With no miracles on the horizon, the couple find other means to produce the necessary child. Initially, Yejide delights in being a mother even as her relationship with her husband declines. When the baby dies before reaching her first birthday, the in-laws suspect that evil spirits are at work and Yejide isn’t even allowed to know where the child is buried. Not long after this she witnesses her second child, a much wanted boy, suffering the painful effects of sickle cell disease until he too succumbs. The weight of her grief prevents her from bonding with the third child, a daughter named Rotimi – literally stay with me – and her marriage collapses.
Despite the subject matter, Ayòbámi Adébáyò’s debut is a bright, warm-hearted novel set against the backdrop of Nigerian politics of the 1980s. It’s a fine achievement that the lightness of the voice, with many humorous touches, does not detract from the seriousness and poignancy of the couple’s predicament. Thanks to Canongate for my review copy.
Reza has earned the respect he craves as a gang leader and dealer in marijuana but, when the pressure mounts from his politician “boss”, he’s too distracted by his affair with Binta to properly protect his “boys”. Binta, similarly, is too besotted and focused on rehabilitating her lover, in the way she wasn’t able to do for her son, to notice the potential damage to her own reputation or the post-traumatic stress suffered by her niece. On the one hand, Fa’iza is like any teenager, obsessed with film stars, make-up and trashy novels. But the sight of blood cuts her off from the here and now as she relives the Christian-Muslim rampage that killed her father and brother. Like Sierra Leone in a novel by Aminatta Forna, the entire society is characterised by trauma and loss: Binta’s husband was likewise murdered in the communal violence and her son shot by the police. This brutality continues even within the family: a clever student, Binta was pulled out of school to marry an older man she didn’t know and custom forbade her from showing her eldest son affection, or even using his name, or intervening when his father savagely beat him.
Season of Crimson Blossoms provides a compassionate, if bleak, insight into contemporary Nigerian society in all its complexity and smashes the stereotype of the sexually repressed veiled older Muslim woman. The novel is enlivened by the prose and the proverbs that introduce the chapters (such as It takes more than a bucket of dye to change the colour of the sea and A snake can shed its skin, but it will still remain a serpent). Thanks to Cassava Republic for my proof copy.
“American democracy has never been tested. You might have disagreed ideologically with George W Bush, but he still kind of followed the rules. Here, it feels like Nigeria. It really does. It’s that feeling of political uncertainty that I’m very familiar with, but not a feeling I like. It’s ugly. But even worse, because America is so powerful, and so much at the centre of the world, these things have consequences for everyone. Nigeria doesn’t have that kind of reach, so our problems remain our problems.”
While I’m really enjoying sampling literature out of Nigeria, I must confess that I haven’t knowingly known many Nigerians in real life. So it was lovely last weekend to meet one of that select band of Anne’s Nigerian acquaintances at a local conference and catch up on each other’s lives. Or maybe not quite “catch up”, given that it’s over thirty years since he was a trainee psychiatrist and I was studying for a psychology PhD.
I always find it fascinating when I reconnect with someone from my youth because of the way it also reconnects me with one of my former selves. I wrote elsewhere about how meeting up with some former schoolmates fed into the themes of adolescent and mid-life coming-of-age in Sugar and Snails, and it always evokes knowing nods when I speak about this to my largely middle-aged audiences at events. So I’m making that the focus of this week’s flash, prompted by the theme of hello and goodbye. Unable to find a narrative arc, this is certainly writing in the raw, albeit reviving the iambic pentameter! All I can say is it’s a good thing I never had any pretensions to be a poet.
At the school reunion
We’ve tangled time by merging now with then
Our wrinkles cannot hide the girls we were
Now screened again on weathered visages
So in your face I meet my younger self
In nylon shirt, white socks and hitched up skirt
With curtained hair that veiled our flawless skin
So much we did not could not know of life
And yet we thought ourselves full formed, complete
And so it seems from infancy to death
Each decade pastes another coat on me
The school reunion peels the layers away.
Hello that girl. Goodbye that girl. Hello.