this is the short discussion; the longer one is at my online reading journal here.
Every Day is for the Thief is a story related by a young Nigerian mthis is the short discussion; the longer one is at my online reading journal here.
Every Day is for the Thief is a story related by a young Nigerian man currently living in New York who has returned to Lagos after an absence of fifteen years. As this unnamed narrator notes, “It feels longer still because I left under a cloud.” The story behind that cryptic remark is left nearly until the end. In the meantime, as he's being driven, rides on a bus, or walks throughout the city, he notices things at particular moments that capture his attention and weaves it into his own narrative about the issues he finds facing people there and how the people have just sort of let things happen. He also considers whether or not he could seriously live here again, especially considering that now he's gazing at his "home" (an ambiguous concept in this book) through the eyes of someone who's been away for so long. The book is structured in a series of vignettes, linked together partially through the discoveries he makes, partially by the narrator's "inquiry into what it was I longed for all those times I longed for home, " and by his search in this city for hope for its people's future. I couldn't put this book down -- I was so wrapped up in the city of Lagos that I read this book in one sitting.
There are a number of reasons I like Every Day is for the Thief besides the fact that it offers a look at a place I'm never going to be and a place I've been interested in reading about for years because of how the oil companies have changed this country and because of the environmental issues. The main one is that I'm walking away from this book with the idea that there is a lot of life and excitement to be found in Lagos despite the negatives, which are generally what the media covers. The narrator notes that the city is a place of "a million untold stories," where "There is no end of fascinations." But I also believe that the author is angered or dismayed by the attitudes that have helped the city (and the country) to become what it is now, and that this book is a vehicle through which he can express both views.
I'd recommend it to people who are interested in Nigeria (like myself); to people who are interested in urban culture, and to people who want something very different in terms of fiction writing. ...more
first: My thanks to Soho, who sent me this novel -- I am so happy I got a copy because it's amazing.
second: I'm skipping the plot here, but if you wafirst: My thanks to Soho, who sent me this novel -- I am so happy I got a copy because it's amazing.
second: I'm skipping the plot here, but if you want to read about it, you'll find it on my reading journal page.
I really believe that this book is one of those novels that you don't fully appreciate with only one read; nor do you fully appreciate it until you've let time pass and allow it to settle into your brain. The premise is very different, the writing is first class, and frankly, even the ending is unlike anything I've ever seen before. It's the story of one African immigrant for whom the dream has become a veritable nightmare -- and the unorthodox way in which he tries to remedy things for himself.
The book is very good in terms of the examination of immigrant experience in America, but the best parts of this novel take place in the small Nigerian village that is Ike's home. A reader can lose himself/herself here, caught up in the people who inhabit this place. It is a place where corruption abounds; where the capitalist present and traditional past meet head to head; where Christianity is in conflict with local religious tradition and divides the locals, even within families. It is a place where so much has changed while Ike's been gone that people from his past are hardly recognizable in the way he remembers them, and not always for the better. It's a place where everyone assumes that just because Ike is in America, he's living the dream. It is also a place with its own "foreign gods," who hold out promises of their own for those who dream of something better, as in one scene where Michael Jordan becomes a deity in his own right. As crazy as this entire story is, it is definitely the Nigerian characters and their colorful language who make Foreign Gods, Inc. the wonderful novel it turns out to be, especially Ike, who clearly has a foot in both worlds. They range from the scamming church pastor to Ike's uncle and Ngene's chief priest, to Ike's mother who is worried that Ike will be possessed by demons by hanging out with said uncle, and Ike's first love, whose life turned out so badly that he hardly recognizes her. Thematically, this is a rich book -- well beyond being just another take on the immigrant experience, there's much to say here about art, about conflict (especially inner conflict within a troubled and divided soul), about religion, about the importance of the past and tradition vs. the modern world; you also get a look at the very male-oriented culture in this country, the colonial aspects, and there's also quite a lot in here about the power of stories. The river is also ever present throughout this book, as a source of life, power and conflict.
For me, it was almost like reading a "quest" sort of story with a conflicted main character who faces a number of obstacles before he can reach his intended goal. However, the strange but highly appropriate ending is unlike anything I've experienced before -- seriously, it was almost at the edge of surreal, something along the lines of the bizarre endings in novels of many works of weird fiction I've read. Its abruptness immediately leaves pause for the reader to conjure in his or her head exactly what's going on here, and it's a stunner. Foreign Gods, Inc. is a novel I highly, highly recommend, one that casual readers like myself can fully enjoy. It's a book that I know is going to stay with me a very long time.
