Review

DEPARTURE

DEPARTURE by Roman Oriogun

I came across these poems on Brittle Paper while on a bus ride. I remember the poet’s name from the 14:We are Flowers Anthology I read last year. I enjoyed Departure. My heart aches with each line and smiled with others.

“i was born to be darkness hiding under a cave

& i know the weight of exile in a body”.

The first poem called Departure artistically narrates being queer in a dangerous and unaccepting place and painful departure of lovers to better places. It paints the experience of being gay in Nigeria where it is illegal and punishable by imprisonment or death by a mob. The poems are informal using imagery, repition, first person and stream of consciousness narrative techniques. These all make me love the poems.

“The streets hum with voices,

vehicles run into the rising sun,”

The above lines are an example from the second singing poem, Kumbaya. The last poem Saddest Night Alive, also narrates a tale of a distraught lover, fragile love, longing and nightmares of being killed.

“I’m learning how to live with this fear of not finding love”. 

I can say the above sentence is one that echoes a fear of mine. Why is it so difficult to find someone to genuinely love me for more than a minute?

Click the Brittle Paper link to read the poem. Share your thoughts on longing for love from a departing lover.

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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.

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.

Amethyst’s 2017 Holiday Reads.

It truly is a season to be jolly and  grateful.

The holidays here in Nigeria are usually exciting. It’s exciting because we have the Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year celebrations. I don’t have to spend this Christmas on campus finishing a semester. One of my rewards for the end of productive, well attended semester was getting books. For other reasons like my insatiable love of reading I have holiday reads!!

These are What I Am Reading this holiday.

A. Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okpranta.

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“Watching her walk away that night, I felt more happiness than I had felt in a long time. If I could have sped up the hands of time, I would have done so, so that next week would be tomorrow”.

“With a man, life is difficult. Without a man, life is even more difficult. Take it from me”.

Those quoted parts of the book stood out to me. The first quote perfectly illustrates Ijeoma’s love for Ndidi while the latter depicts Mama’s view about the necessity of Ijeoma getting married. I must say I haven’t read a book with this many chapters, seventy-seven of them! The initial chapters of the book focused on Ijeoma, the main character’s childhood on the Biafran side during the Nigerian Civil War. I liked this because I was yet to read a none political narrative about this side of the historic war.

She loses her father during a raid on their home in Ojoto, Aba. Mama and her leave the village and she goes to become a housegirl at her late father’s friend house. There she meets Amina, falls in love and is caught as a lesbian. Mama who had settled somewhere else came to take her away.

Through out the book we see Ijeoma struggle with her sexuality, Christianity and responsibilities as a female. She later falls in love with Ndidi, finds a lesbian community and self loathes herself.  After an inhumane burning of some homosexuals. She reluctantly dates her childhood friend then marries him. Ijeoma is hunted about her abominable sexuality and struggles to be a good wife to Chibundu. Inability to get preganant or have a male child put a strain on their marriage that breaks the couple apart.

“My point is that business is the reason for things like doctrines. Business is the reason for words like ‘abomination’. The church is the oldest and most susuccessful business known to man”.

These were Chibundu’s comforting words to Ijeoma who was worried her child would have disabilities as a result of her past ‘sins’.  The narrative echoes many unanswered questions of mine about the Bible’s point of view on homosexuality. Showing how inhumane, disapproving and scary these views truly are. I found the many chapters were Mama drummed in these views into Ijeoma discomforting. Sadly I knew it’s something many Nigerians would do. It’s an apt depiction of the issues Nigerian homosexuals face. It’s also a stunning coming of age novel. I was delighted when Ijeoma finally realised it was her life to live. I loved this book set in one of my state of origins, Abia State. It’s already part of my library.

B. The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin

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This novel is dramatic! It perfectly depicted the antagonistic drama one finds in a polygamous home. A reader can, only chant ‘poor Bolanle’ while reading this revealing story. Lola Shoneyin’s classic is truly filled with secrets and well titled. This novel was a colorful companion during hours of road travel across Cross River during my vacation tour of the state last week.

