A Rainy Season by Nnaziri Ihejirika | An Excerpt

Chapter 1: Jude

I met Alex at a cocktail party at the British High Commission. One of those the parties where tickets are sold out well in advance and senior Nigerian government officials paid homage to British officials in exchange for horrible food and condescending remarks like:

“Well, I guess we should be happy NEPA provided power for an hour today. Surely, that’s a milestone for your people, isn’t it?”

The Nigerian officials would grin stupidly and bob their heads like excited zombies.

Alex was introduced as a progressive journalist who was “passively campaigning against the government in power” as my British host, Mrs. Chambery, assured me with no small hint of high intrigue. What exactly was a passive campaigner? In any case, despite my reputation as a government news spinner, he smiled warmly when introduced. I had to wonder why he was wearing aviator sunglasses indoors. Later, I would appreciate the cunning brain behind the jovial countenance and dark shades.

“Are you the same Jude Ezeala who turned a small consulting outfit into Abacha’s spin room?”

“I see my reputation precedes me. As does yours, or aren’t you the same Alex Odutaye who specializes in getting the scoop on which government official purchased a mansion or a sports car and other such important news?”

He laughed where others may have taken offence. We struck a fast friendship.

Naturally, our first few meetings were slightly contentious.

Me, trying to paint a rosy image of the regime. Alex, berating me for propping up the government’s propaganda. He tried to obtain insider information on whether General Abacha was planning to shed his uniform and contest the presidential elections as a civilian in ‘98. I stuck to the official line that the good general was going to retire to his family home in Kano and leave Nigeria under a democratically elected government. I could tell from his disbelieving looks he wasn’t buying any of it. Certainly, I was not, either.

Alex was separated from his wife and I was single, so we spent a great deal of time playing tennis or squash at the Ikoyi Club. Having resolved to get more active, I was glad to have a regular partner to play with. Afterwards, we would enjoy suya and chapman, a tasty cocktail made with angostura bitters, orange soft drinks, blackcurrant juice and slices of lemon or cucumber for garnish. We’d watch the women at the bar, pick the best looking one and make bets on which of us could get a date.

Outside of that, we discussed a variety of topics. Pan-Africanism. Reparations for victims of civil war in Africa. And what Alex liked to call the “stifled polygamous nature of the African man,” his absolute favourite topic. I don’t think his wife shared his justifications, which could explain his impending divorce.

From day one, I was convinced that our meeting was not entirely coincidental. It did not take long for Alex to reveal his hand. We were by the swimming pool bar at the Le Meridien Eko Hotel when he decided to come clean.

“You know, Jude, if you want to do something about this despotic government, you’re not alone.”

I stopped in the middle of singing praises of the government’s public relations campaign to eradicate cerebral meningitis. Alex continued blowing cigarette smoke and sipping his 33 Export beer nonchalantly.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Oh come on, Jude. You believe that bullshit you’re spitting out as much as I believe that Abacha plans to retire next year. How did you get into this PR business, anyway?”

“This is Nigeria.” I shrugged. “A fellow has to make a living. The gift of gab coupled with a buried conscience.”

“Indeed,” he laughed. “I have heard about your student activism at Legon. How you marched on campus with posters denouncing the governing council. Vitriolic letters written to university administrators demanding tuition freezes. You know, stuff that sounds radical and fancy but means nothing once you graduate and need to find a job.”

“It was a little nobler than that, Alex,” I demurred.

“Be that as it may, I’m talking about real action here. You and I know that the biggest obstacle to Abacha’s selfish ambition is a free press. Coupled with a vocal political opposition, we can ensure that enough pressure is put on Abacha to leave office and allow democracy to flourish in the country.”

I was silent, looking intently at my drink.

He continued with increasing vigour. “The group I’m with is made up of people in our age group. We’re looking to provide a haven of escape for journalists, politicians, pro-democracy activists, basically anyone with principles whose life is in danger at the hands of government agents. Shall I continue or are you about to call State Security and report me?”

“Come on, man,” I retorted, “surely you know me better than that. Besides, you haven’t told me anything about this haven of escape of yours.”

“What’s your gut feel about being involved in this project? It’s certainly anti-government and it flirts with the Abacha government definition of treason.”

