Summer in Igboland (ebook) by Ifeanyi Awachie

Date Read: January 4th 2016

Published: July 1st 2015

Publisher: Pronoun

Pages: 73

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The Blurb

Ifeanyi Awachie, a Nigerian-American Yale University student, was tired of images of terrorism, corruption, and poverty– the only images Western media seemed to use to portray her birth country. So she went back to Nigeria for the first time in nineteen years to change the narrative.
Through Awachie’s vivid photos and honest, poetic writing, Summer in Igboland presents contemporary Nigeria from a unique perspective. The book takes on everything from Nigerian nightlife to the politics of hair to vibrant foods to meeting extended family for the first time as an adult.
As intimate as a diary and as informative as a travel blog, Summer in Igboland is a story of finding fun, personal struggle, and most importantly, one’s roots in a country whose negative stories are often the most prominent. Explore it, and discover modern Nigeria through the eyes and voice of an adventurous, passionate first-generation Nigerian.

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Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

Ifeanyi Awachie, a rising senior of Yale at the time won a fellowship to conduct an independent study in Nigeria. The aim of the study was to use photography to challenge the negative stereotypes associated with Nigeria. Ifeanyi was born in Nigeria, left when she was eighteen months old and was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She had never been back to Nigeria since her move to the United States, so this summer project was supposed to be a great way to connect with her heritage.

Summer in Igboland is a travelogue where Ifeanyi takes readers to different towns in Nigeria and discusses random happenings of the places she visits, while trying to gain a sense of belonging at the place of her birth. This was a fast and easy read! I enjoyed how the travelogue was written with a personal diary feel and that it wasn’t heavy with historical facts about Nigeria.

As Ifeanyi interacts with Nigeria natives and some relatives, she begins to feel her ‘Americanness’ is a flaw, as her differences are very apparent, like: her American accent, her natural hair (she did not wear a weave as most young Nigerian women did), being a vegetarian (even though she hides this from her family) and her inability to speak the language – Igbo. She poses a lot of thought provoking questions with respect to her identity as she navigates her way through Nigeria. When people call her oyibo (which means ‘white person’) or make a fuss about her not speaking the language, she found that her own people tended to relegate her and made her feel less Nigerian. I could completely understand Ifeanyi feeling her Americanness was a flaw, especially with respect to sounding American and not being very fluent in the native language. Why is it that whenever people find that you are different from them, they tend to make you feel guilty for being different? Will we ever live in a world where differences are appreciated?

I particularly enjoyed the anecdotes on Ifeanyi’s new love for fufu*. Before her trip to Nigeria, she detested fufu. Whenever she was forced to eat fufu as a young girl, she would take bites of it with a fork. Fork? WHO EATS FUFU WITH A FORK? is what I asked myself as I read this. In Ghana, when you don’t use your fingers to eat fufu, you simply use a spoon! But then it occurred to me that Nigerians eat fufu differently from Ghanaians – Ghanaian fufu is usually embedded in bowl of soup. Whereas, the dense pounded yam of Nigerian fufu is usually in a separate bowl from the preferred soup. Once I remembered these differences, I was able to understand why Ifeanyi used to eat fufu with a fork, I guess. Check out what Nigerian fufu looks like – here ; Check out what Ghanaian fufu looks like – here. (Nigerian readers, please correct me if I’m wrong with the fufu comparisons!)

Throughout her exploration of different types of fufu and soups, Ifeanyi even states some fufu facts she learned while in Nigeria:

  1. One does not eat fufu with utensils.
  2. One does not chew fufu – one simply swallows.

With respect to the latter, lots of people chew fufu – myself included! *sigh* I can write a whole thesis on this swallowing of fufu phenomenon but I’ll save that for another day. But it was cute to read on Ifeanyi’s love for a dish she initially disliked as I could completely relate to her fufu-eating experience.

I’m glad I read this ebook. I just wish some of the anecdotes were concluded in a more cohesive way. From the blurb, Ifeanyi wanted to change the negative stereotypes associated with Nigeria, but I didn’t really get that from this short ebook. Nevertheless, Summer in Igboland made me think back to the time when I first arrived in Accra at the age of 10 and how I now identify as Ghanaian as well as American. Reading books like Summer in Igboland affirm my love of reading books written by people of African descent / people of the Diaspora because you see yourself in these stories! You start to see and feel that your experience as African, African-American, Caribbean, Black – whatever your heritage or (bi-)cultural upbringing, are all valid. Please consider reading this book, I’d love to discuss it with other readers!

★★★ (3 stars) – Good book. I recommend it, I guess.

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The Spider King’s Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo

Date Read: September 4th 2014

Published: 2012

Publisher: Faber and Faber Limited

Pages: 288

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The Blurb

Seventeen-year-old Abike Johnson is the favourite child of her wealthy father. She lives in a sprawling mansion in Lagos, protected by armed guards and ferried everywhere in a huge black jeep.

A world away from Abike’s mansion, in the city’s slums, lives an eighteen-year-old hawker struggling to make sense of the world. His family lost everything after his father’s death and now he sells ice cream at the side of the road to support his mother and sister.

When Abike buys ice cream from the hawker one afternoon, they strike up a tentative and unlikely romance. But as they grow closer, revelations from the past threaten their relationship and both Abike and the hawker must decide where their loyalties lie.

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Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Did you know that Chibundu Onuzo wrote The Spider King’s Daughter when she was 21 years old? I find that incredible! Her attention to detail of all the intricacies that could happen in a story involving two people are thoroughly explored, and I am very impressed! When I was reading this book, it felt like I was watching a Nigerian movie. The storyline is full of suspense, speculations and assumptions that could actually push this novel into the ‘thriller’ genre. The Spider King’s Daughter is a novel centered around two characters: Abike and Runner G.

