Friday, February 10, 2006

and so to the readers...

This is a bit late coming, considering the article was published on the 15th of January, but better late than never...

Readers’ Books of 2005
Compiled by Molara Wood

Thirteen contributors feature on our list of readers' books of 2005, in a modest improvement on a similar initiative from one year ago. Among the 13, are some readers-who-write, including Anthony Olaniji, a student of English at the University of Lagos who is already working on his first novel. Our readers recommend their choices of new and not-so-new works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry - below.

Lyndah Achom
Freeport, Bahamas
I would like to recommend Graceland by Chris Abani (Farrah, Straus and Giroux). I absolutely loved the storyline. The books is so funny in parts, it had me in stitches.

Adeleke O Adeyemi
For an age in which gender relations have upstaged issues of race, along with the high-handedness and bigotry that attend matters of identity, I found Lisa McMinn's Growing Strong Daughters to be a veritable mine (not the type you can lose a limb to…!) for redressing things at source. Though didactic, it's peppered with many a culturally neutral, life-saving anecdote, endearingly rendered. (By the way, my quote of the year: "The stories people tell / have a way/ of taking care of them" -- Barry Lopez.). Wistfully, I imagine that, with this book, my father would have done a better job of raising my six siblings. Soon, it will be my turn…

Adewale Ajani
Delft, Holland
This House Has Fallen - Nigeria In Crisis by Karl Maier (Penguin) is a very incisive piece. It narrates a German journalist’s unbiased view of Nigeria’s political history - well-groomed with the present political landscape interlaced with a lot of controversies.

Tinuade Awe
New York
Toyin Falola’s A Mouth Sweeter Than Salt (University of Michigan Press) is an amazing book. The language is very descriptive and rich. You can almost feel and smell the streets of Ibadan. I grew up there in a different time and place from Falola, yet I connected with him as an Ibadan resident in a way that I still find difficult to explain. Falola takes you on a wonder-filled Ibadan journey, through the eyes of a young boy. He is telling you his story, but he is also telling you the story of the city and giving you a peep into the story of the Yoruba. He recounts the most out-of-this-world events in a very matter-of-fact manner, at times reminding me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in "One Hundred Years of Solitude." Falola is a bold, unrestrained and very daring writer who is obviously proud of who he is and where he came from, so that every sentence dares you to come up with better stories than he has experienced. I am very pleased that this book is widely available outside Nigeria. I hope non-Nigerians read it for its entertainment value, but most importantly, because it is a great Nigerian story; a fascinating journey through Yoruba culture. I await the sequel, eagerly.

I like Sefi Atta’s Everything Good Will Come because it is so unapologetically feminist. It is ‘in your face' - and tells the story of strong, educated Nigerian women born after independence. We are taught to be independent yet we are taught to be dependent in many ways. Our lives are a contradiction but we don't talk about the contradictions. In Everything Good Will Come, Atta goes for the jugular. She talks about everything and anything. Her female characters have the pessimistic, unexpectant and resigned view of men that is so common among Nigerian women. But, I have never seen it portrayed so clearly. The characters are so familiar. My only concern is that the closeness of the story to the Nigerian experience may prevent non-Nigerian readers from fully enjoying this solid book. I await Atta's next outing, eagerly.

Teju Cole
New York
My book of the year is Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City. By confounding the categories of travelogue, autobiography and social criticism, Mehta points the way forward for those of us who chafe at genres. The many stories of Bombay contained in his massive book are fascinating - the gangsters, the cops, the bar girls, the film actors - and his language could hardly be more skilful or subtle. Maximum City is a justly celebrated account of the life of one of the world’s most complex cities. About time someone did the same for Lagos, but who?

Biola Giwa
Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye
With a keen eye on the world's political temperature last year I stumbled on what in my mind was the best response to George Bush’s arrogance in his determination to play the whole lot of us for gulls. The New Pearl Harbor - Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administation and 9\11 by David Ray Griffin, not only made for interesting reading, it asks basic but probing questions about US claims that the war on "terror" was ‘justifiable’. Read this book then watch Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9\11 and wonder why one man is in the dock and another and his neo-con buddies treat us the way they do.

Ofonime Inyang
University of Uyo, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State
Of all the books that I read in 2005, I find Helon Habila’s Waiting For An Angel (Penguin) stupendously outstanding in its renderings. Built on the author’s award winning short fiction "Prison Stories" it resonates in vividly captivating and thought-provoking terms the neo-militarism of Nigeria’s civil life. Lomba, the lead character offers a characteristic representation of someone in search of society. Habila’s use of language is mellifluous and his ability to juxtapose the pro-democracy struggle of the Abacha years in a fictional docu-dramatization with the factualization of real scenarios, involving active players in the literary community, breathes a novel way of prose structurization. You cannot stop identifying with all his characters; from the idealistic adventurism and cerebral acumen of Janice to the morbid senility of the shamelessly brutish ‘culture’ usurper Muftau, specimens of the Nigerian environment especially during the June 12 years play out. A writer with an uncommon prowess for story-telling and dramatisation, Habila is a fulfilling read anyday.