My heart was pounding in my chest, and a feeling of inevitability was creeping upon me. It was almost as if the door I had been knocking on was finally opening. I had to be sure of Alex, though.

A Rainy Season by Nnaziri Ihejirika | Buy the Book | Read more by this writer

FriesenPress | 2014 |  978-1-4602-4495-1

Ahmed Yerima: An Interview with the Esteemed African Playwright

Ahmed Yerima is one of Africa’s most esteemed playwrights and has written over a dozen award-winning historical plays set in and around Nigeria. Some of his plays include; The Lottery Ticket; Yemoja; Hard Ground; Attahiru; The Trials of Oba Ovoramwem; Kaffir’s Last Game, and more. In 2006, Yerima was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian National Theatre, before that he served as director of the National Troupe. He is currently a professor in Nigeria and has served on numerous arts committees around the world.

ABR: What influenced your decision to use historical and mythical figures in your plays?

YERIMA: Historical figures are very dramatic, very interesting…because these historical figures lived a long time ago, history has set up a template for them that they can’t leave: a wicked king remains a wicked king, he killed eight wives he killed eight wives, he killed his son he killed his son. So I have a set structure to work with. Also, most of them are dead so I can add to the stories that already exist about them, I can manipulate them to some extent. The major problem is finding a way to use these characters to say something new to a different generation. So when I use historical figures, I am trying to twist, expand and extend them so that they create meaning, not just as historical figures but as images that contemporary society can relate to.

ABR: Would you cast your work as a form of social realism?

YERIMA: Well I am not conscious of categories, I’m more conscious of writing plays about human characters. My definition of drama is basically “telling stories.” I see myself first and foremost as a storyteller. In playwriting, I tell stories through dialogues and characters and in turn these dialogues and characters assist me in telling my stories. My plays can deal with rituals, they can deal with religion, they can deal with culture. They essentially explore social aspects of society and use realistic portrayals of people, so if you say that’s social, I accept it and if you say because the characters are a reflection of reality, that’s also good for me.

ABR: As a playwright, what is your approach to the blank page and your process for starting a new play?

YERIMA: Ideas motivate my foray into the blank page and I think about these ideas for a long time. For my new play The Wooden Pot, I got a phone call about an uncle of mine, saying that he had cursed his family and that’s why they are poor. So I wanted to juxtapose that belief in curses with my own reality as a lecturer in a Christian university. I was also looking at the issue of faith, where is the faith in this issue? Where is love and the role of family? Where is the logic in saying a man cursed his children. And if he did, then where is his own future? What legacy does he leave? This one phone call got me thinking about a host of issues and influenced the story that became The Wooden Pot. But I am also influenced by everything that happens to me, sometimes by past issues that occurred thirty, forty, fifty years ago and when they come back to me in strands, it’s easy to merge them into a story.

The first scene usually takes me the longest to write, once I write the first few words, I ask myself “what is the conflict of the play? What am I talking about”? In my play Hard Ground for example, a boy has just been brought from Yenogoa into Lagos and he didn’t want to be saved. So what is his conflict? Who saved him? Why? He wants to return home, he’s become a militant. I use these conversations to create the rest of the play in my head.
In the first act of Heart of Stone, I wrote about a woman looking for her son, yet I didn’t know why. I had dreamt of my daughter who died many years ago, her ghost was crying and the tears were so real; why would a ghost be crying? And her son, I couldn’t find her son. This inspired that first act and once I could understand the motivation for the idea, it became easier to tell the story.

ABR: Who are some of your influences?

YERIMA: My major influence is Professor Wole Soyinka who was my teacher. He taught me to take plays seriously. I read his plays, especially the early ones like Swamp Dwellers, Lion and The Jewel, Strong Breed; they motivated me while I was in school. His village plays would transport me from Ife where I schooled, to ilu ijinle. I also love Ola Rotimi’s plays and Wale Ogunyemi’s plays. They influenced my two best plays, Song of a Goat and Wedlock of the gods.

