“ Every citizen in this district is filled with hope. (…) New immigrants have seen the realization of that hope for the African-American icons. And they are here to participate in that dream, including the fictional characters discussed in the following chapters. The family comes from Nigeria- the most populous country in Africa, containing at least 300 ethnolinguistic groups (…) Perhaps this family may have had ancestors who were middle-men in facilitating the trans-Atlantic slave trade. But that, and skin pigmentation are the only physical similarities they conceivably share with the American descendants of slaves. Thus, begins the age-old dance of assimilation, exchanging old stories and acquiring new ones. In a bygone era, connections formed in ethnic enclaves over time, perhaps a generation or more, would have eased these transitions in a welcoming and appropriate manner. ”
When Ola, a Nigerian sixteen-year old girl who just moved to Harlem, finds out that she is pregnant with twins, she knows that she is at a crossroads and that she will have to make it on her own for her family. What she doesn’t know is that she is not as alone as she thinks and that the events in her life will sometimes be the fruit of fate and magic.
The story of Ola’s family is also the story of her coming of age, from a sixteen-year old young girl who wakes up into a tough, unknown world to the mother who, despite her stubbornness and her desire to control everything, discovers that not everything is controllable and that magic is as much a part of life as everyday reality. Above all, she will learn that, to quote one of the chapter titles, “life is a team sport”.
In this novella, Zeena Nackerdien explores the rich cultural identity of the mythical district of Harlem starting with a sensible and beautifully written introductory chapter called “Hope” in which we discover the roots of the multi-ethnic community living there. This district, which is a micro-universe in itself and home to a remarcable diversity of cultures and individual (hi)stories, is the setting of the story of Ola’s family that witnesses how magic can intrude unsurprisingly in daily life.
This “tale of bullies and deception” combines fantasy elements with Yoruba traditions and realistic descriptions in modern-day Harlem to show an extraordinarily diverse yet tough world, in which fantastic fairies sing their pipes to clear the world from bullies, and bring love back to life.
The African Piper of Harlem by Zeena Nackerdien
9-781725911109 / Createspace Independent Publishing Platform (to be published on September 15, 2018)
Review by Ioana Danaila
Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in African Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She published a collection of short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish, and teaches English language and literature to highschool students in France.