Jowhor Ile (Nigeria) — And After Many Days

Countdown to the Etisalat Prize!

Each year, the Etisalat Prize for Literature is awarded to a first-time African novelist. The 2017 prize will be awarded next month. I’m working my way through the shortlist, which includes

2016-shortlistSource: Etisalat (2017)

Today, quick thoughts about and 6 pieces of wisdom from Jowhor Ile’s lovely And After Many Days.

“Not everything has to be plot…. It’s just lovely and that’s okay.”

and-after-many-daysIn the opening pages of Jowhor Ile’s debut novel, And After Many Days, the Utu family’s eldest son — Paul — disappears. But shortly thereafter the novel pivots from the search for Paul to a series of reminiscences from the viewpoint of the second son, Ajie. While Ile returns to Paul in the final chapters, that plot — or any plot — isn’t what drives this story. Rather, Ile provides a series of vignettes about life in Nigeria in the mid-1990s. The lack of a strong plot isn’t a critique: As a cop recently said on Saturday Night Live, “Not everything has to be plot!” and her partner, “It’s just lovely and that’s okay.”

Indeed, the same could be said of And After Many Days: It’s just lovely, and that’s okay. While some elements feel specific to Nigeria in this season (such as the reason for Paul’s disappearance), much will be familiar wherever you live. Take this scene, when the children of the family go to stay with an aunt and uncle for a time:

“That night they all sat down and watched one of Auntie Leba’s favorite Mexican telenovelas. Since they arrived, the children had joined in watching the show, which aired three nights a week. Uncle Tam said it was trash but remained in front of the TV whenever the program started….

“‘Stupid man!’ Uncle Tam hissed at the TV. “She is deceiving you.”

“Antie Leba said, “No, there is a reason why she had to lie to him.”

“Paul and Ajie still couldn’t tell some of the characters apart…. At some point, everyone was talking back to every scene that came on, sighing, hissing out loud, and lamenting the silliness of the story and of the characters and actors.”

I remember sitting in front of the U.S. daytime soap The Bold and the Beautiful most evenings while working in rural Kenya in the early 2000s, and similar scenes are played out with my own family here in Virginia today. Even the series of scenes where village members are gradually bought off by a private company will be reminiscent to all who have scene corporate values erode community norms and collective action.

It’s a lovely, relatable, serene novel. I recommend it. I listened to the unabridged audiobook, narrated by Chukwudi Iwuji. The narration was well done.

Here are 6 wise observations within the book:
  1. On the quality of education: “The number of people I meet who have been to primary school but can’t read well is just alarming.”
  2. On thinking (and talking!) in terms of systems: “It makes me a little crazy when you keep saying systems.”
  3. On the mechanism of prayer: “This woman of God could only speak in Igbo, so before they left home that morning, Auntie Julie told Ma she should write her prayer request on a piece of paper. Bibi wrote hers, too, even Auntie Julie did, and Ajie was sure they had all written the same thing and were somehow hoping that if answers were being rationed, at least they stood a greater chance of being granted their single request.”
  4. On the bad luck of others: “When misfortune befalls you, people secretly blame you.”
  5. On not losing your cool: “Remember what we agreed you should do when someone tries to annoy you. The backward count always works. Take it slowly from 100, and before you know it, you will think of something better than to lash out.”
  6. On one of the big questions: “How do you make yourself do that? How do you learn how to work yourself up over something that’s not directly your concern?”
And here’s a bit of miscellany:
  • First line: “Paul turned away from the window and said he needed to go out at once to the next compound see his friend.”
  • Last line: “Ache reaches for the light switch on the parlor wall and turns it off.”
Books mentioned in the book
Don’t believe me? Here are a few other reviews:
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