The Tzer Island book blog features book reviews written by TChris, the blog's founder.  I hope the blog will help readers discover good books and avoid bad books.  I am a reader, not a book publicist.  This blog does not exist to promote particular books, authors, or publishers.  I therefore do not participate in "virtual book tours" or conduct author interviews.  You will find no contests or giveaways here.

The blog's nonexclusive focus is on literary/mainstream fiction, thriller/crime/spy novels, and science fiction.  While the reviews cover books old and new, in and out of print, the blog does try to direct attention to books that have been recently published.  Reviews of new (or newly reprinted) books generally appear every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Reviews of older books appear on occasional Sundays.  Readers are invited and encouraged to comment.  See About Tzer Island for more information about this blog, its categorization of reviews, and its rating system.

Entries in Nigeria (2)

Wednesday
Mar062019

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Published by Doubleday on November 20, 2018

Ayoola and her sister Korede begin My Sister, the Serial Killer by disposing of a body . . . again. Ayoola stabbed her boyfriend in the heart. His name was Femi. Ayoola can’t remember his last name.

Ayoola has killed two other men. She contends that she killed them in self-defense. When she feels Korede is reproaching her for being a serial killer, she accuses Korede of victim-shaming. Still, Ayoola isn’t all bad; she would take the most recent stabbing back if she could.

Korede works in a hospital. When Dr. Tade asks Korede if he can have her sister’s number, Korede tells him that Ayoola’s relationships tend to end badly. Korede has a thing of her own for Dr. Tade, but she lacks Ayoola’s beauty and effortless ability to ensnare men. Dr. Tade believes Korede should stop undermining Ayoola. Little does he know.

The reader, of course wonders whether Dr. Tade, who seems like a nice enough fellow, will be the next to die. Or perhaps it will be Gboyega, a married man who is financing Ayoola’s fashion business.

The reader also wonders if Korede will make trouble for herself by chatting with a comatose patient named Muhtar. She confides her sister’s murderous actions, then frets when Muhtar awakens. Will he recall her confessions and, if so, what will he do about them?

Korede’s low self-esteem, her complicated relationships with Ayoola and her father, and her longing for Dr. Tade all coalesce to make Korede a sympathetic character. She is a voice of reason compared to most of the other characters, who seem to live in a world of frivolity and needless drama, a world that fails to value the truly valuable. At the same time, Korede is an enabler and has an obsessive moment in which her own behavior is less than exemplary. The novel thus reflects the reality that even good people have their bad moments.

Told in deadpan prose, most of the story is light and amusing despite the rising body count. Oyinkan Braithwaite invites chuckles with her observant wit and clever dialog. For example: “‘Hey! I hate stingy men!’ Chichi repeatedly snaps her fingers over her head, warding off any stingy man who might be tempted to come near her.” And: “She has used juju to useless my husband!”

At the same time, the story is serious when it focuses on Korede’s abusive father, who beats his daughters and offers Ayoola’s virginity to induce a business deal. Perhaps it is with good reason that Ayoola is quick to kill men. The patriarchal nature of Nigerian society and its tendency to treat women as property is one of the two serious themes of My Sister, the Serial Killer.

At the end, as is often the case with people who do not live up to their own expectations, Korede has to make a decision about what kind of person she really is. Whether or not the reader approves of that choice, the novel makes clear that she is the only person who has the right to determine her future. Nobody can decide who someone else should be. That’s the novel’s second serious theme, and it serves to balance a story that is in other respects goofy and fun.

By the way, I thought it was interesting that in Nigeria, the word MAGA means fool. Sounds about right.

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Monday
Jun202016

Born on a Tuesday by Elnathan John

Published in Nigeria in 2015; published by Grove Atlantic/Black Cat on May 3, 2016

Born on a Tuesday follows young Ahmad Dantala, an Islamic Nigerian, as he is swept up by violence and corruption, runs from bullets, finds refuge in a mosque, and tries to fight the temptations that make teenage boys tremble in the night. In the mosque, Dantala struggles with English and friendship, both of which he shares with an abused boy named Jabril. As is common in novels of this nature, he questions some of the harsher interpretations of Islamic law. He becomes deputy to a Sheikh who guides his lessons. He also discovers that there is corruption in Nigeria. Who knew?

Dantala’s struggle eventually puts him in the middle of competing religious and governmental factions. Born on a Tuesday positions Dantala as a symbolic representative of peaceful people everywhere who become the victims of power struggles spawned by zealots.

Much of the novel’s background concerns the struggle between two opposing views of Islam, one that wants to separate itself from the Nigerian government and oppose it violently, and one that wants to work within the Nigerian government to influence institutions and bring about change. The conflict makes Dantala wonder how Muslims can respond to people fighting them all over the world when they are constantly fighting among themselves. The conflict spills into Dantala’s life in many ways, particularly in the effect it has on his friend Jabril. Another religious struggle that the book touches upon (although not too deeply) involves the conflict between Sunni and Shia within Nigeria. The primary background element involves the Nigerian Army’s massacre of the Shia.

Since this is a coming-of-age novel, Dantala does the things that boys do, including having sex with a prostitute and touching himself, actions that his religion forbids. His interactions with women, as is typically true of young men in coming-of-age novels, are awkward. Religious strife leads to violence -- a mixture of killings by individuals, police, and soldiers -- that Dantala feels powerless to address.

Born on a Tuesday conveys the political and religious conflict that surround Dantala, but Elnathan John never made me feel Dantala’s emotional responses. Perhaps the prose is a bit too clinical. Although John makes clear that Dantala’s experiences (including torture) are horrifying, the experiences are not emotionally convincing. Dantala told me about his pain but didn’t make me feel it. The religious rituals in which Dantala engages (such as daily prayer and washing the body of his dead friend) are common to novels about Muslims, but the novel is disappointing in its failure to explore Dantala's connection to his religion in greater depth.

As an account of an oppressed religious minority in Nigeria, however, Born on a Tuesday has value. It also has value as the account of a young man trying to make sense of a world that too often makes no sense at all. A more seasoned novelist might have written a more moving story, but Born on a Tuesday has the great virtue of honesty.

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