Rarely, and I do mean rarely, does a novel come along that actually moves me like this one. Skipping right to the chase, READ THIS BOOK. Between the sRarely, and I do mean rarely, does a novel come along that actually moves me like this one. Skipping right to the chase, READ THIS BOOK. Between the stories in this novel and the creative, dynamic use of language, it was easy sometimes to feel as if I was an onlooker rather than merely a reader looking into other people's lives. It's also a timely read ... at the end of this month, elections are scheduled once again in Zimbabwe, and Robert Mugabe, in power since 1980, is once again a candidate.
The novel is divided into two parts, the first set in Zimbabwe and the second in the US. The central focus is on a character named Darling, a young girl who lives with her mother in a tin shack in an area ironically named Paradise. It hadn't always been so -- until their entire neighborhood of brick homes was razed out of the blue by bulldozers whose operators were protected by the police, she and her family had lived a good life until they were displaced due to policies set in motion by the country's ruler. Displacement is a major theme in this novel, which also deals also with the concept of identity as people move away from their homes -- in Darling's case, to the United States -- and the ties that keep them connected to what they've left behind. The first part of the book is comprised of Darling's observations about her friends, her life, and what it's like living in a country where poverty, political corruption and betrayal of a cause are day-to-day realities, while the second part takes Darling to the US, where she lives with her aunt's family and can't return to Zimbabwe because of her visa.
This is not an easy novel to read on an emotional level. Darling and her friends are hungry and fill their empty bellies by strolling through more affluent neighborhoods and stealing guavas, or finding things to sell. The schools have closed down, the teachers have all left, attracted by better pay in other countries, and this group of kids spend their days roaming around, playing often bizarre games and observing what's going on all around them. But for Darling, there's a way out -- she is able to make it to the US to the home of her aunt. Her observations about what it takes to fit into this alien culture reveal painful adjustments and provide a way for Darling to examine her Zimbabwe life, but as time goes on, she comes to the painful realization that while she can stay connected with people in Zimbabwe via the internet and phone, she finds it harder and harder to stay connected with them on a more meaningful level:
"It's hard to explain, this feeling; it's like there's two of me. One part is yearning for my friends; the other doesn't know how to connect with them anymore, as if they are people I've never met. I feel a little guilty but I brush the feeling away."
While she tries to fit in with her new friends and her new life, she constantly alters different aspects of her outward life while remaining an honest observer of what's going on all around her in her new home. A lot of it, plainly and simply, is not pretty, either in her native home or the one she's come to.
There's so much more to this book that but above all, the language the author employs here makes you feel less like a reader and more of an onlooker. There are some sections in this novel that are incredibly difficult to read, but the ugly realities are not the main focus here -- it's more a case of living in altered realities at particular moments in time and how people adapt -- and the costs of doing so. For me, the first part of this novel absolutely sings and stuns at the same time -- and though the second half continues Darling's astounding honesty in her observations, for the most part I just didn't find it as compelling as the scenes in Zimbabwe. I also have to admit to being worried about the author choosing a young girl as the voice of her narrative, but believe me, I was relieved to discover that there's no young adult feel to this book at all -- on the contrary, this is very mature territory.
Super book, and highly recommended. Funny, but the reviewers who gave this book low ratings seemed to have missed the entire point -- as in this one from Amazon: "Another "poverty African" story to appease Western tastes." Obviously this person has no clue. ...more
a stunning novel, one I highly recommend it to people who want to be enlightened about human and environmental conditions in other nations. Maybe somea stunning novel, one I highly recommend it to people who want to be enlightened about human and environmental conditions in other nations. Maybe some people think it's not cool to be reading fiction about the damage caused by "big, bad corporations" but really, I don't care about opinions -- I want to know what's happening in the world. Oil on Water highlights only a small portion of what's going on and what's been going on for some time, but what is happening now and what's been happening in the Delta area of Nigeria for nearly 50 years is just shameful. You can click here for a full-on discussion, or just continue reading for the abridged version.
