Under bridge, a strikingly beautiful narrative of life in 21st century Nigeria, is an exciting addition to contemporary Nigerian literature by an author, whose mastery of narrative is reminiscent of the German writer, W G Sebald.
Immanuel James has succeeded in weaving a rich blend of history, fiction, meditation and myth with Under Bridge – a tapestry in which everything blends into everything else: places, people, their stories and experiences; and this is what gives the narrative much of its fluidity.
Perhaps what makes this novel a must read is the gift it gives to the reader – the gift of choice. Under Bridge is a two sided-coin. You may choose to read it for the sheer beauty of the prose, the exuberance of its language and the engrossing story it tells; or you may choose to read it for the rich intellectual content and enjoy the robust commentaries on culture, identity, and existence.
We meet the boy, Victor Ekwueme at the onset of the novel as he is thrust into difficulty upon his parents’ divorce. We journey with him through the dusty roads and farms of Umeuge, a village in eastern Nigeria where he is born, and travel west with him as difficulties force him to Lagos, where the search for greener pastures turns into the search for self, for meaning and definition. We follow his transformation from boyhood to manhood as he goes to work in a security firm and strives to continue his education admist riveting twists and turns. On his first day at the security firm, we are introduced to Moses, whom the narrator calls Ceberus – overzealous, fat, and lousy Ceberus. Ceberus is the satirisation of the African slave-driver, depicted in some prominent African works like Wole Soyinka’s The Man Died, and Waiting For An Angel by Helon Habila.
Victor recalls an experience with Ceberus:
““Left! Right! Left! Right! Faster! Faster! Faster! Faster! Stop! Fall like a tree! I said fall flat, fools!”
The military travesty was being conducted by Moses, the operations manager. Overzealous, fat and lousy, he looked like a huge bag of meat held in place by erect bones. As he raised one booted foot after the other during the parade, I noted how his K-leg looked like the legs were wrongfully inserted in his waist, left for right. Smoke-ridden saliva formed bubbles around his lips, spattering with every speech – and Moses never spoke, he barked.
“I was a commandant in the Nigerian Army; I give you military training because that is what you need. You are a real soldiers and must behave like ones….”
I watched from a corner together with some other boys that came late too. I was both amused and frightened, amused over the free entertainment in his poor grammar, and frightened over the despotism of the parade. Suddenly Moses saw us, perhaps for the first time, and growled:
“What are this fools doing here looking like morons? Join the parade or get lost!”
We all shuffled into the lines immediately.
“No no no no! Are you even fit to join us? Oya you, take a walk let me see your gait.”
A fellow among us fidgeted, walked straight towards the gate but Moses shouted at him.
“Go home! You’re walking like a crab! The next!”
Another adjusted himself and walked forward.
“No! You too go home! You’re walking like a crab!”
Chuckles. Two more crabs and it was my turn. I already knew what Moses wanted to see, and I gave it: I bounced with exaggerated treads, springing my chest with arms floating sideways in the air. I did not walk too far else the crab crap would thunder down on me. I turned facing Moses, took a few steps, slammed my left feet on the ground and saluted. Applause! An obviously flattered Moses smiled. “Join the parade!”
The Ceberus character reveals the author’s love for humor. And it is this humor that consoles us as we journey with Victor, who is forced to confront convention, dogma and several harsh realities. Indeed we realize, that Victor’s story is our story, the story of the young Nigerian, trying to carve a life out of chaos.
Under Bridge is a tale of the triumph of hope over daunting adversity, but it is also a tale of disappointment, love, and coming of age. It is the kind of book that you want to read again and again and again.
Under Bridge is published by Eleviv Publishing, Houston, USA. Copies are available on
and the hard copies would be available in Nigeria by April 15.
About The Author
Immanuel James has written extensively on socio-cultural issues that underscore the human condition, constantly raising a voice for youth empowerment through intellectual engagement. He is a graduate of Mass Communication passionate about humanism, writing, and the study of Philosophy. He writes a column for The Nigerian Telegraph, and contributes regular articles to some other national media. Immanuel has a strange love for animals.
To learn more about the author visit his website at www.immanueljames.com