I received this book for free from First to Read in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile
Published by Crown/Archetype on February 16th 2016
Genres: Cultural Heritage, Family & Relationships, Fiction, Literary, Siblings
Source: First to Read
Haunting novel rooted in a political reality. I received this book from Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review. This title will be released February 16, 2016.
Draw yourself a straight line, walk backwards on it to erase your footsteps and you will trip and crack your skull. Straddle the two sides of a stream and you will unhinge your hips. Be unstable as waters and you will not excel.
The Utu family live a comfortable life in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. One day in 1995, their 17-year-old son Paul goes to visit a neighbor and disappears without a trace. His younger brother Ajie was the last person who saw him and is burdened with the guilt that he doesn’t have any information that will help find his brother. Ajie begins to recall past events to try to come to an understanding of the situation and pinpoint the exact moment where everything went wrong for his family. The events of the present were set into motion long before the Utu children even existed.
The publisher summary is misleading. I was expecting a Nigerian Everything I Never Told You. This novel is subtle and even more character driven. It has a starting point and an ending point, but the bulk of the book is a series of recollections. Mostly told in flashbacks before Paul’s went missing, the vignettes portray a tender portrait of family life against the backdrop of growing political unrest. While the shadow of Paul’s disappearance lurks in the background and adds a new emotional weight to seemingly unrelated events, it is not at the forefront. The publisher calls this a “tale that moves seamlessly back and forth through time.” I wouldn’t say seamless because sometimes the story would switch gears abruptly. That didn’t hurt my understanding of the book, but I had difficulty placing a few of the individual flashbacks on a timeline.
Like the pendulum on their parlour wall, they swung to both ends of dread and hope, but generally stayed in balance: no hysterical outbursts, no screaming and pounding the walls for answers, no silent bitter tears that soaked up the pillow when you lifted your head in the morning. There was just stillness. Something quiet crept about the house, made you feel a sudden chill and sprayed your arms and neck with unexpected goose rash.
It is really beautifully written. I loved the depiction of the Utu family, each member a fully-drawn character. Benedict, the justice-minded patriarch, reminded me a little of To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch. Ajie, the character through which we observe most events, is independent-minded and strong-willed. He idolizes his big brother Paul and has a conflicted relationship with his big sister Bibi. The most touching part of this book was Ile’s masterful portrayal of the complicated love between siblings as they navigate growing up together. They fight fiercely, but they also love fiercely. They have a shared history and unique bond that can not be replicated. The following passage really resonated with me:
Before the beginning of his memory, which was to say from the beginning of this life, there had always been the three of them. Paul and Bibi were the first people he saw, the first he touched. Everything he resented and liked, everything he knew, thought and felt, his smile and the angry pounding in his veins were all from them, and now, for the first time, taking notice of this made him feel incredibly lonely. The sort of lonely feeling that Bibi would have been tempted to slap out of him. Just the kind of thing that would have made Paul look at him in his usual bemused way and say, ‘My friend, what are you saying? Please be serious’. But he sensed it that night, it hung about the room, the feeling that things may not always be like this, that they would one day grow up and live across town from each other like Ma and her cousin Aunty Julie or even die like all of Bendic’s siblings whom he hardly ever spoke of. Paul turned around in his bed, the distant drumming had stopped, and mumbled something in his sleep, and Ajie was sure he could hear Bibi softly breathing from the room next door.
My husband worked in Nigeria during our engagement and the first few years of our marriage, so I am always interested in books set there. I had already read a few books from Nigerian authors and paid special attention to news from there. I think a basic knowledge of 20th century Nigeria really increased the impact the book had on me.
This novel deals with the human cost of political conflict and greed, as well as the impact the actions of the past have on the present. If you pick up this novel expecting a plot heavy suspense novel or whodunit, you will probably be disappointed. This quiet novel will be most enjoyable for contemporary literature fans interested in Nigeria and those who like slice-of-life family stories.
Few people, very few, have a treasure, and if they do they must cling to it and not let themselves be ambushed and have it taken from them.
All quotes are taken from an uncorrected manuscript and aren’t final. Please refer to a finished copy.