What I found profound about this book is that each woman had her sad tale of irrelevance, humiliation, struggle that seemed to end with their marriage to Baba Segi. A triumph Bolanle’s presumed barreness threatened to destroy. I admired various qualities of all the characters. Bolanle, the university graduate who marries Ishola Alao aka, Baba Segi to escape an emptiness of self caused by rape is the heroine. She faces opposition, hostility, mistreatment, verbal abuse and even assault from other wives. These wives are Iya Segi, the first wife and frog, Iya Tope, the aponda and second wife and Iya Femi, the selfish beauty and third wife. There were the children and other minor characters.

Major themes of this book are infertility, infidelity, secrecy, antagonism. I found a few interesting ironies. Such as, ‘Baba Segi’s big testicles were empty and without seed’. Also he regularly ‘pounded his wives’ with his surprisingly large penis but all his wives felt sex with their lovers were better. Teacher, Baba Segi’s trusted confidant and advisor in the end ill advised him so he could patronize his establishment. All the wives disliked that Bolanle had something they had desired for a long time, which was education.

This novel paints how people’s antagonism can spring up not only from malice but from insecurities, or hidden agendas. A lesson I learnt earlier in life. I loved the book and the fact that Bolanle found herelf.

C. The Small Print by Abimbola Dare

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Honestly I haven’t finished reading this ebook. I had waited for Roving Heights to have it back in stock. Then I saw a post on the author’s instagram page. that showed I could get her books on Okadabooks. I bought the ebook quarter the price of its paperback. Grinning with excitement I started reading the inspirational romance with a mustard top wrapped around my dripping freshly washed hair.

I must say the way the novel started quiupped my curiosity beyond measure. I felt Wale’s anxiety, worry and determination. As the story progressed I met other characters like obsessive Andrea Jennifer Lennox, beautiful Sade, irritating Bode William, determined Eniola and other characters who help shape the progressing narrative.

The novel has themes of tempted faith, infertility, infidelity, quest for independence, deceit. I’ll admit many things some characters did upset me but I love how the narrative inserts relatable words of God. It’s been a while I have read an ininspirational romance. The plot twists and conflicts are just brilliant!

D.The Miseducation of Obi Ifeanyi by Chinedu Achebe

I saw this ebook advertised on Okadabooks’ instagram page with an intriguing description. Talk about a written reality show of a Nigerian family. I had to add it to my reading list.

E. Men of Valor by Kiru Taye

Men of Valor is made up of Book 1,2 and 3 by best-selling romance author Kiru Taye. I have looked for how to purchase this collection in Naira. I finally have! Men of Valor is an historic African romance series. If you loved A Woman In Her Prime, Joys of Motherhood, Things Fall Apart, you’ll love this genre also. I have read praising reviews of Kiru Taye’s writing. She writes heart warming romance and steamy erotic scenes. I read her scintillating Thighs Fall Apart erotic fan fiction of Things Fall Apart. I got it on Okadabooks for N899.

Dramatic Family Classics, Historical African Romance, Coming of Age Gay Romance, Inspirational Romance. I think I’m set to end 2017 reading enclosed in the finest of Nigerian literature.

Book ‘n’ Gauge 03.12.17

Book ‘n’ Gauge served a sensational mix of all genres of literature, music, art and talk at Herbert Macaulay Library, Yaba Lagos.

The monthly literary event is presented by Roving Heights Online Bookstore (visit their website) and supported by Gtbank You Read Initiative. You know I don’t recommend if it isn’t stellar. Read my review of Roving Heights Online Bookstore here..RH Bookstore review Sunday afternoons in my house are spent eating rice, taking a nap or lounging in white lingerie with a novel. However, on 3rd January I wore my expectations, orange lipsick and a simple nose ring to read outdoors. I unavoidably arrived an hour late. The conservations had already begun. Ayobami Adebayo and Lola Shoneyin talked about the crushing burden placed on women to procreate, cultural narratives about childlessness, unpopularised infertility of men. The vivacious Comperè in her flowing fuchsia pink dress and her locs bangs announced a spoken word performance.

