Amara Nicole Okolo is a young, beautiful lawyer who hails from Anambra State, but lives in Abuja. She is open about her love for cupcakes and green tea, and once shared a special friendship with Timber, a tabby kitten. References to her work have appeared on The Guardian UK and Africa, CNN, Africa in Words, Okay Africa, Brittle Paper and Reuters Africa. She has also been exclusively interviewed by Al-Jazeera.
“Son Of Man”, published by Parresia Publishers in 2016, is Amara’s second book, and it takes a different literary approach from “Black Sparkle Romance”, her debut novel published by Ankara Press (an imprint of Cassava Republic) in 2014. I narrowly missed the book launch of “Son Of Man” at the Goethe Institute, Lagos on March 3rd 2017, but I made up my mind to get myself a copy of her new book.
Son Of Man is a collection of six short stories which span just about 120 pages in total, each with diverse settings and themes. “The Talking Shoes” dwells on the travails of a young graduate with an impatient wife and two daughters, “The Machete Of Retribution” deals with a illiterate farmer whose son is at the mercy of the Nigerian health care system, “The Lost Ones” has to do with a Jambite who gets picked up by the police in a case of mistaken identity, “500 Dreams And A Letter” is centred about a dying rich old man who has a few last words for his children, “Speak, We Are Listening” features a journalist who exercises bravery in the face of an oppressive military regime, and “Fine Madness” is set in Northern Nigerian, where a young man with mental health challenges is doing his service year, and gets caught in a complex web involving love, tradition and religion.
In a country whose reading culture is suspect, “Son Of Man” is a welcome recipe. One interesting feature of this collection is the perspectives from which some of the narratives are woven. In “The Talking Shoes”, the story is told from the perspective of the shoes, in “The Machete Of Retribution” the shiny sharpened metal tells the story, in “The Lost Ones” the thoughts of the student are the narrators, and in “Speak, We Are Listening”, the words are the heroes.
Amara also gets full marks for agreeing to tell the stories of her generation, stories that stretch from her childhood days. Literary purists may argue that the narrative language is too simplistic, but at least, someone has finally stepped up. We have been waiting to read accounts of events in the lives of everyday people that transpired in the 1990s and early 2000s, and Amara serves up something enjoyable. Then again, she revealed in an intimate interview that some of the stories were non-fictional, and for this she deserves credit too.
However, drawing up narratives with settings such as what we find in this book put writers in the danger of resorting to clichés. Amara fails to thwart this danger. “500 Dreams And A Letter” features the theme of the dying Benin chief who is abandoned by his other children except the rational youngest daughter, who eventually gets a choice portion of his inheritance. This has been used in Nollywood movies ad nauseam! “Fine Madness” features the young corps member who finds himself getting attracted to a married woman who is enduring a bitter marriage. I am already seeing Ramsey Nouah in NYSC Uniform, with Tonto Dike playing the role of wife-in-distress and Kanayo O. Kanayo as the tyrannous husband.
Amara also misses the chance to shed more light on a prevailing social issue. Suicides are on the increase, more young Nigerians are in need of therapy, and “Fine Madness” would have been a lovely treatise if she had done a little more research, and if there had been as much focus on the main character’s mental health as there was on his love life. Depression is largely different from Bipolar disorder, and the description (or lack thereof) of the illnesses in this particular story caused me to cringe.
“Son Of Man” is, ultimately, a lovely meal, only with dessert being absent. Amara tells a good story, nay, six good stories, but they could have been narrated in more ingenious ways.
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