Haunting Identity in The Icarus Girl

41shf-js-cl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Then, without opening her eyes, she was caught in the crisp outward shattering of glass as the mirror crack’d from side to side, fying out of its flame. At the centre of it all was TillyTilly, manically screaming : ‘Seven years’ bad luck ! Seven years’ bad luck ! SEVEN YEARS BAD LUCK !

“What are you ?” Jess cried out from her safe place.

Tilly’s reply : “I don’t know ! You know ! You know ! “

 

8 years-old, sensitive, moody, very imaginative, Jessamy Harrison she feels constantly alone and unadapted. Bullied by her schoolmates and sometimes misunderstood by her mother, Jessamy cannot find a place of her own and a person to get along with. But eveything changes when goes to Nigeria to visit her mother’s family. From the extreme heat to the Yoruba language, Jessamy discovers a new, mysterious world which is also hers, paradoxically, and which will show her another perspective on herself and her life.

Jessamy receives a new, Yoruba name, Wuraola, to connect her to the cultural heritage and make her ‘become’ Yoruba. After receiving this name, Jessamy meets Titiola, a Yoruba girl her age with whom she finally seems to resonate. As the story moves on, the reader grows sceptical about Titiola’s intentions (as she is both very kind and very provoking and mean) and starts to question her very existence, until the friendship between the two girls provokes damage and crisis in Jessamy’s family.

Inspired by both English classical gothic stories and Yoruba traditional tales about the double identity of twins, Oyeyemi’s first novel makes the reader question not just “who is who” (Jessamy being also a mixed race), but also why it is so complicated sometimes to understand and accept who we are and why we are this or that way. The cultural difference between the Yoruba town and London, the two languages eventually becomes an extra obstacle to get over for Jessamy, who is already not at ease with her own unsociability.

The ending, however, accounts not only for a major change of perspective on her mother’s family and, therefore, on her own origins, but also on what growing up really means; much more than a modern allegory about cultural tensions, it is accepting some difficult realities about oneself, like fears likely to turn into haunting ghosts, that becomes one of the major lessons of Oyeyemi’s novel.

The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

9780747 578864 | Bloomsbury | 20o6

Review by Ioana Danaila


Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France

The Fishermen

Omi-Ala was a dreadful river. Long forsaken by the inhabitants of Akure town like a mother abandoned by her children.… It surrounded Akure like ans snaked through its length and breadth. Like many such rivers in Africa, Omi-Ala was once believed to be a god : people worshipped it.…)This changed when the colonists came from Europe [and] began to see it as an evil place.

It became the source of dark rumours. One such rumour was that people committed all sorts of fetish ritual on its banks…. Incident after incident accumulated over many years, tainting the history of the river and corrupting its name so much so that- in time- its mere mention of it triggered disdain.

Thus begins the story of four brothers, Ikenna, Boje, Obembe and Benjamin, told by the last. Like all storytellers, Benjamin sets the atmosphere, the tone, the characters and the plot. The listeners, more than the readers, have no other choice than to submit to his charming story.

Benjamin, the narrator’s alter ego and author, Obioma’s persona, narrates the dissollution of his family from the moment Ikenna, the elder brother, decides to fish in the forbidden river. Abulu, the fool of the village, happens to be in the vicinity and predicts that he will die by the hand of one of his brothers.

The narrative voice creates a surrealist story woven by childhood, temptation, adventure and madness. The dissolution of the family is inevitable and tragedy seems to form a snow-ball effect in their lives. In the 1990s Nigeria, in a context of political and social tension, the story of Benjamin’s family works both as a mirror and as an allegory of human life and struggle through History and personal fate.

The construction of the plot is inspired by African tales and fables : each chapter is woven around an image (the river, the spiders) which leads the listener (and the reader) to the grand finale. Obioma’s great first novel, much acclaimed on the international stage, reveals human madness, ill-doings and immense tolerance wrapped in a brilliant tale.

