Writer: Yewande Omotoso
Publisher: Modjadji Books
Year of publication: 2011
Number of pages: 255
Bom Boy by Yewande Omotoso published by Modjadji Books recently found itself (magically?) on the shortlist for the Etisalat Prize for African literature 2014. With this happening I went back and reread the book I first enjoyed in 2012 to see what I may have missed that made it so highly recommended.
The story has a very Jacob’s Cross feel with its Naija/Mzansi connection this one. It is about a Nigerian man Oscar who moves to South Africa as a student where he falls in love with a South African girl Elaine who bears him a son Leke (pronounced Lay Kay). The downside for the fellow is that he lands in jail and he never gets to raise his son so he writes letters to his Bom Boy (pidgin for baby boy).
Elaine is unable to care for the child so she gives him up for adoption where he is raised by white parents Marcus and Jane Denton in Cape Town. The young man grows up a confused fellow as he navigates a world that he cannot make head and tail of seeing as he is raised by white folks and is African. One that gets even more confusing when his white mother dies when he is teenager.
Leke who has been always unwell as a child grows up to be one of the adults that your parents hoped you never became as you grew up. He steals from his company, he stalks women at his local mall and doesn’t change his clothes to the annoyance of fellow employees. Fortunately for him, like Kenny Rogers sings in his Coward of the County song, there’s someone for everyone and Leke’s love was Tsotso. The colleagues (probably against that company HR guidelines go figure) start an affair with a young one on the way.
Bom Boy also finds his father’s letters, letters can only be read by new lady friend Tsotso, and the reason behind the nastiness that plagues him becomes evident. A Babalawo (sangoma? Traditional healer?) had been sought as his great grandparents in Nigeria sought to bear a daughter and they are willing to pay any price to get their wish. In true fairy tale wish givers fashion, the babalawo requires the daughter to be under her care as soon as she is of a certain age. The news parent’s protest that the price is too high and the babalawo leaves without a word never to be seen again as suddenly family members start dying. The curse seems to have followed Oscar to South Africa and is afflicting his son Leke especially with his many illnesses that don’t seem to have a cause or cure.
So we go from a book about regular folks living in Cape Town to the metaphysical one with babalawos and their curses that need some believing.
The author’s intricate description of the books complex characters is remarkable. She has clearly done her research on all things botanical which gives life to Jane Denton the adoptive mother of Leke. Her husband Marcus is seen clearly as he goes through emotional hell ringer as he first loses a wife to death and then a son to growing up. Elaine the birth mother of Leke is also a fascinating character who goes through a nasty time as she goes through the Leke pregnancy before she vanishes from the book when she abandons the child.
The description of the books main protagonist Leke is the most haunting as we follow him as he goes about his daily life with its mundane minutia. The description of a one man who feels that he is all alone in this world is gripping. His office mates ignore him and he is seen sitting in cars for hours on end as he tries to get over whatever ails him. He reminds me a bit of Julius in Open City although luckily for him his nastiness is kinda justified what with the family curse and the whole being a black kid raised by white folks thing.
This Omotoso can write very well. I also love her plot although it did seem a bit rushed at the very end. I am not surprised to find this book being recognised by the Etisalat judging panel. #Rated