Art, Faith & Society
Sunday, March 8, 2015
A Review of Sunny Jack Obande’s A Miracle for Daddy
Sunny Jack Obande’s new children story, A Miracle for Daddy, is a heart-touching story about a child battling with the traumatic experience of almost losing his father on his birthday. Otseme, the child-narrator, a seven-year old, has been promised a wonderful birthday by his father, only to be disappointed when his father doesn’t show up because of an accident. During the time of waiting for their father’s healing, the children, Otseme and his sister Oyigwe, experience the challenge of not being with their parents. Staying with their neighbours is an uncomfortable experience, and staying home under their aunt who is exploring a new love life has left them completely disillusioned. Being through this devastating passage, the children almost despairing, their father receives a miracle and is completely healed.
In this short work that is obviously meant for young readers, Obande uses his narrative to achieve the traditionally held view of the writer as teacher. Apart from exposing us to the confusion that children go through in trauma and when faced with new experiences, the author’s goal is obviously meant to showcase the beauty of a wholesome family. This entertainment then provides a reading which shows the possibility of building a good family on values and principles, and even faith in a generation witnessing complex inexplicable degeneration of the family institution. The father, for instance, is depicted as a loving strong pillar for his children. In the first chapter, Otseme, the child-narrator, details his friendship with his father as an experience that is well-treasured in his heart. We also see a loving relationship between the man and his wife, which obviously forms the foundation for building affection in the family. Consequently, good parenting is one aspect of the book that stands out. Parents are shown as people who should train their children to behave well not only in the domestic space, but also in the whole community.
Obande’s didacticism is also shown in the constant occurrence of the need for propriety and politeness in the behaviour of the children. The children know that they are supposed to greet people who are older than they are. They know that they are supposed to call an older person ‘Uncle’ or ‘Auntie’. When they meet Mike, this is what Otseme says, ‘He was not related to us in any way, but he said uncle because that’s just how we address older men in Nigeria’. The children are also taught to say ‘Thank you’ whenever they receive a gift or service. This is probably an effort on the part of the author to correct certain traits that African children are acquiring due to exposure to Western culture through the media and other means.
But of course, producing a work of realism, Obande does not cut his child characters in the image of complete innocence. Far from that, his major child characters are shown to be mischievous and struggling morally even within the world of their innocence. Oyigwe, Otseme’s elder sister, sometimes, instead of protecting him, bullies him verbally. For Obande this does not show a lack of love in the children’s relationship at all, but just a representation of the complexity that exists in human nature. The world of children is therefore divested of any biased idyllicisation. This then becomes an addition to the current trend of African literature in which child-narrators are used to view society and question wrong practices through puerile naivety, which produces the desired irony.
I enjoyed the use of local colour and references to ideas from the 1980s and early 90 which point to the temporal setting of the story. One comes across references to Sesame Street, Voltron, Jegede Shokoya, etc. which were popular on television in the 80s and early 90s.
While this is a good contribution to contemporary African children literature, Obande’s work would have profited much more from cycles of editing that would have cut off excessive explanations and telling that fight the narrative flow. The narrator is also conscious of a reading audience and offers explanations to the ‘outsider’. For instance, ‘moi-moi’ and ‘akamu’ should have been enough without the narrator going on to explain that they mean ‘beans paste and corn pap’. One also reads textbook-like expressions like ‘general assumption’, ‘method of play’, which are not expressions that a child of seven would normally use. I also find traces of ‘othering’ other ethnicities such as in the use of the exaggerated Hausa accent for the only Hausa character in the story, which I think is inappropriate for children’s literature. The ending of the story is also somewhat unexpected and a breach of the genre of realism. The reader may find it hard to connect the miracle with anybody’s effort or faith, since the pivot of a narrative is the crisis and the tension or effort or struggle it generates.
But on a whole, A Miracle for Daddy is a commendable literary effort and a reading that will add value to family life and social morality. Enjoy!