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

978-0957548862 | ONE | 2016

Review by Ioana Danaila

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Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France

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Waiting for An Angel

It was in the ships that the mouth-locks were used, so that they [the slaves] couldn’t console each other and rally their spirits and thereby revolt. To further discourage communication, no two persons of the same language were kept together: Mandingo was chained to Yoruba, Wolof was chained to Ibo, Bini was chained to Hausa. You see, every oppressor knows that wherever one word is joined to another word to form a sentence, there’ll be revolt. That is our work, the media: to refuse to be silenced, to encourage legitimate criticism wherever we find it.‘”

Nigeria in the 1990s. Military régimes follow one another, yet no-one seems to take an interest in people’s daily lives, their despair and their lack of perspective.

Lomba, Kela, Bola, James, Joshua, all writers, journalists or students, are some of the characters who try living lives as normal as possible in the maze of arrests and “official” killings hanging above their heads. As the story unfolds, they will all be bruised in one way or another by the abuses of the régime, by its violence and ignorance.

Helon Habila’s novel is more than a piece of writing: it is a chorus of voices sometimes harmonious, sometimes discordant; sometimes screaming for freedom to speak, sometimes choked by despair. Starting from Lomba’s experience in prison, the story unfolds backwards, telling the experiences of his friends which echo in his own. All have loved; all have had dreams of writing; all have learned to live with their despair and go on hoping.

More than just a character, Lomba is the author’s alter ego who goes from one story to another, from one experience to another, from one character to another to give the reader vast spectre of a society in which intellectual value is feared and chained precisely because it is freedom-bringing. More than a political piece of criticism, the novel is a close look at the contemporary world, the perspective of exile and the luring media.

Journalists, poets, writers or students, the characters share a common identity: masters of words and speech,  against the system that punishes truth-tellers (Ken Saro-Wiwa’s death is highlighted).

Victims of the political establishment, their mission is to struggle for their voices and voice their deep struggles… a mission they succeed at, for the intertwined lives of the characters form the polyphony which the reader is invited to listen and meditate upon.

Waiting for An Angel by Helon Habila

9780393325119| 2004| W. W. Norton & Company

 

Review by Ioana Danaila

IMG_0478-2Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France.

The True Prison | Ken Saro Wiwa

It is not the leaking roof
Nor the singing mosquitoes
In the damp, wretched cell
It is not the clank of the key
As the warden locks you in
It is not the measly rations
Unfit for beast or man
Nor yet the emptiness of day
Dipping into the blankness of night
It is not
It is not
It is not

It is the lies that have been drummed
Into your ears for a generation
It is the security agent running amok
Executing callous calamitous orders
In exchange for a wretched meal a day
The magistrate writing into her book
A punishment she knows is undeserved
The moral decrepitude
The mental ineptitude
The meat of dictators
Cowardice masking as obedience
Lurking in our denigrated souls
It is fear damping trousers
That we dare not wash
It is this
It is this
It is this
Dear friend, turns our free world
Into a dreary prison

Life Must Go On

After the civil war, Imperi, a small Sierra Leonean town, tries to rebuild the life it used to have. Three characters, Kadie, Moiwa and Kainesi, come to their native town waiting for the return of the younger generation. Everybody is willing to start anew.

However, after a while, their goodwill and energy cannot resist material precariousness: the town lacks food and clean water, the teachers don’t get paid on time; the corruption of local administration officers ravages, rapes and accidents destroy the fragile peace and hope of the townspeople.

After the resounding success of A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah’s second novel is a story of hope and deep humanity. Beah imposes a powerful, lyrical tone in which suffering and sorrow are always transformed into hope and compassion; his characters are all the more powerful because they struggle not only to survive, but to keep their dignity and the cohesion of their community. It is a story of people doing their best to pass on their values, a story told both with gripping lucidity and poetry.

The oral tradition of Mendé language and culture permeates the novel and gives it a particular music and rhythm, and the very plot seems to follow the pattern of an oral story, with a circular structure framed by stanzas that remind the reader of the endless renewal of human hope despite the dramatic turns of fate. Life must go on, and people must live to tell its tale. As the Mendé say,

“It is the end, or maybe the beginning of another story. Each story begins and ends with a woman, a mother, a grandmother, a daughter, a child. Each story is a birth…”

Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah

Sarah Crichton Books | 2015 | ISBN: 978-0374535032

Read our interview with Ishmael Beah here. 