The poetry of Chijioke Amu Nnadi, especially the collection entitled The Fire Within sparks with life. One is thoroughly enthralled by the composite harnessing of corpulent "Love Poems" into a lethal grenade of revolutionary songs: "Come and listen my land/ as my song swirls / into a shout of revolt". Amu Nnadi’s poetry swells like the tsunami, pelts our conscience and leaves your mind loaded with questions about the many colours of the "Landscape of our Country". This is a poet to watch. He comes with a brand ‘new’, poetry, simple yet highly inflammable.

Remi Jacobs
London, UK
Waiting For An Angel by Helon Habila is one of those books you pick up and just have to finish before you can put it back down. It serves as a reminder of the political pressure and hardship faced by Nigerian journalists during the Abacha years. Grouping the book’s chapters by the main characters made piecing together the storyline all the more enjoyable.

Onyeka Nwelue
I enjoyed reading Uzodinma Iweala’s Beasts of No Nation, because it chronicles what happens in war. Simply written and most touching, it is a super sized romp of a novel, written in an awkward, but laughter- provoking language, that puts grim smiles on the face, when tragedy strikes the mind. It creates a little and passionate vacuum in the mind of the reader, as he uses his words in a way that a reader would want to re-edit it. It is striking and I am indebted to read Agu’s soldiering tale that provokes laughter and shows brutality. A richly written novel of abuses and teenage-soldiering.

Akin Oduola
Tunde Ajayi’s A Night in the Forest is a children’s novel that has inspired me as an adult. I didn't know a novel could be so gripping as to deny me my food and sleep, keeping my nerves awake and my heart palpitating until I find rest at a safe landing at the end of the story. The story is about the exploits of three human beings with the magical powers to turn to animals. Attempts are made to track down the animals - to no avail. That is until Ikugbe, an 18-year-old boy from a lineage of legendary hunters comes to the rescue of the village, in what appears to be the battle of one against three, the bigger against the smaller. Ajayi shows a mastery of the art of story-telling.

Funsho Ogundipe
My outstanding book for 2005 is Waiting For The Wild Beasts To Vote by Ahmadou Kouroumah (Heinemann), an Ivorien who lived and worked in Togo between 1983 and 1993. Translated from the French, it is basically a satire about Togo and its recently deceased president, Gnassingbe Eyadema. The book changes fact into myth, unmasks many home truths and along the way and educates us about our peoples and their collective histories.

Anthony Olaniji
Lagos State University (LASU, Anthony Campus), Lagos State
Reading through Prentice Hall’s The American Experience, I stumbled on Self-Reliance, a seminal essay by the legendary Ralph Waldo Emerson. His focus on inner powers as the sure path to self-fulfilment altered my blurry perceptions about the abilities I possess. I strongly recommend this essay to all because it exposes the greatest ruination of Man’s failure to recognize and optimize the real self. Emerson’s solution is sure to salvage many a life still wasting away, ignorant of their innate capabilities. Self-reliance is a must-read for anyone wishing to be useful to himself and the society in which he lives.

Anthony Olaniji

Oreoluwa Somolu
First published in 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston spoke to me like no other. Set in the 1930s, it centres on Janie Crawford, a black woman living in a tightly-knit Florida community, where fear of censure pushes people towards fairly unconventional life choices. Janie, a fiercely independent woman, deviates from this path by first choosing to leave an arranged marriage which led to a comfortable but stifling life; and then by following her heart into a relationship with a much younger man, after her emotionally-abusive second husband dies. Societies tend to have accepted ‘codes of conduct’, which form the template for the lives of many of its members. This story provides encouragement for anyone seeking to remain true to themselves and carve out their own path in life wherever that might lead.


Anonymous onyeka nwelue said...


I regret why i rated Uzo's work as the best...i did not really wait to see the faults...

The fault is Agu's language, which Uzo claims is being spoken by Nigerians...and i begin to wonder who in Nigeria has ever spoken with ING added to all his works.

I disagree with him in the language. The story is nice, but plot less.

I also want to say that he uses the tradition of his people as a gimmick to sell his ability.

I am worried about that EXPERIMENTAL English and the novella itself.

10:13 am, February 13, 2006  

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