Disclaimer: This is not a proper book review but rather my thoughts and reactions upon finishing the book. Continue reading if you will. Here’s a brief summary: The book is set in Nigeria in the 1960s and follows a handful of main characters as they become enmeshed in the Baifra struggle (war?) for independence. I should also note that I found the author's descriptions of Africa and her writing beautiful and real. I’d call the work highly readable literature. Oh, and I really liked it. Right, onward...
For me, the main characters symbolize the nuances and legacy of colonialism. There is Richard, the misguided European who wants so very badly to belong and make a difference but is largely impotent and benign. Kainene is an educated, African profiteer. Olanna, her nonidentical twin, is opposite in looks and belief systems; she is beautiful like Africa. Odenigbo represents the African intellectuals with their visions of independence. Baby, who has a given name which is not used, represents the innocent children of Africa. Children who seem so needy and numbered they become nameless in the eyes of the West. Perhaps the adults become childlike and nameless too... And, finally, Ugwu. Ugwu represents the tribal innocence and trust that was so badly disregarded and betrayed.
On a side note here, I fell in love with Ugwu immediately. He is so eager to please and authentic. He is fascinated by his first encounter with running water and the refrigerator. His innocence and eagerness are endearing. And, I still love Ugwu even though he is changed by the violence around him. Violence in which he eventually participates.
Struggles for independence are often ugly and inhumane. It becomes impossible to be involved, directly or peripherally, without being stained by the surrounding elements, a nod to Cardinal Wolsey of Tudor fame for that sentiment. And, the characters here are no exception.
Lest you think this book is all gloom and doom or just another accusatory condemnation of imperialism, colonialism, racism, or some other -ism, the main characters are so profoundly human and perfectly flawed you can’t help but care about them, pull for them, and sincerely want a happy ending for them. And, there are some genuine acts of beauty, like Kainene forgiving Olanna. In fact, there are many lessons of forgiveness to be learned from this story. However, like the current human condition in Africa, the story ends with some unfinished business.
Thanks for reading my (hopefully not too) random prattle. If you're into this sort of story, I'd say give it a go. The writing really is superb.
Oh, and I'm looking for a new book to read. Thinking about Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Suggestions? My usual genres are historical fiction and magical realism, but I've been known to stray...