Review by Ioana Danaila

IMG_0478-2Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France.

The Rising of the Ashes | Tahar Ben Jelloun

In this country the dead travel

as statues and flames

They wear eyeglasses

and stretch out their scorched arms for flight.

We say they became invisible

Left to offer the living the years that remained of their lives.

Thus only years litter the desert: a century, more.

Lives for the taking, as jackals gorged on lives tremble to say:

“Death is not fatal just as night is the sun’s shadow.”

From The Rising of the Ashes by Tahar Ben Jelloun. Copyright © 2010 by Tahar Ben Jelloun and Cullen Goldblatt.

Tahar Ben Jelloun is a Moroccan writer. The entirety of his work is written in French, although his first language is Arabic. He became known for his 1985 novel L’Enfant de Sable. Today he lives in Paris and continues to write.

An African Saga

Ségou, south-centre of present-day Mali, cradle of the Bambara people, 18th century.

At the the center of Ségou is Dousika, a nobleman close to the Mansa, the regional king, embodiment of power and wealth, everything the Ségou society stands for. It is Dousika, whose household comprises three wives, one concubine and four sons, through whom the narrative unfolds and splits.

In this society in which life is organized by rituals and customs, the inevitable course of history draws Dousika’s sons away from his house to make their own way in the world. Exploring three generations, the novel follows the sons’ destinies in the larger context of the expansion of Islam in Saharan Africa and the slave trade in the Americas.

Bambara, Peul, Ashanti, Moors, French, mixed races, the novel is a melting pot of ethnic groups, languages, religions and customs permeating the narrative substance and making the reading experience both rich and colorful. Maryse Condé pays homage not only to her African ancestors, but also to a world of infinite power, sophisticated culture and influence, emphasizing the diversity and complexity of Saharan civilizations, often too poorly known by the modern public.

The immense research behind this novel weaves itself into an intimate knowledge of African history—a primary reason Ségou is often called “the African saga.” Yet, set aside its historic frame, Ségou is also a novel portraying eccentric and passionate characters; from mighty Dousika to Nya, his fiery first wife; from the short-tempered Malobali, the son of Dousika’s concubine, to the utterly good slave Nadié. All of them bring their own insights to the multi-faceted human fate, half free, half contaminated by history.

Ségou by Maryse  Condé 

Editions Robert Lafont |1984| ISBN:2-221-01197-X

 

Review by Ioana Danaila

IMG_0478-2Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teach

 

Come Away, My Love | Joseph Kariuki

Come away, my love, from streets
Where mankind eyes divide,
And show windows reflect our difference.
In the shelter of my faithful room rest.

There, safe from opinions, being behind
Myself, I can see only you
And in my dark eyes your grey
Will dissolve

The candlelight throws
Two dark shadows on the wall
Which merge into one as I close beside you.

When at last the lights are out,
And I feel your hand in mine,
Two human breaths join in one,
And the piano weaves
Its unchallenged harmony.

Joseph Kariuki is a Kenyan poet. Born in Banana Hill, Kenya and educated both at Makerere College, Uganda and Cambridge University, England. His most famous poem is an ode to former Kenyan president, Jomo Kenyatta.

The Sun on This Rubble | Dennis Brutus

The sun on this rubble after rain
bruised though we must be
some easement we require
unarguably, though we argue against desire.

Under jackboots our bones and spirits crunch
forced into sweat-tear-sodden slush
now glow-lipped by this sudden touch:

sun-stripped perhaps, our bones may later sing
or spell out their malignant nemesis
Sharpevilled to spearpoints for revenging

but now our pride-dumbed mouths are wide
with wordless supplication
are grateful for the least relief from pain
like this sun on this debris after rain.


Dennis Brutus (1924 – 2009) was a South African activist, educator, journalist and poet. 

On Destiny | Chris Abani

Destiny isn’t a deck of cards stacked up against you.
It is the particular idiosyncrasies of the player, not the deck
or dealer, that hold the key.
Personality always sways the outcome of the game.

–From Becoming Abigail by Chris Abani