The NS Anthology: Of tears, kisses, heroes and villains, and might I add, empathy.
Why do we love Nigerian stories? Those tales of the improbable, the fantastic, the quotidian? These fountains of dramatic justice bubbling with every emotion known to man? Nigerians are born raconteurs, you see? We’ll dip you into it, willing or not.
What makes a good story? We forget ourselves in the instant. We abandon decorum. Clapping and cheering for the dramatis personae. Shrieks of horror, or delight may escape us. We laugh, cry and sniffle, sometimes in spite of ourselves. We’re at the edge of our seat, at times. We let out the occasional involuntary chuckle.
A good story is like the unrehearsed banter of a mischievous friend, the earnest storyteller. And like most Nigerian stories, has a moral- an agenda, if you will. And surprises aplenty. Most Nigerian stories abandon the fluff and reach directly for the good stuff: our heart strings. I suspect, too, that this is why Nollywood is so loved, world over. It interacts with the basic motivations of us story-loving humans.
This is not to suggest that the offerings in the anthology are basic.Far from it. The first volume of Naija Stories contains stories, as the rider goes, “of tears, kisses, heroes and villains”, is nuanced with the contradictions, unseen difficulties, and surprising turns in the road that we have found life in Nigeria replete with. The anthology of 30 stories will be launched on the 27th of March, 2012, although digital copies can be procured already.
It is true to life, examining issues, horrors and concerns of the day, and our national lives: Militancy in the Niger Delta, murder and armed robbery, corruption, sexual abuse, cultism, child marriage, (unsafe) abortion, prostitution, mortalities from AIDS, and sectarian violence. It also, however, speaks of bereavement; love, lust and adultery; family; peer pressure and rivalry; long distance relationships; over-salted food, and the kindness of strangers. It’s not all gore. We still recognise our country.
The authors live in Lagos, Abuja, Ilorin, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, and Niger State, but also Canada, London, The US and the Netherlands. Theirs are voices of the new, cosmopolitan Nigerian youth.
We recognise, too, the dialogue, and settings. Very congruent with our authentic, emotive patterns of speech, and which manage, in several instances, not to look contrived. We recognise these voices. We are the ones speaking.
The anthology is a snapshot of that most elemental of artistic forms: the Nigerian story. Rising above the fray, however, are several pieces I will highlight, which I found striking and unforgettable for several reasons.
The anthology begins with A Glimpse In The Mirror. Yejide Kilanko’s touching tale of a young coffin-maker moistened my eyes at some point (I could be a softy, I know J). Other striking stories were, Mother Of Darkness, by Rayo Abe, a supernatural tale of teenage ‘experimentation’ with the occult; Blame It On A Yellow Dress, by Uche Okonkwo, which approximates the innocence and violation of a little girl at home, from the viewpoint of the child; and Damilola Ashaolu’s poetic cadences of illicit love in Nothing Good, which are nothing, if not good (you’ll excuse the pun).
Others include Adiba Obubo’s Visiting Admiral John Bull, which explores the armed insurgency in the Niger Delta, a lawyer’s disillusionment with peaceful dialogue, and the fallout from hideous acts of the 1999 Odi Massacre. What Theophilus Did, by Gboyega Otolorin is an immersive story, with particularly enjoyable dialogue. In Illusions Of Hope, Ola Awonubi reads, true, the pulse of a populace gripped by uncertainty and insecurity, and the editor of the volume, Myne Whitman, writes of an essential kind of courage, in A Kind Of Bravery.
Two Straws In A Bottle, Remi-Roy Oyeyemi’s mellow romantic tale, ends with quite a flourish; Wiping Halima’s Tears is simple, yet poignant; and in Meena Adekoya’s story of a vengeful Abiku in Catalyst, you’ll likely find an interesting read.
My absolute best of these stories, however were Tola Odejayi’s Co-operate!, of a midnight encounter with armed robbers that unfolds, and ends in unexpected fashion, for everyone; Lulufa Vongtau’s short, pithy and cheeky Jesus Of Sports Hall, an adolescent story that still ends up being a grave indictment of our society at large; and Rachel’s Hero by Henry Onyema, an action story complete with grenades, Uzis, masked men, and one desperado Bruce Willis type, is a hackle-raising tale of heroism, and maniacal terrorists besieging a school.
The volume ends with a heart-pounding thriller/horror story– by Raymond Elenwoke- The Devil’s Barter, which leaves us like we were at the end of tales by moonlight, the Nigerian Stories we grew up on- excited, and wondering, probably, when the next will come.
The longest of these stories come in at about 13 pages, while the shortest average about 2 to 3. The disparity is somewhat worrying, though. There doesn’t seem to be a followed convention on length, and there are several pieces that could work just as well, or better, at a third of their current length. Segmentation across themes, or better navigation across stories, particularly with a more coherent contents page, or perhaps numbering the stories or introducing them with a synopsis in the contents, would also have served the layout of the book better. One may not be interested in reading back to back, but maybe I’m just speaking for myself.
I may not have been crazy about the cover design and was irked by the odd typo, several instances of worn expressions, and the occasional dead-end story, but I found gems, and pleasant surprises, as you will, too. Very often, the stream of the narrative rises to very admirable heights, and the one thing you cannot say, is that these stories were told without heart. It’s a fairly accurate portraiture of the lives of Nigerians, as they are currently lived, and a reasonably enjoyable aggregation of our stories. And, find it palatable, agreeable, or not, you cannot deny that it speaks truth. Could a greater compliment be paid?