|Jul/Aug 2010 Reviews & Interviews|
Daughters of Eve and Other New Short Stories from Nigeria
Emma Dawson, Ed.
Critical, Cultural and Communications Press. 2010. 172 pp.
Recently CCCP Press issued an anthology of new short fiction titled Daughters of Eve and Other New Short Stories from Nigeria. The anthology is edited by Dr. Emma Dawson, a British scholar and, in serial order, comprises stories by Abubaker Adam Ibrahim, Ikeogu Oke*, Peter Ike Amadi, Jumoke Verissimo, Ifeanyi Ogboh, Rotimi Ogunjobi, Uchechukwu Peter Umezuruike, Tolu Ogunlesi, Soji Cole, Alpha Emeka and Emmanuel Iduma, most of whom are new on the Nigerian literary scene (while a few are simply unknown beyond Nigeria). It follows on the heels of a previous anthology of short stories from Cameroun also edited by Dawson. The series, as stated in the General Editor's Preface, aims to "...promote new, emerging writers, often unknown to the West, writers who have not been "endorsed' by Western publishing houses, but whose writing tells wonderful new stories in wonderful new ways."
The stories are ostensibly examples of what Dawson categorises as "World Englishes Literature". She describes it thusly: "New Englishes is understood as being the product of a situation in which English has been learned as a second language or is spoken as a language within a wider multilingual selection of languages." It comprises such subcategories as "Indian Englishes, Nigerian Englishes," etc, and forms part of a broader phenomenon known as "World Englishes," with which she associates "World Englishes writers" and "World Englishes literature."
Dawson goes on to explain that World Englishes' writers are "less and less interested in their putative subalternity to a former colonial power and more and more interested in what constitutes, positively, the identity of the culture from which they write." As for World Englishes literature, it "explores the culture(s) of the people from which it is written; usually the literature employs the English of that place (to a lesser or greater degree); and... the writer chooses to write in that English over other languages in which she could alternatively write."
In effect, the anthology comprises works that may be regarded as examples of "World Englishes literature" produced by "World Englishes writers" of Nigerian extraction.
However, World Englishes literature (like colonial, postcolonial or commonwealth literature) appears to be just another categorisation of literary works by people who, as Salman Rushdie once remarked, generate such labels for "scholastic convenience," though usually hinting at the possibility of studying the categorised works as reflections of a paradigm shift. In the case of Daughters of Eve and Other New Short Stories from Nigeria, the paradigm shift is from Nigerian literature that reflects more of the values of "commitment" to one that exemplifies more of the ideals of "art for art's sake." Put otherwise, the emphasis of the stories is to explore fiction as beautiful and entertaining writing rather than deploy it as a flaming, albeit beautiful, battleaxe for one cause or the other.
Though not a flawless publication, the anthology makes a commendable effort to fulfil its promise of publishing writing that tells wonderful new stories in wonderful new ways. "Daughters of Eve," the flagship story by Peter Ike Amadi, is remarkable evidence of the fulfilment of this goal. Its protagonist comes across as the living dead determined to avenge serial treachery by his close associates in a story that evokes the sense of a grim thriller in which realism has an eerie edge. Its prologue grinds your curiosity with a whetstone, giving it a keen edge of great expectations which are roundly met in the ensuing narrative, as when the protagonist announces: "There is still one more person I have to track down, one more soul I have to destroy before I am truly satisfied. Until his blood drips from my slavering jaws I will know no respite from the hate that eats away at me like cancer. Edwin "Caesar" Clark, we have a score to settle. I will not rest until I have your beating heart in my hands." Talk about an epic resolve in a fictional capsule!
The story's form is also remarkable, its effort to repeat with the short story Amos Tutuola's practice of cutting up his stories into episodes without sacrificing their coherence. Ditto for the form of "Fragile," the obliquely moralistic story of jealousy and changing fortunes by Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike, whose episodes are studded with well-clipped, short poetic compositions. Expectedly, the anthology is a varied offering, and the themes of the stories are as diverse as there are contributors. For instance, Tolu Ogunlesi's "No Woman Left Behind" is about the fear of HIV/AIDS and its impact on marital happiness; Jumoke Verissimo's "Lightless Room" is about unrequited love, identity and alienation, while Ifeanyi Ogboh's "Pay Day" is a story of intrigues in which a young and indigent computer programmer ultimately outwits some clients who try to take advantage of his vulnerability and seeming naiveté.
These are stories about ordinary people living ordinary lives, and the various forms of man-made and accidental problems they encounter in the process. But they are of an uneven quality, and their editing could have been improved if the editor had kept a closer eye at consistency. For instance, words from Nigerian languages are italicised whereas the Latin epigraph of the flagship story is not—as it should, being also foreign to the language of the anthology.
Besides providing a respectable platform for new Nigerian short fiction and writers to perhaps flourish, the significance of the anthology is amplified by some of Dawson's critical observations in the Introduction. This should be particularly true for those genuinely interested in the development of an authentic Nigerian literature in spite of foreign and diasporic influences. In their most salient manifestations, such observations imply a clarion call to Nigerians to truly take the lead in developing their literature and recognising its merits, as when the editor notes: "It is regrettable... that it was the West which endorsed the excellence of Adichie's novel Purple Hibiscus before her own nation got the chance to celebrate it." Then she reinforces such thought-provoking sentiments with: "The future of Nigerian World Englishes literature is very bright, but it remains important that Nigeria fosters its own "home-grown" writing talent, endorsing it in Nigeria, and venerating it in being from Nigeria."
Indeed, true recognition for writers and their works does not usually occur as charity that must begin abroad, as Dawson seems to suggest about Nigerian writers and the writings. At the heart of such observations is the question of preserving the credibility of a nation's literature. They make the anthology a valuable contribution to the development of Nigerian literature in addition to the composite stories, if only in consideration the motive behind the publication of the latter.
Incidentally, Dawson also paid the contributors for their stories. This is a good development for a country where indigenous writing talent is easier exploited than rewarded, and editors are likely to find it more deserving to pay for their manicure than such works, and would publish the latter without bothering to explain the non-payment.
* The author, Oke, is a contributor to this collection.