Bura-Bari Nwilo is a thriving, young millennial writer whose pen splashes ink all the way from Port Harcourt, a major city in Nigeria’s South-south region. A graduate of the University Of Nigeria Nsukka, Nwilo’s works have been published in a number of literary magazines, including the Ake Review. He also made the final shortlist of the 2016 edition of the Writivism Short Story prize.
I was able to lay my hands on Nwilo’s book, “A Tiny Place Called Happiness”, at the 2016 edition of the Ake Festival. I had expected to meet him at the event, since it would be the perfect platform to market his work. For some reason however, he was conspicuously absent, and I had to purchase the book from his publishing agent, whom I had the opportunity to run into.
“A Tiny Place Called Happiness” is Bura-Bari Nwilo’s second book, coming two years after “Diary Of A Stupid Boyfriend” which was published in 2014. Nwilo’s sophomore literary offering is a collection of short stories, almost all of them set in his native Rivers State. The entire book spans about 118 pages and contains almost 25 stories, at an average of just over 650 words per story.
“A Tiny Place Called Happiness” is, amongst other things, a refreshing read, one major reason being that it is not set in the city of Lagos! We have had too many writers base their stories on the nation’s commercial capital over the past 24 months, so it is exciting to see something different. Again, it is easy to digest, in a world where the active population is made up of impatient people with a short attention span. The entire book comes with that feeling of sitting around a fireside on a windy night in the heart of the Ogoni nation, and having someone tell you story after story, as most of the stories come at you with that indigenous appeal.
Where the book is good, it is very good. “How To Say Goodbye” dwells on a lady battling with a terminal disease who has to choose a nice coffin for herself, “In The Dark” treats us to the story of a homosexual man who has to please his mother by finding a suitable pride, “Mango” is about a boy whose love for a popular tropical fruit takes him down memory lane, “Port Harcourt” tells us about the white man whose visit to his Nigerian girlfriend exposes him to all the angles of the city’s night life, and “Birth” is themed on finding joy in the little things, like the extra tin of beverages which comes with the arrival of a younger sibling.
This is not to say that the collection does not have its drawbacks. “In Adams’ Dream” is an absolutely pointless attempt to capture a young child’s fantasies and how they are met, “World People” and “People Of The River” are stories that could have used a lot more depth, and “Like Eyes Liquid With Hope” comes off like a try-too-hard effort to write a humorous story.
Sure enough, modern day readers thrive on small bites with little complexity, but Nwilo takes this perspective of his writing a bit too far. A good number of the stories in this collection end abruptly before the reader is able to fully get a hang of them. It’s almost like a man who, time and time again, ejaculates just before he can give his partner an orgasm. If Nwilo treats his women the way he treats his readers, he will have problems with his love life.
Ultimately, “A Tiny Place Called Happiness” is a more than decent delivery of Prose, but while it is readable, the same cannot be said for how memorable it is. Bura-Bari Nwilo can do better, and we hope he has more books to come, for he has teased and pleased with this one, but failed to satisfy.