Abike is a 17 year old spoiled brat, child of the Spider King- a mysterious, very wealthy man in Lagos. One day as she is chauffeured home from school, she spots a handsome hawker, Runner G, selling ice cream on the street. For days she tries to catch Runner G’s attention through her characteristic manipulative ways and finally starts a conversation with him on the street as she sits in her car. After some weeks, Abike and Runner G become friends and they spend their weekends together. Abike even invites this hawker, Runner G to her huge palace (againsts her father’s will) where they simply enjoy each others’ company and slowly fall in love. Their relationship seems to turn sour when Runner G starts to act strange around Abike, as others warn him of Abike’s true character.

Runner G is a street hawker who sells ice cream. He was not always a street hawker. He came from a middle-class home in the past. But after the death of his father- who was a lawyer, Runner G’s family fell into poverty. His mother is currently bed-ridden and depressed and he had to stop school and start hawking in order to pay his younger sister’s school fees. Runner G becomes Abike’s friend after she initiates conversation with him from her car in the street. He slowly falls in love with her, but later realizes she isn’t actually the person she portrays herself to be. Runner G hence starts to dig for information about Abike from her family members and her close friends who have nothing good to say about her. He later finds out that her lavish lifestyle, grâce à her father’s wealth, might actually be the reason why his family is in abject poverty.

The once cute-turned-dark love story between Abike and Runner G results in a truly unpredictable, shocking end, that pushes me to pity both Abike and Runner G.

The book was written from both Abike and Runner G’s perspectives- which was a bit confusing for me in the beginning. But it was great to see how two people could interpret an event or a day together in two completely different ways. Readers get to understand both Abike and Runner G’s thoughts and feelings towards the dynamic of their relationship and how possibly incompatible they actually are. I appreciated Onuzo’s commentary on hawker-life through Runner G’s character. It pushed me to actually put myself in their shoes and question the terrible economic disparities of our African nations.

Onuzo’s attention to detail was very impressive. Everything about this book, down to the smallest detail was great…it’s actually difficult to discuss this book without giving away spoilers. But I really really recommend this!

★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!

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Every Day Is For The Thief by Teju Cole

Date Read: June 26th 2014

Published: March 25th 2014 (originally published in Nigeria by Cassava Republic Press in 2007)

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

Pages: 176

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The Blurb

A young Nigerian living in New York City goes home to Lagos for a short visit, finding a city both familiar and strange. In a city dense with story, the unnamed narrator moves through a mosaic of life, hoping to find inspiration for his own. He witnesses the “yahoo yahoo” diligently perpetrating email frauds from an Internet café, longs after a mysterious woman reading on a public bus who disembarks and disappears into a bookless crowd, and recalls the tragic fate of an eleven-year-old boy accused of stealing at a local market. 

Along the way, the man reconnects with old friends, a former girlfriend, and extended family, taps into the energies of Lagos life—creative, malevolent, ambiguous—and slowly begins to reconcile the profound changes that have taken place in his country and the truth about himself.
In spare, precise prose that sees humanity everywhere, interwoven with original photos by the author, Every Day Is For The Thief is a wholly original amalgamation of fiction, memory, art, and travel writing. Originally published in Nigeria in 2007, this revised and updated edition is the first time this unique book has been available outside Africa. You’ve never read a book like Every Day Is For The Thief because no one writes like Teju Cole.

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 Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

“Every day is for the thief, but one day is for the owner” is a Yoruba proverb that Teju Cole adopted to capture the essence of this travelogue, Every Day Is For The Thief. The protagonist of this travelogue is a Nigerian born, now naturalized American psychiatry student who lives in New York. His calm demeanor gives the book a progressive, logical flow as readers hear his thoughts. I actually read the book thinking the protagonist was Teju Cole himself… just because readers are not given much detail on the protagonist- like his name, his stature or his age. Since the novel isn’t plot driven, each chapter is a vignette where the nameless protagonist discusses different experiences of his trip to Lagos during his Christmas vacation.

A lot of the Nigerian experiences and adventures Cole writes about are common in Ghana, but not as severe! The corruption heavily practiced by the police, the hustle and bustle of the city with zooming okadas (motorcycles) on pot-holed roads, the regular power outages, the wide social and economic disparities and increased armed robbery cases in the suffering economy are all prevalent in Ghana as well.

Certain parts of the book wowed me: the widespread of internet frauds conducted in Internet cafes by ‘yahoo yahoo’ boys, the burning of a child thief in a car tire, the gangs that roam the streets of Lagos demanding thousands of naira while being ever-ready to maim citizens were pretty wild! These incidents may seem exaggerated and fictitious but I believe these things actually occur in Lagos, since I’ve heard similar stories from some Nigerian friends. After reading this novel, non-Nigerians may think twice before visiting Lagos because it was written as if Nigerians are always living on the edge of danger!

I loved how the protagonist was a ‘returnee’ as he had been away from Lagos for fifteen years. He sort of returned to Lagos as a stranger with his assimilated Western ways (of democracy). This allowed him to share his shock in the craziness and delight in being back home with a wide array of readers- both foreign and fellow Africans. The protagonist’s fluid identity will help readers unfamiliar with Nigeria to take in Lagos from an insider, yet outsiders’ lens.

This is a suitable book for anyone who would love to learn about the rambunctious nation of Nigeria! Teju Cole expertly discusses and simplifies some of the complex issues the country faces such as corruption, government issues, the oil sector, the health sector etc. Some people may be even more apprehensive about visiting the nation after reading jaw-dropping descriptions, but I’m still keen on visiting Nigeria- Abuja to be precise!

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

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