I used to think that storytelling had to be romantic, I believed that tampering with my consciousness to bend reality would be enough to create the play. But by the time I started reading Shakespeare and the rules of Aristotle, I began to understand how to shape characters. My teacher in England was also very good, the late John Linstrum, he was quite good, he made me write my post-graduate play called Not My Responsibility which was very funny and he made me play the role of Vasta Dada, a humongous caricature that I wrote into the play, he found it very interesting and I found semblance in his encouragement. The encouragement I got from Soyinka when I wrote Asylum in my second year in university also spurred me to keep writing plays and to read other people’s plays. I read Noel Coward, JP Presley and Harold Pinter, John Arden, and much more.

By that time I started thinking harder about what I wanted to do, and I realized I had to find my own style.

I didn’t want to write like those people, I wanted to write like Ahmed Yerima, I wanted to make my own mistakes because playwriting is a skill.

It’s like driving; my father used to say for every trip you make in a car as a driver, you are a good driver for that trip. Likewise for every play you write and write well, you are a good playwright and so I had to keep writing.

ABR: Based on your experiences as the director of the National Theatre of Nigeria, how would you characterize the theatre’s role in the society today?
Continue reading “Ahmed Yerima: An Interview with the Esteemed African Playwright”

6 Amazing Books by African Women You Have to Read

So Long a Letter by Mariama BâSo Long a Letter is an epistolary novel written in the voice of Ramatoulaye, a Senegalese school teacher. Addressed to her best friend Aissatou, the letters chronicle Ramatoulaye’s emotional journey after her husband’s second marriage and his unexpected death. Considered a classic of contemporary African women’s literature, So Long a Letter is a must-read for anyone interested in African literature and the passage from colonialism to modernism in a Muslim country.

 

A Bit of Difference by Sefi AttaUsing the life of Deola Bello, a single auditor working for a British charity, Atta explores everything from Western perceptions of Africa and African women, to the contradictions inherent in social expectations for women and their abilities to meet, ignore, or defy set expectations.

[Read our interview with Sefi Atta here]

 

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieFifteen-year-old Kambili and her older brother Jaja lead a privileged life in Enugu, Nigeria. They live in a beautiful house, with a caring family, and attend an exclusive missionary school. They’re completely shielded from the troubles of the world. Yet, as Kambili reveals in her tender-voiced account, things are less perfect than they appear.

 

 

Maru by Bessie HeadA moving and magical tale of an orphaned girl, Margaret Cadmore, who goes to teach in a remote village in Botswana where her own people are kept as slaves. Her presence polarizes a community that does not see her people as human, and condemns her to the lonely life of an outcast. In the love story and intrigue that follows Head brilliantly combines a portrait of loneliness with a rich affirmation of the mystery and spirituality of life.

 

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga: This stunning first novel, set in colonial Rhodesia during the 1960s, centers on the coming of age of a teenage girl, Tambu, and her British-educated cousin Nyasha. Tambu, who yearns to be free of the constraints of her rural village, especially the predetermined lives of women, thinks her dreams have come true when her wealthy uncle offers to sponsor her education. But she soon learns that the education she receives at his mission school comes with a price.

July’s People by Nadine Godimer: Set against a fictional civil war during the aparatheid in South Africa, Godimer’s second novel covers a middle-class family of white liberals in South Africa fleeing the horrors of a large scale revolution started by blacks who then find safety in their black servant’s village.

The New Testament | Nike Adesuyi

I walk the coasts of Ibeju Lekki

White sands, a blue sea and a

Happy sun distil putrid visions

*

I run into the winds;

A kite buoyed on the wings of fun

*

I race the wind to an infinity of sands and shells

Until my feet are shocked by the magic of Mammon

Asphalt scarifies the polish of the sands like tribal marks

*

Beyond the billowing wrapper of the sea,

In places secret to the coastal eyes,

Principalities and powers are violating

Our maiden of mercies

*

In Ogoni** the fishes are fevered

From the typhoid of crude

Oil paints the sea black

And all the waters mourn.

**  Ogoniland in Nigeria, where Shell Oil company vastly polluted the Niger Delta river.

NIKE ADESUYI is a Nigerian poet, and a member of WRITA. She is the editorial manager of a thriving publications company in Lagos. Her poems have been published in several anthologies.

