HOw To SpEll naiJA : Book Review

Book: HOw To SpEll naiJA (in 100 short stories)
Author: Chuma Nwokolo
Publisher: Gwandustan
Year of Publication: 2013. Second reprint 2016
Book Length: 289 pages
Font Type: Small

Random tidbit: I got to attend a book reading by Chuma Nwokolo at Terra Kulture in 2013. He was lovely and kindly autographed my book. This brings my autographed books to a grand total of four which include autographs of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Rebecca Skloot.

Why Did I Read It? I bought this book first in 2013 after randomly coming across it in a book store. I read the first story standing up and had to have the book. I had never heard about the author or the book but the first story meant I felt confident buying it sans references. Weirdly enough my first copy disappeared from my bookshelf, I rarely ever loose books so if I loaned this to you, holla. Over the last couple of years I have tried to find the book again with no success. This Easter after suffering the disappointment of not being able to see Waka the musical I found my book. My joy knew no bounds.

Synopsis: …a buffet of Nigeriana , served with wit and understanding…

…These tales are unruly in length, running from the evanescent flash fiction to more substantial tales…This collection commemorates the hundredth anniversary of the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates-the closest thing to the birth of a nation. A hundred snapshots, from me to nation, on her centenary. (culled from the Preface).

My review: I LOVE this book. I love it so much that I am hesitant to write a review. I have discovered that we rarely are able to convey the depths of our feelings for art in way that doesn’t leave others disappointed. So I’ll attempt to curb my enthusiasm and just share two reasons why this book is a must have.

Number 1: We need new stories

I am a critic of African storytelling in published works. The emphasis on stories about child soldiers, civil war and poverty frustrate me. Not because they are inaccurate or don’t deserve to be told, but because we are more than this. I once heard someone discuss his frustration with the emphasis on the drug trade in the telling of South American narratives and I immediately related. A people are always more than their struggles and there’s also a story in how people adapt and tackle their unique cultural and environmental challenges. We need more stories that tell these tales, and “how to spell naija” is one of them. In the first few stories he addresses infidelity in marriage and the cultural perceptions about it through the sage advice of an older woman in Letters to a Young Wife , From an Old. Then switches things up in The Pots at Salome where he subtly touches on the tensions of madam and help relationships in Nigeria. The stories continue probing all aspects of Nigerian life from continual power outages, to kidnapping, corruption in the police and government, etc. Yet he presents each character as a complete human, and regardless of their circumstances the book doesn’t leave you feeling like , “All these poor suffering Africans, where can I donate.” The humour that categories this book is exactly what has been missing for me in Nigerian fiction because if there’s anything that distinguishes Nigerians from any group of people I have met, it is our ability to laugh at everything, for better or for worse. He really gets this.

Number 2: He has a zillion voices

I read books like this and I am convinced that I will never be able to write worthy fiction. In each short story Chuma adopts a completely new voice. After the first couple of stories with female protagonists I had to double-check that the author was male. He doesn’t write about women like a man writing about women, you know what I mean? In spouse play he becomes a young newly married factory worker and he made the character real, a person other than the author. He brings an authentic voice to each and every character, even the minor ones that only merit a couple of lines. To me good writing requires more than an extensive vocabulary or mastery of English grammar. Books are my escape and fantasy. When an author allows me to forget that I am reading about fictitious characters, only then am I truly happy.

Any negatives about this book? Well you probably won’t connect with every story and when you have a choice of 50 stories that’s not the worst thing that can happen.

Read if you:

– Want a different take on discussing Nigerian culture and challenges
– Enjoy depth and humour in a single story
– Just read it already!

Where to Buy: I got both my copies at Terra Kulture: 1376 Tiamiyu Savage St, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria.

Unfortunately I can’t vouch for any of the websites I found selling the book because I haven’t used them before. Although Okada books appear to sell some of the short stories independently and they are reputable.

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