Kaito’s life is a path gone crooked. Overcoming the evils life throws his way will be a difficult circle to square. His joys and victories are not for long. Even his delusions quickly taper down as reality spits in his face. “Edible Bones” narrates the suffering of Nigerians whose successes are moored to the America dream. In a matter of granted visas, bought tickets and direct experiences, all that shimmer will turn into glossed rots. And when the stink of everything comes out, there will be the utmost need to justify and invalidate numerous actions. To some, the bones may be strong and others may pretend it is edible, but when it slashes the throat, the discomfort will not be bearable. When Kaito goes to America, all his pains will seem to cease. But on his immediate arrival in America, the bitterness that once was will reemerge with new taints.
“Edible Bones” is an easing-off read. The narrative is natural with an effect. The characters are fallible and quite relatable. The novel expresses its tales with an absorbing telling skill. It extends the ambit of trite Immigrant stories. However unusually, “Edible Bones” combines the usual with the rarely-told. There are the Immigrant issues, the gay syndrome, the psyche of the American culture, the hypocrisy of the American system, the beauty and ugliness of African communality and the coldness of modern life; all which add a refreshing twist to the narrative. Kaito’s encounters become the folder of other stories, stories that come to define the value of an immigrant life. Subtly, though more brilliantly, the tales of two different worlds are bared. Nigeria may be a home of wants; America is neither a land of easy coins.
Though the book almost assumes a didactic tone, the traces are barely noticeable. The characters are fully fleshed out. In this book, every character is a symbol representing a story. We have Kamalu, a perfect copy of a Nigerian student in America living on crumbs to hold up. There is Abuda, the exact depiction of a futile clutch to life. And Kaito, a life which all forces, traditional and foreign, are up against. Of all the things I came across reading “Edible Bones”, I realized that Pentecostalism as an opium is not only in Africa, Americans use it to relieve their boredom too:
“Today, the good news is from the book of John. God wants you to be fishers of men… not wants us to be fishers of money, not fishers of sex”… Each word that came with ‘not fisher of’ was punctuated with a piercing “Amen!” from the crowd. Some added ‘Preach Sis!’ Yet others responded with “Yes Lawd!”… (pg. 54)
With its simplicity of plot, naturalness of characterization and smoothness of descriptiveness, “Edible Bones” worked my reading appetite. In future, without the 500 word-count, I will on my own write more elaborately on this book. It is that worth my attention.
Edible Bones is a story about a man, who, like King Solomon, goes all the way before realizing it’s not worth the pains.
As a security officer at the Embassy (a post that many would envy), he gets to charge at the visa applicants with his belt to keep them in check. You’d suspect that they look highly on him as the ‘gate keeper of heaven’, and that he enjoys the feeling. But he’s not contented with that, for he too wants the REAL thing.
Edible Bones says it’s not only the rabbles that strive to escape from ‘hell’ to ‘Paradise’. In one of the occassions when he slashes his belt at the throng of visa applicants, Kaito whips an accountant and the latter bleeds on the left cheek. Although this man appears cool and calm, it’s clear that he’s even more desperate for ‘miracle’ than the paralytic Jesus accosted by the pool. And, in a way we cannot explain, Kaito is moved by this man’s iron will, so that he arranges for him to be attended to first, against the others’ protests. And just when you think he’s doing the edible bones good, keeping them away from the bull mastiff, he beams a smile at the thought of his own visa, which will be due in few weeks time. This book is full of such twists.
In the begining, it’s always personal- the drive to go and make it in America. And then, eventually, that fear sets in, of disappointing friends and family who have sacrificed so much for the ultimate project; of returning, an ‘empty-handed’, to the jeer and boos of the immediate neighbours and the society at large.
Anxious to manage impression, they deceive those back home by posing beside someone else’s car, or in someone else’s house. There’s also that tendency to blame the misfortunes on perceived ‘enemies’ back home.
And most times, these desperate migrants fall into that trap, that rat race, of holding multiple menial jobs;of living in fear and hiding from relevant officers; of going to jail for one reason or the other, and of settling for a marriage of convenience with the main aim of upgrading their residency status. Kaito represents all those migrants, who would do anything to escape to certain locations they see as Promised Land, only to discover that they dont actually flow with milk and honey.
The crises of returning and finding that one’s peers back home have fared better is maddening enough. After completing the circle, Kaito refuses to return to the States with the wife he’s brought back home. “Jemina”, admits Kaito, I am sorry. I have come to the end of my road.”
One thing is clear here. Unoma Azuah has not written a book on Why Not to Go to America. Rather, she has presented to her readers another possible outcome (one that is almost always underplayed) of mistaking America (and the other First World Countries that people flock to) for Paradise.
In edible bones, Unoma Azuah makes an effort to portray the reality of what the average Nigerian emigrant faces outside the country. In doing that, she is largely successful. But the title of the book-edible bones-fits the book the way a hand glove could fit into the talons of a vulture. Throughout the 256 page narrative, there are no indication of bones, edible or choking even though it is the custom of Africans to crack bones and suck the marrow to the consternation of the White man who see that as disgusting table manners. There are no bones even at the Ken turkey fried chicken, KFC where Kaito works and has his baptism of fire on white low class petty criminals. That is the most discordant overture in the entire symphony of African misjudgment of the white man’s Eldorado that Azuah critiques. Kaitochukwu-Kaito for short-is a young man who is frustrated by life in Nigeria. He graduated in one of the most prestigious universities in the country but could not get a job. After several attempts, he secures a job with the American embassy in Nigeria as a security guard, a job reserved for semi literates. But He is happy because this afforded him the opportunity to pursue his dream of checking out of the country and hitting it big in Yankee land. But on arrival to United States, he finds out that the land is as hard, that the cherry is as red. He even finds out that fourscore is as eighty. And he wonders. That is the beginning of his sorrows.
Kaito’s decision to come back home with his fiancée, Jemina, brings out the mismatch with the female drone. All his old friends are out to exploit him as he is from Yankee and must be in wealth.
Apart from the ending which is left hanging in non-sequitor final scene, Azuah succeeds in what she set out to do: expose the illusions inherent in the idea that the grass is always greener at the other side of the fence. Critics might describe her description of African village scenes as Achebeaesque, while in actual sense it is traditional to Igbo communal life. Unfortunately she does a half-hearted job-probably because of her long absence from Nigeria. She is writing more like a Diaspora lady than a daughter of the soil. Take an example of when Kaito threatens to show Jemima the way of the wild. Apart from that, Azuah proves to be a straight story teller with little or no serious embellishments.
The book is a must read for all young Africans who, instead of staying to ennoble the environment, prefer to escape from the environment on the illusions of instant wealth and success. I recommend it to all secondary schools and the general studies curriculum of African Universities. Though Azuah herself is a product of checking out syndrome, it only goes to show that America is an Eldorado for those who go with an objective and genuine immigration papers.