Saturday 28 April 2012

Despite the fickleness of time, I was able to finish reading Ifeanyi Ajaegbo’s debut novel, Sarah House, published by Picador Africa a few months earlier. I noticed that one recurring motif in the novel is the ubiquity of doors – doors are always either opening or closing, almost like in Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street, in which house recurs throughout the novel. Unlike Cisnero’s which is a short story cycle, that is, an interlinked collection of vignettes, almost like Doreen Baigana’s Tropical Fish, Sarah House is a compelling story of hope on the whole, particularly exploring though at a deeper level (like Chika Unigwe’s On Black Sisters’ Street) the sexual objectification of women, and the world of sleaze and filthy lucre. Ajaegbo’s writing is unhurried and confident, his diction controlled and tight – nearly as lean as Hemingway or McEwan’s prose, or El Saadawi. I hope to do a review of it once time and space befriend me, but who knows when? Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed Sarah House, a novel which tackles the grim theme of sex slavery and organ transplant trafficking, and the darkness in the heart of (Africa?) man.
Here’s an excerpt of Sarah House: The man between the doorposts was a total stranger. I closed my eyes and counted to ten behind my lids. When I lifted them, he was still there. A faint smile that was visible from where I sat on the bed hovered at the corners of his mouth. I wondered if he smiled for me. Or at me, because of my dishevelled appearance. Perhaps he had seen the bewilderment on my face, the doubt that he was real after my experience with Slim, the doubt that he could be more real than the bed and the bedspread that kept on dissolving and re-forming before my eyes. He took a couple of steps into the room. I wondered what would happen if I blinked. Would he vanish, like Slim? He stopped beside the bed. I realised that what I thought was a smile on his face was a long scar that ran the length of his chin, just beneath his mouth. The scar had not healed well and now the raw skin looked like a hideous mouth that would never close. Another scar ran down the right side of his face, starting from somewhere close to his hairline and disappearing just beneath the line of his jaw. The scars made him look like a dangerous and violent criminal. A man who could give as much physical punishment as he had obviously taken. A man to be scared of. ‘Nita.’ The scar under his chin moved grotesquely when he spoke. It stretched and contracted like a wicked parody of a talking mouth. I tried not to look at the scar, but failed miserably. I was fascinated by it and wondered what was used to inflict such hideous injury. ‘Nita,’ when I did not answer the first time. He seemed to have two mouths, one talking and moving just above the other. The one below seemed filled with raw skin when it moved, while the one above was filled with teeth that looked dirty and yellowed, even in the dim light. ‘Yes.’ That word came out reluctantly, in a stammer. I wondered who had told this aberration my name and why he needed to know it at all. What did he want? What was he doing here? Slim and Fatty were the only people who came here. They were the ones who sent Tega to convince me to go to ‘work’. Now this monster had simply walked through a locked door, or so it seemed. And he was alone with me in the room. Only Slim could have brought him here. To do what? The question rolled around in my mind. ‘Nice name.’ He lowered himself to the bed and sat down close to my feet. I noted instantly that he did not even bother to ask if he could sit near me. It was easy to see he was the sort of man who would not ask before he did a lot of things. People like this took liberties with everything, including the lives of others. He was a man to be watched and this did not surprise me. Tega and Matti had said enough to warn me that this was the type of man which inhabited this terrible place, this nightmare that was steadfastly refusing to let me out of its unwanted embrace. ‘They told me you are not used to strangers,’ he said. His voice was soft, but with a menacing edge to it. I wasn’t sure I had heard the words correctly. The objects in the room had resumed their melting and re-forming, leaving me unsure again of what was real and what was not. The bed started melting, and I hoped he would melt with it. But I hoped he would never re-form like I knew the bed would. I hoped he would stay melted forever. I wasn’t so lucky. He sat there like something carved out of an indestructible material as everything swirled around him. ‘I am here to help you,’ he said finally as the bed started reconstituting itself underneath him. ‘Help me? With what?’ ‘Help you to get used to strangers.’ ‘I don’t want to get used to strangers,’ I told him. He reached out and tried to touch me. I moved away from his groping hand, sliding towards the wall behind me. He kept reaching towards me, groping while I kept moving away till my back came up against the wall. There was no other place to go. A smile started on his face and widened. The grotesquely misshapen false mouth under his chin also stretched. Both of his mouths seemed to be mocking my helplessness. ‘Get used to strangers,’ he repeated as if he had not heard what I said.

