Friday, September 9, 2016

Book 41: And After Many Days


"When misfortune befalls you, people secretly blame you. Ajie noticed this. People can't help it. They do it so they can believe it won't happen to them. They haven't done whatever it is you have done to deserve such suffering. They see you on the street and look away, and if they can't avoid meeting you, they talk about other things. It's as if you are a tainted thing, someone who could possibly bring bad luck." 

Dates read: April 9-11, 2016

Rating: 7/10

Children go missing every day, from communities all over the country. All over the world. Most of them we never hear about...they're maybe on an inside page of newspaper, are read quickly on the local news for a few days before moving on to high school sports. I don't think it's a coincidence that the ones we don't hear about are children from poor families, or children of color. It only becomes a story of national interest if it happens to a family that it's not "supposed" to happen to, like Jon Benet Ramsey or Elizabeth Smart. A child disappearing from a less-than perfect situation isn't deemed a surprise, but a but a child disappearing from a beautiful, successful, and (until now) happy that's news.

And that's what happens in Jowhor Ile's And After Many Days. The Utu family lives happily and comfortably in Nigeria in the 90s, until 17 year-old oldest child Paul says he's going out to visit a friend and never returns. He's a good kid, a responsible kid, not the type to have a secret girlfriend or drug habit that would explain his sudden disappearance. In his absence, his lawyer father, school administrator mother, younger brother and younger sister find their more-or-less peaceful existence ripped apart. Things like this aren't supposed to happen to people like them. The story of the family's struggle to deal with the mystery of what happened to Paul is set against the civil unrest of the country as a whole, with student riots and police brutality mentioned in conversation often enough to let a sense of unease percolate in the background. The power doesn't even run regularly, everyone just has to live their lives prepared for there to be no electricity, since that's as likely as not.

The story doesn't progress like a typical missing youngster whodunit. Instead of focusing on the family in a timeline moving forward, Ile touches on the family's painful present while going backwards to show how they used to be, in happier times. I appreciated the accuracy of the way Ile portrayed childhood relationships, including those between the three siblings. The kids get along one second and the next are at each other's throats. They deliberately annoy each other and relish in the squabbles they set off. There's never any doubt that the Utu kids are close and love each other, but Ile doesn't cherry-coat that aspect of siblinghood.

Ultimately, I feel like the book was slightly too short. At only about 250 pages, it doesn't have quite the time to develop the parallel between the Utu family's personal tragedy and the community-wide tragedy of Western corporate interests interfering the dynamics of the Utu's native village that it seems to be going for. It reminds me of the way Chinua Achebe used the Christian missionaries in Things Fall Apart, but without giving himself the extra 50 or 100 pages to flesh it out more fully and achieve Achebe's richness of metaphor. But Ile's prose is lyrical, strong and sure, and this is a debut that promises good things ahead, so I look forward to reading his next.

Tell me, blog friends...if you had siblings, did you fight with them like crazy growing up?

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, Tim Duggan books, through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and honest review**

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