This week I read Do Not Say It’s Not Your Country by Nnamdi Oguike.
I had my reservations in the beginning. At first glance, this book didn’t seem like what I’d want to read.
The cover seemed too political. The red beret. The mysterious silhouette. The title. It screamed political fiction. And the thing about me is, I have no interest in reading such. Nigerian politics upsets me tf out on a regular, so why would I?
Eventually, I got to find out the book is not pol-fiction. It’s a collection. It consist of twelve short stories. They explore themes such as terrorism, slavery, love, and innocence.
The synopsis says it’s a “brilliant book that takes you on a tour of Africa and beyond, to meet more of humanity in it’s beauty and pain.” Going in, I had a lot of expectation. It’s no secret that I love everything Africa. I jump at any and every opportunity to know more about this place I call home. We are fifty-four countries. Thousands of tribes and tongues. So much culture and history unexplored. So, I saw this (reading this book) as an opportunity to expand my understanding of the continent in present day and I took it. Now, I somewhat regret that decision.
I don’t love this book.
Reading Camp in Blikkiesdorp and A Nice Job in Antananarivo was an uphill battle. In my opinion, they were both boring and out of touch with reality. They had fairy-tale like endings. It was hard to reconcile their endings with what the characters had been put through. There’s a disconnect.
Apart from that, there was a sense of incompleteness to the story Camp in Blikkiesdorp, which is about a poverty stricken South African family’s stroke of luck.
Prophet gave me nightmares. Of all places to write about the humanity of Africa, Nnamdi chooses Makoko–a waterslum in Lagos city. It’s bold of him. Makoko is a hard place. One of the hardest in all of Nigeria most definitely. It’s uncomfortable to read, let alone write about.
Prophet is much more than just a poverty story though. It also tackles the theme of identity and religion. Through it’s protagonist, a teenage boy of multiple origins, we see the dilemma that comes with being born between borders.
Kumba’s Sister, In Our Father’s House and A Passage through Libya are equally difficult stories about poverty amongst other things (mostly poverty though). In Our Father’s House is a heart-rending story about family and sacrifice.
The Message is painful and sad. Miracle in the Favela is no different than Camp in Blikkiesdorp and A Nice Job in Antananarivo. Unreal. Hated them.
I really did not love this book. But there are some things to smile about.
For one, Nnamdi’s stories are never in stasis. His characters do not rest. There is always something happening. A car screeching. A bottle breaking. A fist thrown. His strength is in his ability to vividly describe conflict, action, and war. It gives his stories momentum.
It’s also commendable the way he is able to incorporate research into the story. He writes about these places–Makoko in Lagos, Antananarivo in Madagascar, Blikkiesdorp in South Africa, Kisenyi in Uganda– so effortlessly, it’s like he’s been there himself. It’s no simple feat. Props to him. However, it does little for the reader as he doesn’t employ the right imagery to transfix us to the page.
In Prophet, when he uses the word “pub” to describe a drinking place instead of “shack” which is ordinarily what you’d find in a place like Makoko, I became aware of this.
In some instances, his writing turns redundant. I found myself skipping whole paragraphs just to get through. It made it difficult to wrap myself in the stories because I was constantly reminded that I’m reading a damn book.
This book is poverty porn. You try to capitalize on the destitute for the entertainment of the privileged. You make the story of our poverty so glaring, it’s entertainment. You write about poor Africans and poor black descents like that is all we are, like that is the only appropriate adjective to describe us.
The only story in this collection that made me hopeful (only temporarily) was My Beloved Infidel. I found it relatable as it’s set in my city. It’s a story about teenage love, a love between a Muslim boy and a Christian, Igbo girl named Ifunanya. And yes, these characters too are poor. But it was the one story where I felt the characters were thriving inspire of that fact. It succeds where the other stories fail because you’re so enveloped in the youthful love story, you forget about the poverty. The characters are driven by love. I see a lot of me (my younger self that is) in these two characters.
I could easily relate to sneaking texts to my crush via my Dad’s phone and passing love notes through my friends. It was a breather. But to have it end the way it did, was like salt to a wound. It was deceit. Trickery. It was nothing short of a breech of trust. I’m offended.
I was reluctant to open this book at the start because I thought it was pol-fiction and I didn’t want to be pissed off.
I got pissed off anyway.
There is no escaping black pain and suffering in this collection. It is all poverty and negro hopelessness. No escapism. No relief. If you are black and on the continent, the reality around you, the reality of where you come from is glaring. No matter how true our poverty is, it’s still a bitter pill to swallow.
If reading about black pain is what you enjoy, go ahead and buy this book. If you’re anything like me, it’ll piss you the fuck off.