Publisher: JALAA Writers Collections
When I began reading Blackbird, my first thoughts were ‘oh no! Not another social-responsibility story about Nigeria.” It’s probably just me, but it seems as though there is an overdose of ‘the things that’s wrong with Nigeria’ messages on social networks, music, and online newspapers. Not that there’s anything wrong of this. But, from the time I wake up in the morning to when I go to bed at night, I’ve had to live with the things that are written/sung about. So such, the extra daily reminders, which may give those living outside something to shudder on and probably firm their belief that we are a failed state, just gets a little bit too much for me after a while. Especially since everybody knows what is wrong but not how to solve it. So, if I have to endure another woe-on-us sermon, I wouldn’t want it in form of a novel. I like to read about people, not about problems, thank you very much!
Thankfully, Blackbird told a story of the characters, without the setting drowning them out. Sure, all of Nigeria’s usual problems were highlighted – the corruption et al – but it didn’t overshadow the different emotional struggles each person in the book went through. Nobody was one-dimensional, which I loved. For instance, I started the book thinking the females were proper and boring. Suddenly, they started behaving badly – one more than the other – and I was like, “Yay! Now we’re talking.” Women portrayed as helpless victims of the ills of their men are seldom attractive, if you ask me, in life and in fiction.
After having connected to the characters, I could now ‘see road’ to assimilate the troubles with Nigeria. And I have to say, whether or not Jude used it as an inspiration, Blackbird brought to mind the Victoria Island/Maroko crisis that made so much news some years ago; from the things that were printed in media, to the public outcry and the condemnations from all quarters, etc. Abi, was Maroko still not cleaned out? Is it not now a big-man area, boasting of expensive ‘international’ schools like the one my son goes to? Also, I got the impression that Blackbird was about Nigeria of the 80s and 90s, a time my father says killed the middle class.
I remember how my mother, worked as a civil servant then, had gone for many months without her salary paid. It was a good thing my father owned his own business, else we might have been like most of my friends whose parents kept their ministry jobs for show, but lived on any naira they could scramble through P.P (private practice). Even then, they still couldn’t escape the wahala in the country: the lack of infrastructure, and dealing with corruption at every corner. Trekking home after school, my friends and I would pass by this huge shoe company that we never saw working, as well as other factories that were closed. I greatly appreciated Blackbird for bringing back those sad memories of a really rough period. Sha, seriously, we have come a long way in this country. So, abeg, a little bit of that hope should be brought into fiction. Too many depressing storylines out there, joo.
That aside, there were a few things I think Jude could have worked out:
His use of “all up in their business” in page 227. First of all, that’s a modern slang. I got the sense that Blackbird was set before the present millennium. Even if Americans used that slang long before now, it is certainly a recent lingo down here. I doubt two poor village boys, whose parents most likely do not own have television, would have had in their vocabulary. What’s more, Jude went on to explain what ‘all up in their business’ meant in the very next sentence!
What’s wth the dabbling into ‘gayness’ again? Yes it was supposed to be non-sexual (then again, is there such a thing? If a man ejaculates at the thought of another man’s body, isn’t that as gay as it gets?), however, Jude has already explored homosexuality in an entire book. Why he brought it up this time around? I also did not see what part that scene played. It could have been substituted and no one would have missed it.
Most crucial error of all (if you ask me), is that Jude failed to answer the question that the killing of Katherine raised at the start of the book: (i) Who sent Scorpion on that job? (ii) why? (iii) why did Scorpion & his gang rape her, and why was nothing said of it afterwards? (iv) how direct role does Kathrine death play in the story other than being a matter what everyone seemed to like to refer to?
Someone said there were a few typos in Blackbird, but I didn’t see any. It could be a testimony to how much I enjoyed reading it. I would definitely purchase another book by Jude. Meanwhile, congratulations to JALAA Writers’ Collective. Wherever you guys printed Blackbird, big return on investment. Someone saw me with the book and had marveled when I told it was a Nigerian publisher. Well done, guys. Thanks once again to Naija Stories for the chance to read this amazing book at no cost.