Tunde Leye: An Interview With Okada Books’ Top Selling Author

If you haven’t heard of Okada Books yet, you’re missing out on a wealth of stories written by young Nigerian authors and hosted on the Okada Books app. A platform that allows writers to self-publish their works and directly engage with readers. Despite such an open market approach (reminiscent of Figment and Amazon’s self publishing arm), some authors stand out from the crowd and Tunde Leye is one of them. Deemed one of the more popular Okada Books authors, he shared some of his insights about his writing process and his short story, The Burden of Proof with The African Book Review.

Tunde Leye

ABR: In your bio you suggest that stories form the basis of society and the arts. Can you expand on that notion and discuss how that inspires your writing?

LEYE: Writing records our thoughts and transmits them with precision we could never manage by any other means. Singers, artists, politicians, explorers and all sorts of people have been inspired by the things they read. Almost everyone can point to that book they read that was the fulcrum around which their lives turned. That is why when dictators and tyrants take over rulership…they go after writers and their books. They know how important these are. It is what has inspired writers to put their words down in spite of danger and the amount of work they have to do to complete the works.

ABR: The Burden of Proof incorporates some aspects of the Nigerian-Biafran war. What fueled your interest in this period of Nigerian history and did you have to conduct any research to incorporate those aspects of the war into your story?

LEYE: As with any writing, research is one of the most important parts. Thankfully the internet has made researching easier. Of course it helped to talk to people who actually lived and fought on both sides [of the war] to get a grasp of how it affected people beneath the normalcy that their lives now have. Nigerian history in general interests me and a lot of my writing takes different aspects of the history as elements that influence the plots and characters.

ABR:  An intriguing part of the tale is how efficient the police force is. Is this representative of modern Nigerian society or a reflection of how you’d like the police force to operate?

LEYE: [The story] was actually close to reality…after speaking with and observing our police. Those pieces are there, it merely takes driving and coordinating them better together. However, I do take some artistic liberty as most fiction does when referring to law enforcement. I mean, we watch police investigation stories from Hollywood where they get DNA results in hours whereas it takes much longer and requires the DNA samples to be of a certain quality in reality.

ABR: What inspires your writing? And are there any habits that help you keep writing/ maintain a certain standard of storytelling?

LEYE: My writing flows out of two things – I read a lot, I listen and observe things and events very keenly and ponder them. I tend to pace myself when I write and I firmly believe the maxim “the only way to improve on writing is to write” so I write a lot. I write three blog posts weekly, two of them fiction and an opinion piece for a newspaper, as well as working on a novel alongside. It helps to have a sort of schedule I write on and keep to it. I also write in iterations. First, I put down a skeleton of the piece and then I flesh it out in several iterations, adding the details and giving the characters life as I go. I also try to make sure my characters are real people in their reactions and actions. This doesn’t downplay the fact that writing is difficult, but it is a skill and needs to be/practiced regularly to sharpen.

ABR: Can you tell us a bit more about your upcoming projects?

LEYE: I started Write Right this year, a writing prize to discover new writers, reward them and support them to write books and start blogs beyond the prize.

I am also working on my third book, an epic fantasy novel called Guardians of the Seals which is due out next year. Of course, I’ll keep writing fiction on my blog TLSPLACE for some time to come.

Tunde Leye was born in Lagos, Nigeria. The author of multiple online series as well as an illustrated children’s book, he runs one of the most well-read fiction blogs in Nigeria, www.tlsplace.wordpress.com.

The Burden of Proof is a well written short story that blends elements of the Biafran war, the Nigerian police force and her legal system to form a dark mystery, after a Biafran war veteran is murdered. Set in what might pass for a Nigerian-utopia bridling with efficiency and layman justice, the story is optimistic with an incisive focus that doesn’t waver and leaves the reader expecting more at the end. Read here. 

Sefi Atta: An Interview with a Leading Nigerian Author

The African Book Review’s editor, Etinosa, had a conversation with renowned Nigerian author, Sefi Atta about her new book, A Bit of Difference, the changing roles of women in Nigeria and the unique position of young Nigerians growing up in the diaspora.

ARB: A BIT OF DIFFERENCE seems to take a moment in Deola’s life and use that as a lens for exploring a host of social issues. What inspired the book and did you have a goal when you set out to write the novel?

ATTA: I was inspired by the poster I described at the beginning of the novel. I saw it at Hartsfield-Jackson international airport in Atlanta, where I catch my connecting flights to Nigeria and England. My goal was to return to the territory of my debut novel Everything Good Will Come. I had stayed away for a while but I felt the time was right to revisit it.