Thursday 12 April 2012


I was among the pioneer students of this workshop and would gladly recommend it to any aspiring creative writer, regardless of whatever genre your interest lies in. It was there that I met Tolu Ogunlesi, Jumoke Verissimo, and Eghosa Imasuen, who was in fact my roommate. Eghosa has just published his second novel, Fine Boys, which seems to be the rave in town. And guess what? It was published by Farafina Kachifo. And, of course, I meant the awesome Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and the so-incredible Binyavanga Wainaina.

Here is the detail of the Workshop for those who are interested:


Farafina Trust will be holding a creative writing workshop in Lagos, organized by award-winning writer and creative director of Farafina Trust, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, from August 14 to August 24 2012. The workshop is sponsored by Nigerian Breweries Plc. Guest writers, including the Caine Prize-winning Kenyan writer, Binyavanga Wainaina, and Jeffery Allen, will co-teach the workshop alongside Adichie.

The workshop will take the form of a class. Participants will be assigned a wide range of reading exercises, as well as daily writing exercises. The aim of the workshop is to improve the craft of Nigerian writers and to encourage published and unpublished writers by bringing different perspectives to the art of storytelling. Participation is limited only to those who apply and are accepted.

All material must be pasted or written in the body of the e-mail. Please DO NOT include any attachments in your e-mail. Applications with attachments will be automatically disqualified. The deadline for submissions is June 25 2012. Only those accepted to the workshop will be notified by July 31 2012. Accommodation in Lagos will be provided for all accepted applicants who are able to attend the ten-day duration of the workshop. A literary evening of readings, open to the public, will be held at the end of the workshop on August 24, 2012.

To apply, send an e-mail to Your e-mail subject should read: `Workshop Application.'

The body of the e-mail should contain the following:
1. Your name
2. Your address
3. A few sentences about yourself
4. A writing sample of between 200 and 800 words. The sample can be either fiction or non-fiction.

You can get Eghosa's book in bookshops across Nigeria and on Amazon:

Saturday 7 April 2012

Thoughts on the Landing of a Hotel in Owerri

I bound up the spiral stairway, so elated, I nearly miss a step. My dear friend is in Owerri! But because she came in late, I couldn’t see her last night. So I have come to pick her up this breezy morning, so we can both cruise and carouse.

I am at the landing now.

Captivated by the bright painting on the cream wall, I take my time to admire it. I think of Victor Ehikhamenor’s masterpieces.

As I turn away from the artwork, I realise, tapping my head: oh no! I’ve forgotten her room number – out of excitement. And to think the charming receptionist had mentioned the room number a minute ago.

I chide myself for feeling like a virginal teen on his first tryst. I clench my teeth, disappointed in myself. Think of calling her, of vaulting down the stairs to ask the receptionist again. No; I take a breath then let my eyes flick around.

Suddenly, it comes back – the number. I grin and, proceeding to the room, I notice the eyehole first, then the gilt doorplate facing me.

Lincoln Suite?

My brow furrows as another doorplate eyes me from my left: Martin Luther King Jr. Suite?

Yet another…

Obama Suite?

I huff, remembering I’d seen Obama vegetable oil, Obama bread, at the market, although I couldn’t bring myself to buy either, having since known that the quality of the products would simply be dubious. I shake my head hard, completely, utterly, disappointed – standing right there I try to understand.

I evoke Fanon, Cabral, to help enlighten me, to help me understand why a Nigerian will name the rooms in his own hotel after American heroes. What could inspire such a citizen to patronise and appropriate foreign legends in branding his services or products? Is Nigeria so bereft of heroes that we can’t find any names to fish out of our history? And yet, some Pan-African scholar or writer, will someday rail against neocolonialism, re-colonialism, or whatever ism that yields itself quite easily to heartfelt expression.

Anyway, I try not to get too dejected. I knock on the door, though with leaden knuckles, eager to see my friend, yet wondering how many African minds are riddled with complexes that will always privilege the Western icon over what is true and authentic of the homeland.