A Tale of Two Cities, two novels resonate at Ibadan reading
By Anote Ajeluorou
When writers and literature enthusiasts gathered at the Ibadan American Corner, Magazine Road, Jericho, Ibadan last Saturday at the Book Reading Forum and discussion event, two things stood out. Charles Dickens’ portraiture of conditions in 17th century London and Paris that resulted in the French Revolution and two recent books that put Ibadan in the fictive imagination took centre-stage
Put together by the Nigerian Society for Information, Arts and Culture in collaboration with Ibadan American Corner, LAIPO and The Booksellers Ltd, the once-in-two months reading event started about half-an-hour late on account of an unexpected rain that bathed the ancient city in its intense shower. Soon, however, the CEO of The Booksellers Ltd got it off in a fine style as he welcomed the audience to what was gradually becoming part of activities to revive the Ibadan cultural life. He stressed the need to sustain such activities in line with the intellectual spirit of the city.
Thereafter, first runner-up for The Nigeria Prize for Literature and author of Eno’s Story, Ayodele Olufintuade, stepped up to introduce the first reader, Dr. Niran Okewole, a psychiatrist at Aro, Ogun State. Okewole first read ‘The hate Artist’, then ‘Concerto of four drugs’ in describing the effects of the drugs administered to patients with mental illness. He then read ‘First breath’ in homage to the process of childbirth, when his godson Petan, PEN Nigeria President, Tade Ipadeola’s first son, was born.
In what would seem like an evening when medical doctors kept a date with literature, consultant gynaecologist, Dr. Dayo Abayomi, read from Dickens’ novel that so eloquently recreated in fictive form worsening conditions in England and France that finally culminated in the famous French Revolution. She read from the opening, of social conditions that so accurately match conditions in present-day Nigeria - the insecurity, the deprivations, insensitivity from the political, ruling class and how the masses were made to bear the excesses of leaders who had lost touch with reality.
She had read, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness… it was the spring of hope, it the winter od despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. In short, the period was so…”.
Abayomi then concluded, “Dickons reminds us a lot of things happening here in Nigeria today that happened in about 200 years ago. The direction Nigeria has gone today is quite retrogressive. We need to stop this downward trend. A Tale of Two Cities by Dickons in 1775 is about London and Paris just before the revolution in France. We can recognise everyday life things we couldn’t have believed are happening in these times.
“What worries me is how quietly we accept these things, how we have stopped thinking, stopped responding, how we have lost our passion to bring a positive change to our country. I hope the generation before me hears the wake-up call and not wait for the coming generation to do what needs to do to change our country”.
Thereafter, author of To Saint Patrick and forthcoming novel, Fine Boys, Dr. Imasuen Eghosa, took the floor and read a short story that graphically depicts the dangers of continued power failures from Power Holding Company of Nigeria and how many innocent Nigerian families have been dispatched to their early death from fumes from generators that were wrongly used. Although scheduled to read an excerpt from Fine Boys, he ended up not reading the piece again. Yet to get over the recent ‘Occupy Nigeria’ street protests, Eghosa still spotted his protest T-shirt, which read ‘The Boyz Are Not Smiling’. Indeed, in a country largely in darkness most of the time and needless deaths resulting from generator fumes as part of the drill, Eghosa, the committed artist, couldn’t afford to smile.
Itunu Fagbure plucked some tunes from his guitar to take the audience to another realm of artistic performance before spoken word artist, Tunde Dike, delivered his ‘Afrolution’ thesis on the revolutionary wave of street protests sweeping across his beloved Africa continent, with a brief stop in Nigeria before the guns were rolled in to quell it in the wake of fuel subsidy removal and strike and protests that sought to upturn the masses’ epic docility that had allowed a few to rule them to ruin.
AFTER that the second segment of the event, a discussion of Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives was, took off, and was moderated by Tolu Fagbure. He gave a brief review and anchored his interest in the book on its attempt to promote oneness amongst people who may ordinarily have divergent views. Shoneyin’s novel traces the life of a polygamous family from a strongly feminist viewpoint, where the wives are forced to have children from outside with the husband’s inability to procreate.
In her response, Eghosa praised the author for her ability to use multiple narrative personalities to weave the story in a seamless manner, especially when he realises how much other writers fail to do it well. Olofintuade saw no major similarities between it and Bimbo Adelakun’s Under the Brown Rusted Roofs, which she said is an original Ibadan book as it fleshes out the texture, smells and colour of the Ibadan she knows it in many intimate ways no other work can possibly do.
Also to respond in the discussion was eminent professor of drama, a playwright, poet and novelist, Prof. Femi Osofisan. First, he said Shoneyin’s The Secrets Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives echoes Wole Soyinka’s play, The Lion and the Jewel,and would seem to be a response to it. While Baroka in the play is strong and virile and performs, Baba Segi, though could perform in bed, he could not procreate. Even the name Segi also echoes Segi, the village belle in Soyinka’s play. Shoneyin’s writing style in multiple narrative personalities, Osofisan also stated, echoes Soyinka’s The Interpreters. He affirmed that the author’s feminism is not in doubt in the work. He quarrelled with the manner in which the book is hurried to its close.
On Under the Brown Rusted Roofs, the renowned university teacher said Adelakun’s novel derives its strength from the seeming transliteration of Yoruba into English, which he said has antecedents in Emos Tutuola’s works. He also hailedUnder the Brown Rusted Roofs for its accuracy in capturing the typical Ibadan milieu in its everyday life, its politics of a particular era and known for violence and the way Ibadan leaps to life. What he could not be sure of is how the evocation of Ibadan is seen by non-Ibadan and non-Yoruba readers, whether Adelakun’s invocation of the ancient city has the same telling effect as it has on Ibadan people. He also commended her strong and dexterous use of sexual images and proverbs in the work and said it attested to how non-literate Yoruba would have it in everyday conversation. He stressed that those who feel Adelakun’s use of sexual images is on the extreme would need to listen to women doing their rounds of gossip and see how graphic they can be.
A non-Yoruba respondent in the audience assured Osofisan that Adelakun’s novel has the same telling, evocative effect on him as it does to an Ibadan reader as the novel could be transposed to any Nigerian, nay African, context and still have the same starling effect. He also corroborated him on the sexual images and insisted that the genitalia featured prominently in African conversations, especially in proverbs and anecdotes, particularly amongst women who do not seem to observe the hush-hush generally associated with sexual encounters as their gossip sessions afford them liberating moments to talk freely about it. He stated that the decorum usually observed by educated folks in the use of such images was in sharp contrast with what obtains amongst the rural or urban illiterate folks. But he wondered why, with such felicity with which local women carry on conversation with sexual images, they cannot teach sex education to their children and wards…
After the discussion, Olofintuade read a hilarious short story titled, ‘Kudirat’, about wayward young ladies who have found the nation’s nouveau riche lawmakers a ready clientele as the latter fritter away ill-gotten, newfound wealth to satisfy perverted cravings for feminine flesh. After which, Oloyede, a folklorist bard, pelted the audience from his rich repertoire of Yoruba ballad. Next to perform was Ipadeola, who read ‘The Opening’ from his poetry collection, The Rain Fardel and his work-in-progress, Sahara Testament, which he said would soon be due for publication. Adeoye Shobakin last took the floor and read two poems, ‘Pull’ and ‘Impossible’.
Thereafter, Mosuro brought the event to a close. But this was after two books, Chuma Nwokolo’s A Diary of a Dead African and Osofisan’s Once Upon Four Robbers had been suggested as possible books up for discussion in the next session of the reading come April.