The slender poet sat and read from her phone a tale of scouting the Cuban art market to find her first painting to purchase. She had wanted a representation of a sensual black woman but had gotten an artwork of Osun that her imagination had to repaint. Before the reading commenced I purchased the Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives from a lady holding copies and a POS machine for N2,500. I got a paper bag and bookmark. This made the Ijebu-Igbo woman in me giddy. The previous day I had popped by Glendora Bookshop to check their new books. Resisting the temptation I didn’t purchase their N3,950 copy. Ayomide was my only friend that came along. He purchased both books.

After the performance, Lola Shoneyin, author of The Ssecret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, read about a mischievous sabotage of the family aso ebi by Iya Femi. The author’s animated reading drew out laughter from all of us. There was a soulful musical performance by Nana Aisha. Her moving voice sang a story of a pregnant woman’s feelings. Ayobami Adebayo read from Stay With Me. The scene where the new wife moved into Yejide’s house exclaiming it was her husband’s house too!

There were two more captivating spoken word performances by the aforementioned poet and instafamous poet Eva Johnson. The former poet waxed on about Dirt, a free verse about life, the earth, nature, women’s efforts, nurturing and time. Eva Johnson performed a compelling introduction and tale of An Average Girl. This performance reminded us to be concerned about others, listen to the sexually abused, bring perpetrators off unreachable pedestals. It made everyone feel the shock, fear, pain and numbness of the average girl who was continuously raped by her father and Uncle Moses.

Questions were asked by the audience that had had phones, camera up in the air streaming live and capturing the magical moments. Both authors advised aspiring writers to read, get comfortable with rejection, get a patient but efficient agent, write out their voice and style and avoid influences from published works while writing. Small chops and glasses of Chapman passed from trays to distracted but grateful hands. While a little #boyboss offered a glass bowl of chocolates to everyone but me.

There were exciting auctions. First, a book auction. It was an intriguing experience as the book whose bid started at N2,500 was sold at N20,000. Interestingly persons who bid only had to pay their bid prices. The book was bought from the oldest bookstore in the world at Portugal. It tells a story of a fictional town where no one is able to die after the New Year. During the event an artist had been drawing an artwork inspired by the event. It had been the first action I noticed when my flustered self had walked in late. I missed this auction because I stepped out to talk with Tobi Eyinade, Roving Heights face, it was great to see this face. She presented the book and artwork to the highest bidders.

Book signings and photographs followed the auctions. I had engaging, fun, thought provoking and encouraging conversations with the literary heavyweights. Being as I wasn’t with my already signed Stay With Me. I introduced myself to Ayobami Adebayo and we discussed the importance of being independent, getting comfortable with loneliness and enjoying solitude. We agreed these three underrated ideals help you and your relationships become healthier. I expressed my love for the novel and she expressed her love of my book photograph of Stay With Me. See the picture and my review of the novel here..  What I Am Reading: STAY WITH ME.

“Are you Feyi?” she asked. I stopped my story surprised and affirmed. She excitedly began telling me how she previously signed my copy months ago.  I simply got the Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives signed with love by the founder of Ake Arts and Literature Festival, Lola Shoenyin. I took pictures with her and Tobi Eyinade. Thanks to Ayomide for taking the pictures as my battery was low. I discussed with other interesting people upon conclusion of the event. Amongst which was Faith Moyosore, Creative Director of African Writers. Ayomide and I got ice cream from the ColdStone Creamery at St. Agnes junction up the road from the library. We excitedly showed each other our signed books. Then discussed the event, our evening plans, not too flavorful pink iced cream. Book ‘n’ Gauge was his first attended literary event and it mesmerized him.

I have said my thanks to everyone who helped make it a delightful experience. I loved reading outdoors with Book ‘n’ Gauge. I’d recommend you attend the next event. Want to see more pictures? I’ll share the photo album on my Instagram below.

Glossary

Osun– A Yoruba female goddess who wears a yellow flowing gown.

Aso Ebi– native attire worn by members of a family and their guests for a wedding, burial, party and other ceremonies in Nigeria.

Image source: mrayooluwaseun