And After Many Days
by Jowhor Ile
Tim Duggan Books
Hardback: 246 pages
ARC provided free of charge by Tim Duggan Books via Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion.
“I’m going to Fola’s house,” he said again to his brother, Ajie, who was lying on the couch, eyes closed…If Ajie heard, he gave no sign…Paul floundered by the door as though he had changed his mind…left the house, and did not return.
It’s 1995. Nigeria is still reeling from its independence and struggling to find its new identity. Despite signs of progress in some areas, there’s still an underlying threat of violence from political and military regimes vying for control.
The Utu family resides in metropolitan Port Harcourt living what appears to be a stable middle class lifestyle. Life feels good, the children have done well in school, there’s plenty to eat and luxuries of the world can be found throughout the home. The calm found is this home is a thin veneer laid over a nation in crisis.
The opening narration reminded me of the false normalness portrayed in the daylight hours in the movie, I Am Legend. The TV blares in the background, cell phones ring, and adolescent angst threatens family peace. When night falls, evil lurks and deep seated fears surface.
We learn at the outset that this family suffers an unimaginable horror. The eldest son, the loving older brother, the apple of his mother’s eye walks out the front door to visit a friend and never returns.
Ajie narrates. The story flips between the origins of the family unit arcing back to the present narrowing the gap between the two timelines until we reach the final chapters and finally learn what happened to Paul.
The writing itself is wonderful and captivating however the retro-current story line arcs were hard to follow at times. Personally I was disappointed that Paul’s story faded into the background dialogue focused on the national struggles and violence. I would like to have been better invested in Paul’s character. Learning his fate almost felt melodramatic after traveling through religious wars, police corruption, and cultural inequalities.
Having said that, as a mother myself, I felt a deep maternal surge of sympathy for the years of questions unanswered about Paul’s fate. His disappearance changes each family member’s life line. You do wonder in what way the shadow of grief and loss affected the overall development of each character; how would it have been different if he never left.
The heartbreaking story of the Utu tribal history through war affected me deeply. The religiously based horrors of 1995 Nigeria feel contemporary to ISIS and terrorist activities of 2016.
The author has produced a good read that will present to an uninformed readership the state of living found in a corrupt and developing nation.