Every generation has a book that defines it, that lays its secrets bare and shines bright lights into its darkest corners. In Nigeria, for the generation who began university after the swinging 80s said goodbye and the ill-thought out economic policy that was SAP started showing its ill effects, the unpredictability of university education has remained a constant decimal, as has the dangerous silliness that is campus cults.
Much more than any book before it, Fine Boys, Eghosa Imasuen’s second novel is a book that will come to define a generation’s time in the organised chaos that was a Nigerian university before GSM and the internet found a foothold and cleaved tight.
Like Chukwuemeka Ike’s coming of age novel, Toads For Supper, the novel goes beyond the university campus to show us the characters background and why they are the way they are. Unlike some of the more popular books by Nigerian authors of the same generation, written largely for a condescending western audience, Fine Boys threats the characters with respect, handling poverty and affluence in a light that does not class people on their account. In Fine Boys, the humanity of the characters are more important than how much money they have in their pocket or the kind of house the live in. It is a story written primarily for a Nigerian audience, and the beauty of it should serve as apology enough for those who would have wanted it otherwise.
On the surface Fine boy reads like any tale of coming of age, of ragging teenage hormones finding outlets, of boy just being boys and girls… while, of girls being girls. However, on an intrinsic, but albeit easily designable level, Fine Boys is the story of Nigerian college confraternities, otherwise known as secret cults, told by an outsider—a Ju-man.
From the POV that the novel is narrated, nothing is left out, the story reads true and will hold serious water with anyone that went to university in southern Nigerian in the last 25 years. Narrated by Ewaen, a teenage upper middle class medical student, Fine Boy does not dwell on the history of the confraternities, or try to explain their ideological differences – which would have added more pages to the book and bore readers to death. The author stayed true to his main character and told the story through his eyes. Ewaen is a Ju-man – a non-initiate – though he has some affiliations, he knows little about the inner working of the cults. Through Ewaen’s eyes, the author was able to show enough to give the reader a hint of what confras are, and how deadly they can be. From that POV, confraternities naija style are meaningless egoist undertakings that anybody with any sense should stay the hell away from, and this is the priceless message that any intending university student should take away from the book.
The book is labelled fiction, but the story rings too true. I suspect that too much of it is factual experience packaged as fiction. I say this because it is very real to me. In the university, I know of guys lost to silly bloodletting over issues that would not have warranted a raised voice in a sane society. Parents have had to bury sons, and at times daughters, killed by their peers over quarrels and tuff wars that borders on the absurd. At the time Fine Boys was set, these senseless killings that would later become entrenched in the Nigerian university culture were just beginning. It peaked a few years later and continues to rear its ugly head now and then. About a month ago, a clash between confras resulted in the death of several university students in Enugu, some of whom were shot in broad daylight on Enugu streets. And as I was tidying up this review, reports came in that 8 students were killed in the university that this book was set after another ‘war’ between rival cults – Children sent to get an education and better themselves taken untimely, more bodies for mothers to bury, more destinies truncated. With this narrative in mind, Fine Boys is by no means fiction.
Fine Boys does not drag and the writer tried very hard not to leave too many questions unanswered. The characters are believable and you will find them easily enough in Nigerian campuses, at least in federal and state universities. The scenes are painted in colours real enough for nostalgia to be the lot of readers who attended Nigerian universities and acute familiarity for those who are still passing through.
I have read some reviews of Fine Boy and agree with them that the book’s importance transcends the story it tells. We have for years wondered why spell checkers and dictionary entries would have columns for other countries’ versions of English but never Nigeria’s version. Well, Eghosa Imaseun is one of the new age writers showing Nigerians the way forward, by embracing Nigerian expressions with no apology and no glossary. If you find the words hard to understand… to echo Pa Ikhide, look it up, it is a new age out there.
Previously published at africanwriterstrust.org