Title: And After Many Days
Author: Jowhor Ile
Reviewer: Akinkunmi Akinnola
For all of the rich and abundant natural resources it possesses, neither the Niger Delta nor its peoples have ever fully enjoyed the status and splendour commensurate with the critical importance of the region to the Nigerian economy. Exploited, then neglected, creek communities remain bound in chains of rurality; in recent years becoming a recruiting ground for able bodied male insurgents. The memory of Nigeria’s southernmost region as a place of outstanding natural terrestrial and aquatic beauty has become a virtual myth as the ravages of oil exploration have expedited its degeneration into a desolate Dystopian wetland.
Port Harcourt albeit the commercial and cultural capital of the region is by contraction, a microcosm of the waylaid, wider Delta region. Ile Johwor delays his simmering exasperation with the physical setting in which he places his characters to tell a story of love, life and loss, three inescapable markers of the human experience which tend to be regarded as either profound or extremely banal pending the mastery with which the writer sculpts his prose.
Told through the voice of Ajie the novels leading protagonist, the reader is treated to a guided tour of the daily operations of the home in which he grew up. Along the way, we stop to observe and appreciate his parents & siblings, short and long distance playmates and the diverse and disparate characters who over the years would become an insoluble part of his family’s collective consciousness.
And After Many Days weaves as many themes into 287 pages as there are strands of water coursing the riverine backdrop for the story. The ferocity and fragility of the bond between child siblings, the Nigerian middle class family dynamic familiar to any reader under the age of 15 as at the 93-95 setting of the book and the unbridled sense of adventure that marked the experience of most childhood playmates at a time when a television set was the pinnacle of electronic entertainment . Hovering in and around the narrative with the menace of an aerial vulture is the atmosphere of political and socio-economic tension that marked the early 90s in Nigeria, a time of military rule.
It is the gentle, potent strokes with which Ile paints tender themes of nascent boyhood sexuality, the unbridled anguish caused by a loss in the family and even the far reaching consequences of inter-ethnic restiveness and institutionalized moral bankruptcy which scourges our nation that we begin to enjoy the most gratifying signs of a new and welcome addition to the glocalised cannon of African prose writers.
Being a member of the Utu family is not a monolithic experience. The characters can be singular and individualistic each pursuing a particular agenda, informed by a distinct philosophy, bringing a fresh perspective to the narrative and able to defend why they are perfectly entitled to their judgement irrespective of rank or position. They need not come alive or leap from the pages, they were seated right beside us at the dinner tables of our childhoods, baited and irritated us on the Sunday drive to church and occasionally admonished us with stern counsel, the nefarious end of a beating cane or both.
Historically, patriachs often get a raw deal in the African novel. Chinua Achebe’s Okonkwo was an honourable, proud, reactionary figure who would fall victim to a process of natural deselection at the end of a noose. Wole Soyinka’s Elesin suffered a similar fate albeit his conviction as to the merits of taking his own life were far less trenchant. Ile re-addresses the binary categorization that fathers are either intrepid or ineffectual. Bendic is a fine example of the literary Nigerian dad every son and daughter can cling to in childhood embrace. Tactile, vulnerable, strong and silent, the author manages to paint the portrait of a man some might wish their live action fathers bore a closer characteristic resemblance to. Ma is a woman for whom the title of matriarch might do a disservice because it lends her a sainted, elevated air. The beauty of Mrs. Utu is firmly founded in how authentically she triumphs and trips through a journey that is quite universal but also very unique to her. Paul transcends any of the clichés borne with the mantle of being the eldest sibling. Instead he is projected as relatable, empathetic young man at the cusp of a promising adult future. His younger siblings round out an unbreakable family circle that is all at once a reflection of our own families but yet must be accorded the veneration that they are one page closer to the sort of immortality which is often the preserve of great literary characters in the mind every reader who encounters and appreciates them.
Ile’s narrative snakes between the present and the past with such stamina and agility. A fluidity and a pace for which only the youthful characters who populate his story should be more physically predisposed to. It is the rapid pace of the story which prepare the reader for a good understanding of the vicissitudes and the transience which combine to inflict pain or signal promise to the players in ‘Days’.
With terse, economic phrasing Days is a somewhat bittersweet read. Bitter because the reader may be seduced by the familiarity and warmth of the narrative or by a growing endearment to Ajie’s voice which for much of the story is unyielding, unpolished and uninterrupted in tone by the looming threat of puberty. We tend to need more time with characters we have come to care for especially when we confront the reality that with each quick turn of the page we are involuntarily racing towards a denouement that could be decidedly despondent.
In under three hundred pages the author manages to project a meaning and mystique to his characters that another novice may be unable to accomplish in two thousand.
Teenagers of the 90’s who were conversant with pop culture may scoff at the idea that the hit songs All That She Wants (92), Shoop (93) and Waterfalls (95) would appear on the same mix tape given their chronology. Music lovers worth their salt knew that the maximum span for a compilation of hit singles didn’t typically exceed six months and may be slow to forgive this breach of the mix tape code of conduct strictly observed in the last decade of the 20th century.
The paperback version could also benefit from having a glossary since the book is punctuated with a lot native appellations and jargon much of which if understood would lend a touch of context to the readers understanding.
But an ability to move past such earth shattering lapses should set the reader up for a thoroughly enjoyable read and the realization that Ile’s pulsating narrative style has the power to influence new writers as they offer up their own stories to the literary ether. In a staggered fashion, he is able to cascade the plotline down the pages of ‘Days’ with the dexterity of a veteran, evoking pathos and passion along the way.
Two days after completing ‘Days’, I felt as though I’d been shot with a dart of sober reflection, the effects of which are only beginning to wear off.
If the author’s intention was to tell the story of a childhood within an upper middle class South-South family, he should be commended for having surpassed his expectations. ‘Days’ will bind its readers together with cords of strength, affection for the Utu’s and plain old pragmatism, qualities which I wager are the very tenets on which this fine work of modern African prose were first fabricated in its authors astute imagination.
Akinkunmi Akinnola writes from Stuntscryber. Follow on social media:
Facebook: Stunts Scryb