Publication Date: 2015
ISBN: 1566893976 (ISBN13: 9781566893978)
Publisher: Coffee House Press
I first came into contact with Dr. Julie Iromuanya’s “Mr and Mrs Doctor” at the 2016 edition of the Ake Festival, where all the books that made the longlist for the 2016 Etisalat Prize for Literature were made available at subsidised rates. (Etisalat should be commended for their immense contributions to African literature, even if there is still some work to be done in the Flash Fiction category).
I especially felt the need to go through the need through the book after it made the final shortlist for one of Africa’s top literary prizes, and Elnathan John’s “Born on a Tuesday”, which in my opinion is one of the best works to pop up from the continent in the past twenty-four months, was ultimately overlooked. Dr. Iromuanya’s piece, which spans roughly 300 pages, is a story which has us shuttling between Nigeria and the U. S A, with 80% of the narrative playing out in the latter.
The book dwells mainly on the life of Job Ogbonnaya, a Nigerian-born immigrant who fails out of medical school and has to settle for a life as a nurse’s assistant, but has to pretend to be a doctor to impress his wife, Ifi, a lady with a humble background who gets quickly infected with that bug called the American dream. Dr. Iromuanya’s novel darts across a number of relatable themes. There is the issue of immigration, and the struggle to fit into strange climes, while trying to preserve the impressions of those who are so sure that their side of the pasture isn’t the greener one. There is also the subject of arranged interracial marriages and the legality thereof, as well as the matter of socio-economic competition between families, and ultimately, the racial tensions that still linger in 21st century First World countries.
In a world of short visual bites and fast-paced reads, this novel is not a recipe for the impatient. Too much ink is spent describing houses and streets and dress patterns, stretching already long paragraphs and conveying ideas in three pages where the nails could have hit home in one. It takes about five chapters to objectively get into the story, and the words are woven so distortedly that one could be tempted to drop the book, but for sheer determination.
Dr. Iromuanya’s day job as an academic may be put into account, but this is not a writing workshop, this is a novel expected to transcend continents just as the plot does, and reading it should not subject the eyes to such labour as she has done. With all due respect, you can only get away with such superfluousity if you are Chimamanda, otherwise, prepare to have literary enthusiasts struggle to read your book to the end.
Dr. Iromuanya’s story is one we would love to hear, albeit not a new one, but in all honesty, it could have been narrated a lot better. This is not to say that content should be sacrificed for style, but where she saw the chance to make it easier for expectant readers to tap into the depth of her narrative, she should have taken it.
Reviewer’s Bio: Jerry Chiemeke is a lawyer, art enthusiast and literary critic who resides in Lagos. His works have been published by the Kalahari Review, Brittle Pape, Storried, Elsieisy and the Musty Corner. He tries his hands at prose fiction on pensofchi.com, and he has also run columns on a number of online magazines, including Viva Naija and ManswerOnline. He is currently at work on his debut chapbook collection.