ARB: One of the things that stood out to us in the novel was how astute the protagonist was in both noticing and maneuvering how other people perceive and categorized her. Is Deola symbolic of Nigerian youth caught between the varying (and sometimes conflicting) expectations of western and Nigerian societies? (Do you think being in that position is more difficult or advantageous than say, being a Nigerian born, raised, and residing in Nigeria?)

ATTA: Deola is tired of failing to live up to other people’s expectations, but I don’t know that her predicament would be any different if she’d never left Nigeria. She might not have to deal with the perceptions of foreigners, but she would have to deal with the perceptions of other Nigerians. I live in Nigeria, England and the United States. I have my working life in Mississippi, my social life in Lagos and a bit of both in London. I enjoy being able to escape from one country to another when I can.

ARB: To a fair extent, the female body is often regarded as social property to be regulated not just by the woman, but by society at large under the guise of morality. However, Deola stands out (and was truly inspiring) in her willingness to be comfortable and assertive with regards to her femininity and sexuality. Is this a reflection of modern Nigerian society? And what ideally, do you want the future of the Nigerian girl to look like in terms of the choices society affords her, and the choices she can make for herself?

ATTA: I would be lying if I said I thought about any of these issues while I was writing the novel. I will say this, though. We express our femininity and sexuality differently, depending on the generation to which we belong, our religions and cultures. The growth of the telecommunications industry in Nigeria has also radically changed how we see and project ourselves. It has increased our choices, but not necessarily in positive or empowering ways. I see Nigerian girls who are sexualized too young, who model themselves after celebrities and hip-hop video girls. My thing is this: Use your brains, whatever you do. Nigeria is not forgiving of anyone who makes stupid decisions. Thankfully, I see Nigerian girls who are enterprising, hardworking and smart.

Continue reading “Sefi Atta: An Interview with a Leading Nigerian Author”

A Bit of Difference

Who: Deola Bello

What: Exploring what it means to be a contemporary African woman.

Why: Female, thirties, working for international charity, soon pregnant, single, Nigerian. Nothing is unusual, nothing is as it should be.

Should I read it: Necessary for women everywhere and all the men in their lives.

Qq: “[Deola] gave up her virginity when she had no more use for it. Losing her virginity was like discovering her hair was not her crowning glory” – Pg 97

A Bit of Difference presents a commentary on African femininity, specific to Nigeria, yet easily applicable to women worldwide. The novel is assertive in its exploration and insightful in detailing the complexities, limitations, joys, and paradoxes of being a Nigerian woman, living within or outside the country. Using the life of Deola Bello, a single auditor working for a British charity, Atta explores everything from Western perceptions of Africa and indeed African women, to the contradictions inherent in social expectations for women and their abilities to meet, ignore, or defy set expectations.  A Bit of Difference, much less a novel than a brilliant portrait, successfully achieves what all good poetry strives for; it picks a moment and explores it. Atta offers no comfortable narratives or righteous solutions; instead her honest voice challenges the reader’s understanding of what it means to be Nigerian, African, British, European, American, but above all, what it means to be a woman inhabiting the battle ground that is the female body.

A Bit of Difference by Sefi Atta

Interlink Books | 2013 | ISBN: 978-1-56656-892-0

Read our interview with Sefi Atta here.

Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka in Lagos, Nigeria by Devesh Uba. Akinwande Oluwole “Wole” Soyinka is a Nigerian writer, notable especially as a playwright and poet; he was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature, the first person in Africa and the diaspora to be so honoured.  Devesh Uba is from Jaipur (India) living in Lagos. He enjoys doing street photography in Lagos. View his work at snapitoga.tumblr.com or look for ‘snapitoga’ on Instagram.
Wole Soyinka in Lagos, Nigeria by Devesh Uba.
Akinwande Oluwole “Wole” Soyinka is a Nigerian writer, notable especially as a playwright and poet; he was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature, the first person in Africa and the diaspora to be so honoured.
Devesh Uba is from Jaipur (India) living in Lagos. He enjoys doing street photography in Lagos. View his work at snapitoga.tumblr.com or look for ‘snapitoga’ on Instagram.