Saturday, May 7, 2011


nnedi okorafor. credit: Wikimedia commons.

I live at Satellite town in Lagos and although I cannot speak for other literature enthusiasts, I know it is difficult finding novels or works of literature written by Nigerians living abroad. So, the day I discovered Nnedi Okorafor’s short story on the website, I quickly downloaded the page.

The short story is titled: The Go-slow. The author used a common situation in the country, traffic jams or go-slows, to paint a picture in her story of what she thought the truth was. I have to agree with her that “go-slows were like getting stuck in time warps.” I must say she has summed up the Nigerian situation very well; we are living a life that is haunted by the past, defeated by the past and indebted to the past that the present has become so frustrating, choked up by so much dirt and pollution, we have lost every desire to be innovative and progressive.

Nkem, one of the central characters in the story, manages to survive a go-slow that was capable of initiating a heart attack. Air pollution, noise pollution, frustration and abysmal deliberations are the elements Nkem has to undergo. Deluded in his belief that he has escaped, he encounters some birds, emus, who turn out to be humans imprisoned in animal bodies. Unaware that the bird he hits, tucked in the trunk of his car, is the leader of the emus, he is eventually arrested by her, a bird woman, Ogaadi, who is stronger than he is. She is a witch, an amusu, running away from her Uncle who had her imprisoned inside the soul of a bird. Ogaadi, though, is not the only prisoner in the story. Nkem is also a prisoner, haunted by the spirits of his birth because he is an Ogbanje child and the spirits want him dead so he can return to their world. Eventually, both persons agree to help themselves. Ogaadi eventually turns Nkem into an Eagle, a predator, a fitting animal that can help him fight the animals the spirit beings are using to disturb his life: hens, goats, horses and cows.

The writer, Nnedi Okorafor, believes that the situation of the characters, which I think mirrors the Nigerian situation, is due to the fact that the past has overtaken their present and future. They must have to defeat the past to live a normal life.

Nkem was born an Ogbanje. He has a rebellious streak that “made him marry [his wife] that much faster.” A popular actor, Nigeria’s “sexiest man alive”, who believes that he has defeated the burden of the go-slow, the general go-slow, Nkem is haunted by his friends in the spirit world who have used a hen, a goat and a horse to try to kill him in the past. As he sits through a depressing go-slow, they attempt, once again, to use an insane cow to kill him but he escapes with scratches on the mirror of his car.

Ogaadi on the other hand, was initiated into witch-hood by her Uncle who is an Ogbanje. I think the Uncle is afraid of her, suspicious that she must have used her powers against her mother and sister, so he imprisoned her in the body of a bird, an emu. Ogaadi has braided hair (I wonder if Nnedi is writing autobiographically here?), is strong willed and the leader of the emus. But Ogaadi is haunted by her powerful Uncle who she believes “… can stop everything! I know his ways!” She is paranoid about her Uncle’s abilities that she has to wrestle Nkem, screaming, ““He sent you!” she screamed. “You think I’m stupid?”

Nkem is the typical westernized Nigerian. He uses foul language a lot, although I object to the writer’s use, often, of the vulgar and obscene word: fuck. He rides an air-conditioned car, placing him in the middle-class, and is on his way for a sexual fling with Agnes, a woman who lives in Owerri, while his wife is waiting for him at Aba. Nkem desires a release from the troubles he is having with supernatural forces that he envies the seeming freedom of a bird flying in the sky. Older than Nkem, Ogaadi is a teacher, an amusu, who will later give Nkem the opportunity to have a taste of that freedom.

Like Nkem and Ogaadi, Nigerians are troubled by events of the past. Nothing seems to work because they are helmed in by traditions and “ways of doing things”, these are spirits that have successfully haunted and defeated the Nigerian persona that we are expect to always follow tradition. This must be what prompted the writer to intentionally use language that would seem distasteful to a moral traditionalist. Unless we become predators who can go back to fight these spirits and defeat them, we will never move forward. The past will forever keep us in retrogressive evolution.

Sometimes the writer uses pidgin in a way that is somewhat annoying. I wonder why she should write “Awo” instead of the exclamation, “Ewo!,” or “Na wow,” when she means “Na waoh!” Maybe Nnedi Okorafor is not pidginized enough. On the other hand though, she writes beautiful prose, prose that is worthy of emulation and her voice is natural and apt.

I’d recommend that you read the short story yourself. the go-slow is a story that struck a cord.

I did, on Tuesday, tweet about her new novel on amazon, akata witch. Pick one of her books and read.

follow me on twitter, @emeka_david or be a friend on facebook, nnaemeka david

1 comment:

  1. just corrected some link errors in the blog. comments?


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