boko Haram; instead, he reveals that the love, friendship and family bonds in these parts are equally strong.
In 2012, Chika Unigwe’s novel, On Black Sister’s Street, won the prestigious NLNG literary prize. The bilingual writer wrote her novel in a mix of pidgin, Yoruba, Igbo and British English of the distasteful and degrading lives African women live in Europe as hookers. She did not so much as condemn outright the four women her story revolves around but gave a voice to their plight. Unigwe in thigh high boots visited the Antwerp red light district of Belgium to research for her novel.
And there is Tricia Adaobi Nwaubani, the first to highlight the 419 phenomenon in her novel, I Do Not Come to You by Chance. The Washington post described it as “a lively, good-humored and provocative examination of the truth behind a global inbox of deceit”.
Latching unto the agitations from the Niger Delta region in south-south Nigeria, Helon Habila trips his readers with a sad stale of abduction, destruction, violence, poverty, militancy and a tour guide into the lives of journalists. He pictures what life is about in a poverty stricken land where ironically the source of wealth dwells. Oil, been the natural resource turn poisonous to the soil and water making life difficult for the local community dwellers. To survive, all manner of terror and violence take shape.
Meeting with Igoni Barrett takes us on a journey into an imaginative world where he captures interestingly what prevalence is given to white skin over the black in his novel. He is very apt with playing out how physical changes can affect the psychology of a man. His debut novel, Blackass, goes on to scratch racism and issues of the social media in the eye. Barrett was nominated for the FT/Oppenheimer Funds Emerging Voices Awards and shortlisted for the 2013 Caine Prize for African writing.
Under the Udala Trees is Chinelo Okparanta’s debut novel, where she digs into the same-sex relation trend. Her novel came out just before the bill against it was passed. Quite touchy a subject, yet Okparanta hung on to her stubbornness to get her story published. This is not something we read often from a Nigerian author. Her position on the homosexual community according to Zaynab Quadri, a book critic was more or less written to please the diasporic readers other than indigenous Nigerian readers.
Themes of love, the unknown, betrayal and surprises come to the fore in Ifeoluwapo Adeniyi’s on the Bank of the River. Published in 2015 by Panamachi Books, the author wants to the readers not only to learn from Enitan her main character but to live life as it comes. Like Elnathan’s Born on Tuesday, set in the north, another story of love, the lack of it and the attendant intricacies unfurls in Season of Crimson Blossoms. This could be an Epic story emanating from life in the Muslim community in Nigeria.
It tells of a 55 year old widow, Binta, who hopefully holds on to the love of a thug against all prescriptive religious dicta on which the community is established. She needed to break free from the chains of societal influences that inhibited the rights of a woman and sees them merely as objects, constantly she also rejects patriarchy but at a cost. Other characters in the book rebel, too, against the community, the very essence of being. Adam Abubakar, the author reveals what power an African society wields over its people in this post colonial setting and arms his characters with a power beyond dictates.
Authors may continue to search for within and around them what the new preoccupation should be, what new grounds are there to break and what more to talk about. For Professor Ahmed Yerima, he says, “Writers should work on issues that are relevant to the society. We can write stories that will affect the imaginations of the society so that they can later turn into cartoon characters or movies.”