Author: Diekoye Oyeyinka
Publisher: East African Educational Publishers (EAEP)
Publication year: 2014
Number of pages: 262
Stillborn is the debut novel from Nigerian writer Diekoye Oyeyinka which was published by Kenyan publisher East African Educational Publishers (EAEP) and launched in Nairobi recently. The book tells the story of two main characters; Chukemeka Ogbonna aka Emeka and Dolapo Odukoya as told by Seun Odukoya the nephew of the latter.
Emeka is born in the most tragic of circumstances as both parents die at his birth and he is raised by his uncle in South West Nigeria. While a young lad, the nation of his birth gets to its independence from former colonial power Britain. He goes to school far from home at the Federal Government College in Ibadan where he becomes the only Igbo boy in the college full of Yorubas.
Dolapo is a young lad who grows up in a village (everyone who grew up on the continent prior to 1980 seems to have grown in a village) with his parents and younger brother who dies. Also in his village is his favourite cousin Ranti. He attends Federal Government College in Ibadan where Emeka becomes his room mate and they start a life long friendship; BFFs all the way baby! When Dolapo finishes high school he goes to college and to learn law.
Emeka moves to Lagos to make a living under the tutelage of a businessman called Mr Chukwura. He becomes a trusted lieutenant to the businessman until he is instructed to sell the business due to an impending war in his country. He does this and leaves his share of the loot with his old pal Oladipo. He moves back to his home province and joins the Igbo army when the Biafrans opt to secede from Nigeria; Dolapo opts to fight on the side of the Nigerians. Emeka deserts after a meeting with his BFF in battle.
While away from the war he marries and gets a child called Nneka. After the war he emerges as a writer of articles in his local newspaper that ensures him many years in jail as he is against the all powerful military dictatorship. He is eventually released and goes back home to find his family is long gone.
Dolapo on the other hand leaves the army and uses the loot given by his BFF Emeka to set up his firm and becomes a prominent human rights lawyer.
The two friends meet later when they are older men.
The story goes through some of the most traumatising times in Nigerian history; the Biafran war, the religious battles in Jos in the 1990s, military dictatorship that the country was forced to endure. It is a very brutal book in many parts with characters being done away with Danielle Steele style – you get to love them then they are dispatched with painfully.
Emeka has the more colourful story and he reminds me a bit like watching that 1994 movie Forest Gump. He seems to be at the centre of everything big that happened in Nigerian history spending time in jail with Fela Kuti, working for governors and the like.
The book seems to use the old techniques that were much loved by the Chinua Achebe and Ngugi Wa Thiong’o with the prose being very measured and the pace slow which I will be honest drove me nuts when I started. It was so old school that I saw the reemergence of the “Harmattan” which I haven’t seen in modern books from Africa’s biggest economy (after rebasing) in recent times. As we come to further the pace picks up quite a bit which is appreciated by this reader.
It wasn’t pretty but the brutality of living in Nigeria over the last few years was well espoused by the characters in the tale. Characters who incidentally are very well constructed and written. One doesn’t need to be Nigerian to understand the craziness of the Igbo/Fulani/Hausa dynamics as they are shown as I see the same happening in my own Kenya. The religious conflict in Jos from the 1990s will especially be of interest now as Boko Haram tells us that these issues haven’t been sorted just yet.
Would I recommend that you read this book? Hell yeah. Its a great read. Its a bit slow at the beginning but the pace picks up as we go along nicely. It reminds us that even as the “Africa Rising” generation we want realise that the things we see happening have been plaguing us from independence and we want to find new solutions.
P.S. Buyers of the book get a weird bonus; they take a selfie enacting the brilliant cover of the book and having it posted on the authors Facebook page. Cool!