Book: In Dependence
Author: Sarah Ladipo Manyika
Publisher: Legend Press – 2008
In Dependence is the story of two lovers Tayo Ajayi and Vanessa Richardson – but it is more than that. The book spans four decades of Nigeria and its socio-political history from 1963 – 1997. As the reader gets to grips with the bittersweet love story of Tayo and Vanessa and the strength of it over four decades, they also become aware of Nigeria’s struggles with its colonial past, corrupt leaders and repressive regimes. Tayo is caught in the repressive system due to his ‘activist’ writings and he suffers for it.
Tayo is a young Yoruba man who wins a scholarship to Balliol College Oxford in England. There he meets Vanessa, the beautiful white daughter of an ex-colonial officer. The rest as they say (to borrow that old cliché) is history. And there it is. Just like Nigeria never did get its act together over those four decades (and we are still waiting), racism, indecision, fear, stupid rows and that same old male brain located ‘somewhere not inside the head’ all conspire to keep the two lovers apart. Life happens in between and the realism is well done. The inter-racial relationship is so well portrayed that if one had no clue how racism could impact on a relationship, the enlightenment is here. But of course it is not just about the wider racism in British society or the disapproval of Mr Richardson – Vanessa’s dad – to a potential union, it is also about unpredictability of the impact of cultural differences. Another issue is to do with Tayo’s indiscipline around women and this comes across quite strongly in the book.
My favourite thing about this book – apart from the interplay of the lovers’ struggles with Nigeria’s struggles – is the characterisation. I love the portrayal of Tayo and Vanessa. Although the book is about more than their relationship, it is easy to keep sight of them as the central focus. Tayo is a particularly complex character. Manyika does get under the skin of liar-liar-pants-on- fire-Tayo, a man who always means well but ends up hurting the women he loves. From Modupe to tragic Christine to Miriam, and of course Vanessa. Tayo is aware that this is one of his flaws. He is also aware of his indecisive bent. In one of his letters to Vanessa in 1995, he says:
“I am like one of your Forster characters that never seize life” (P.223)
I am conflicted about Tayo as a character. I spend equal amounts of time loving and hating him. Here is a man who is so principled and brilliant on one hand – he loves his country Nigeria and despite the danger to his activist life and somewhat reduced livelihood refuses to leave for less troubled climes, and shuns the brain drain of the mid 80s to early 90s. On the other hand, he is so unprincipled in his relationships with women and lies to Vanessa several times about his relationship with Christine. Vanessa also delights and annoys me in equal measure as she spends practically half her life pining for Tayo while he gets on with his life and his women. But she is brilliant at being a mum and also at her career as a journalist and writer.
The flame of incredible humanity that burns in this impenetrable crust of unconditional love is quite heart-warming. The message is clear that in spite of our circumstances and the decisions we make that may have particular consequences; love always finds a way. It may not be how we envisaged it when we started out on the journey but the journey of love and of hope is always en-route should we choose to stay on it. As Tayo and Vanessa remain dependent on each other over four decades and Nigeria remains dependent on her colonial past, the irony, interplay and symbolisms are evident. In Dependence would make you dependent on every page until the end.