I read this book about 11 months ago and I didn’t, couldn’t write a review or bookmark any pages. I thought since I didn’t support the message the book was advocating I didn’t even have to review it. However, it unsettles me to skip out on this one, so of the many I ignore for review, this one forges ahead.
(P.s: I finally wrote this review like 5 months ago and still didn’t publish it because I was busy)
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Ijeoma was just eleven years when the war began. The life she’d known had been one of middle class comfort as an only-child in her family, where she was fed abundantly and told it would help stimulate her brain.
Prior to the war:
“as for us, we moved about in that unhurried way of the butterflies as if the breeze was sweet, as if the sun on our skin was a caress. As if slow paces allowed for the savouring of both. This was the way thing were before the war: our lives, tamely moving forward”
The book is a coming of age story which dwells on the Biafran war, and on the war against homosexuals.
“There is no way to tell the story of what happened with Amina without first telling the story of mama’s sending me off. Likewise, there is no way to tell the story of mama sending me off without also telling of papa’s refusal to go to the bunker. Without his refusal, the sending away might never have occurred, and if the sending away had not occurred, then I might never have met Amina
If I had not met Amina, who knows, there might be no story at all to tell”
The book consists of three parts. The story goes back and forth in the first part and reveals how Ijeoma’s father refuses to run into the bunker during one of the air raids; he embraces despair about the losing war, and is bombed in his own house by the fighter planes.
The book explores grief and loss consequent to this. Mama who fails miserably in coming out of her grief sends her daughter to live with a school teacher.
It is in being sent away to live with the grammar school teacher and his wife, that Ijeoma faces the question of her sexual identity.
After being caught, Ijeoma would go through tumultuous times in her mind seeking for the truth, and for peace.
She would have compulsory lessons with mama at the kitchen table every evening, in order to cleanse her mind with the word of God.
This book tries to raise questions and doubts in a readers mind. It wants you to question the religious beliefs you may have already held. The book does this by employing a strategy of shifting grounds on morality – what exactly is an abomination? Was Adam’s meeting with Eve only symbolic of relationship between different people, thereby having no relevance to their sexes?
It brings up forbidden love, and as with love which is restricted, the author tries to win the reader’s sympathy. Its moving when the lesbians hide themselves in a bunker from a violent mob – a bunker similar, and even worse than those used during the Biafran war. Again – a literary tactic to depict a greater war being waged on homosexuals.
The book leads you to watch Ijeoma try to repent before God but being unable to, “not being heard by God”.
Ijeoma’s thoughts often center on the context of Bible passages – discrediting the inference Christians hold from those same passages.
Chinelo Okparanta deliberately explores the religious background of Nigerians by making her central characters well abreast of scriptures. There’s nothing less than twenty passages on homosexuality in this book, some analyzed in depth (though erroneously). It’s a strategy that’s supposed to take the fight out of the opponent by seizing their very war instrument.
This book goes far to come close. Here’s why: It presents gay-torching Christians (arsonists), hateful Christians who will tear off the clothes on the neck of lesbians who are found out and kill them.
It presents a frenzied mother who casts demons out of her daughter for being a lesbian. Fast forward fourteen years and a failed heterosexual marriage, it presents the same spiritual mother saying:
“God who created you, must have known what he did. Enough is enough”
Overall this book works to evoke empathy especially as its written in 1st person P.O.V. It also drops proverbs like this one:
“if you set off on a witch hunt, you will find a witch. When you find her, she will be dressed like any other person. But to you, her skin will glow in stripes of white and black. You will see her broom and you will hear her witch cry and you will feel the effects of her spells on you.
No matter how unlike a witch she is, there she will be, a witch before your eyes”
An unobservant Christian will probably begin to give room to thoughts like: “But its their human right to decide their own sexuality after all, why bother them?”
The book is a patient and descriptive read for the first two parts, the rest hurries through a bit. In the Epilogue, Ndidi, Ijeoma’s lover says her prophecy concerning Nigeria being a place where love is allowed between all sexes and tribes.
This book is written as a response to the laws passed by President Jonathan in 2014 which criminalized same-sex relationship.
In conclusion, for literature? it does well. For my sentiments and beliefs? I fault it every line of the way. I say it does well for literature because if it were to be another cause for which I stand, I’d have thought she made her case sufficiently well for a novel. But this – the issue of homosexuality, I do not stand for it both logically and spiritually. It is fundamentally wrong.
Books and Truth,