Set in the Niger Delta, Oil on Water examines the changes brought about by the oil industry, which drilled its first well in 1956 and has remained a permanent fixture ever since. This very short but powerful novel, the story seen through the eyes of a journalist named Rufus, briefly brings together the stories of five different groups in the area: 1) the people who live in the Delta whose traditional lands, waterways and ways of life have been changed, exploited and in many cases, damaged beyond repair; 2) the numerous groups of freedom fighters/militants whose operations pit them against 3) the oil companies and 4) the government soldiers who routinely patrol the area; and 5) the journalists, who are invited to come and witness, record and relay the truth of what's really going on in the Delta. While the subject matter is disturbing on many levels, Habila's writing is stunning, conveying a very real sense of the human effects of the changes wrought by the oil industry there.
The frame for this novel is that the wife of an oil-company executive has been kidnapped and a group of journalists have been invited to make the journey up the river for an interview with her and her captors. Rufus is a new reporter at the 3rd largest paper in Port Harcourt, and when the request to get the story comes in, he volunteers for a job that all of the journalists know is potentially fatal after the earlier killings of two reporters on a similar mission. Along with him is his idol Zaq, a "once-great reporter" now past his glory days, once famous for his stories that emphasized the humanity beneath events. As they make their journey upriver for the story, they become part of it -- they are held as prisoners and encounter others who have also been taken captive; they are firsthand witnesses to murder and other violent acts, and throughout their trek they experience the horrific devastation of waterways and land that used to sustain entire populations. The story goes back and forth through time as Rufus relates both his past and Zaq's; Rufus also talks to various people they encounter along the way and hears their respective stories of how they came to be where they are at present.
The author spares no detail in describing the environmental devastation, including the "foul and sulphurous" river with its floating dead and dying wildlife, the fish that have disappeared, the perpetually-burning flares of gas that burn throughout the night and produce toxic fumes, and land that is so oil soaked that nothing can grow. But he also focuses heavily on the human side of things. Government corruption is a reality that sustains poverty, and poverty engenders groups like the militants/freedom fighters, who disrupt oil production until they're paid off, kidnap for huge ransoms and are in a state of perpetual warfare with government soldiers that involves the lives of otherwise innocent people. Tapping oil lines just to survive, sometimes with disastrous results, according to the author, is another human consequence, as is the move to bigger cities where work is hard or nearly impossible to come by.
Oil and Water is a depressing novel, but at the same time, the story is very well written, giving the reader pause to think. If you're saying in your head "oh crap, not another story about the evil oil corporations," well, yes, there is definitely a LOT of that here. At its core, however, this is an all-too-human story, based on realities that most people reading this book, including myself, can't even begin to fathom. It brings to light an ongoing state of environmental devastation and human rights issues that most people either aren't aware of and well, frankly, probably don't care about because it's somewhere over in Africa and isn't relevant to daily living. And that's really a shame. I loved this novel and all I can say by way of recommendation is READ THIS BOOK!! ...more
In the acknowledgments section of his novel, the author notes that
"The discovery that her master Cornelis Brink was a brother of one of my own directIn the acknowledgments section of his novel, the author notes that
"The discovery that her master Cornelis Brink was a brother of one of my own direct ancestors, and that he sold her at auction after his son Francois Gerhard Jacob Brink had made four children with her..."
was the catalyst for his story. This re-imagined Philida is no ordinary slave; as the novel opens she's on her way to lodge a complaint against Francois who, after fathering four children with her, had promised to buy her freedom. He, of course, has no power to free her, since Philida is the property of his father. She makes the trek to see the Slave Protector to air her grievances, a journey that will ultimately have consequences not only for Philida, but for others in her life as well. You'll find a longer version of this discussion here; otherwise, read on.
The book makes for compelling reading, and while the horrors of slavery are certainly included in the narrative, they are there without the sensationalism that is usually present. And while this may sound a little weird, while I had absolutely zero sympathy for the key players in the Brink family (Cornelis, Francois and especially Mrs. Brink), the use of changing points of view helps to provide perspective from their side -- not just in terms of a lack of humanity but also in the bigger economic and cultural picture of an uncertain future. The story also focuses on the power of stories, as well as connections to the land. Sometimes I'll admit that Philida's philosophizing got tiring, and I also found that in some spots the way she spoke was more eloquent and refined than it probably should have been. For me, the knitting analogy was just a wee bit overdone and a bit obvious, although I get that from Philida's point of view, it was a way for her to express herself. However, I liked this book. This is not your usual novel about slavery, by any means, and I'd definitely urge you to give it a try. ...more