Off the Continent

Find all my writings about none African literature and fiction in this category.

February Flowers

Humans connect in various ways. We connect by showing vulnerability and responding to it. Connection can be built by recognising, comparing, relating and sharing similar emotions or experiences. February Flowers by Fan Wu had the former while I connected through both. I’ll share how I connected with more of the latter.

We are all humans regardless of where on the earth we fall on. As Chimamanda Adiche said in We Should All Be Feminists, “the problem with gender is it prescribes how we “should” be rather than recognising how we are’. The female gender; girl woman. Mere nouns that prescribe how females should be at any given stage. They powerfully enslave and free us in various ways. Their relations are ironed out in this book. It’s like the characters live some of your personal memories. I hoped to learn more about unique but failed female friendships when I came across the book.  However I have learned Nigerian and Chinese cultures aren’t so different or similar as you might think.

“I had earned the reputation of being one of the most intelligent students in the class and that helped justify my aloofness.”

“As a girl or a boy you were a bad or dirty child and bad student if you were interested in boys or in a relationship.”

“What’s wrong with being a bad girl?”

The book is set at the University in Guangzhou and other places in China. It is narrated by stream of consciousness of Chen Ming. I loved the writing style and pace of the novel. It was a coming of age novel written as memory flash backs of the heroine, Chen Ming. The story is about the friendship between the teenage heroine and a popular final year woman, Miao Yan. I was immediately enamored by Miao Yan. Her boldness, calculated wit, beauty, confidence and womanliness. Truly deserving of the nick name ‘wild goose’. She holds all the affection of younger, smart, reserved Chen. Until the later is heart broken. There are other characters like love interests of both women, Chen’s room mates, Chen’s parents.

The novel has the themes of friendship, self discovery, selfishness, love, betrayal, kindness, big city and student struggles. It asks questions like: ‘why do we change ourselves for love?’ and ‘what does it mean to be a woman in China?’ The second question reminds me of a phenomenon in Nigeria where young girls are told to grow into women fast by learning homeliness. Yet older women refer to themselves as baby girls. The funny irony of rushing to grow and learning to be a woman only to realise it means less innocence and little change.

Some lessons from this engaging narrative are not to change yourself for the ones you love, the guilty live afraid and you never really know anyone.

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Call Me By Your Name, Something Like Summer.

November 2017’s Coming of age gay romance novels I read.

Following October’s themes of friendship, forbidden love and coming of age in February Flowers by Fan Wu. I read two coming of age gay romance novels. Early in November I came across their movie adaption trailers. Both named after the books, Call Me By Your Name (movie trailer) released in August and Something Like Summer (movie trailer)released earlier in March. Being the bookie I am, I downloaded the ebooks and read them.

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME by Andre Aciman

It’s the summer of 1983, and precocious 17-year-old Elio Perlman is spending the days with his family at their 17th-century villa in Lombardy, Italy. He soon meets Oliver, a handsome doctoral student who’s working as an intern for Elio’s father. Amid the sun-drenched splendor of their surroundings, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer that will alter their lives forever.

“You are my homecoming. When I’m with you and we’re well together, there is nothing more I want. You make me like who I am, who I become when you’re with me, Oliver. If there is any truth in the world, it lies when I’m with you, and if I find the courage to speak my truth to you one day, remind me to light a candle in thanksgiving at every altar in Rome.”

I loved this novel, its setting, characters and love story. You just have to love the hero, Elio. For a large part of the novel he battles with his growing affection for Oliver. Elio who played amazing classical music renditions with the piano and guitar, was sensual and endearing. Oliver was vibrant, outgoing, loveable. Elio’s parents were elegant people.  There were also other memorable characters. It was truly a summer of love, music and fun at their beautiful villa and town. Because the narrative had built up Elio’s attraction to Oliver. When they finally became intimate it was magical. You could feel the unease Oliver felt about pursuing the relationship because of Elio’s age and other unmentioned reasons. The story went further than that summer. It was a painful separation.

A few things about the book struck me. There was the irony later revealed in the plot. All the while Elio battled with his attraction, Olivier’s oblivious attitude and self loathing. He did not know Oliver had also been attracted to him while battling his feelings. Another irony was that Elio’s father knew about his love for Oliver. Even though they both tried hard to hide it. If you are in a heterosexual relationship its easy to take a grew things for granted. Things like the scent of your lover, showing public affection, etc.

Years later they meet again and we are reminded of what was and what could have been.

SOMETHING LIKE SUMMER by Jay Bell.

Love, like everything in the universe, cannot be destroyed. But over time it can change. The hot Texas nights were lonely for Ben before his heart began beating to the rhythm of two words; Tim Wyman. By all appearances, Tim had the perfect body and ideal life, but when a not-so-accidental collision brings them together, Ben discovers that the truth is rarely so simple. If winning Tim’s heart was an impossible quest, keeping it safe would prove even harder as family, society, and emotion threaten to tear them apart. Something Like Summer is a love story spanning a decade and beyond as two boys discover what it means to be friends, lovers, and sometimes even enemies.

“Falling in love is a subtle process, a connection sparked by attraction, tested by compatibility, forged by memory.”

Ben! He was one of my favourite book characters of 2017. The book spans his teenage years far into his late adult years. Various characters show us the extent we can all go in pursuit of love. Even though I loved Ben’s love for Tim. Their break up was painful. I kept thinking ‘damn you self denial and lying!’ I was relieved when Ben found and fell in love with mature, calm Jace. All the characters are loveable especially optimistic, open, talented and loving Ben. I must say I was deeply sad at Jace’s demise but happy with the end of the book.

Ben, Tim and Jace form a love triangle that made my heart skip with worry, thrill and excitement. The style of the story gives us a peep into each characters thoughts. However the story is told mostly through Ben’s perspective. I loved the relationship he had with Jace with all its make ups and vacation travels. Bliss.  I like how without being gay you can relate to a lot of issues in the book. How one can struggle with what one wants to do and what is expected of the person. Making a choice between two confusing delectable admirers or finding a career to pursue. And of course being gay in the 90s and now.