And After Many Days: A Novel , Jowhor Ile

afterWhen the novel begins, the reader is placed in the year 1995, in Port Harcourt, a city named for a man who never even lived there. It is a major port and the capital city of Rivers State, Nigeria. Port Harcourt is going through the throes of various forms of civil activism aimed at bringing the needs of the people to the attention of the government and the “Company”, (an oil investor interested in the oil discovered in Port Harcourt), both of which dominate their lives, destroy their landscape and share the accumulated wealth only with a chosen few hired citizens whose aim is to convince the residents to go along with their demands, neglecting the needs of the majority.
Greed and power dominate the atmosphere in the outside world in contrast with the loving, warm relationship that exists inside the Utu household, where this family of five, father Bendic, Ma, Paul, Ajie and Bibi, live happily. The children have been raised with the good values of their educated parents, and consequently, there is a stress on proper behavior and schooling. Because of the civil disobedience and brutality of the government and Company, and the better opportunity for a safer and possibly better education abroad, the children are sent away to schools in other countries or other communities inside Nigeria.
While the people of the city struggle to survive in a country that is not universally technologically advanced in either its thriving industry or infrastructure, the government, the military and the police are often ruthless in their brutal enforcement of their rules and demands. While the people protest peacefully to promote more change and a more democratic environment, those in power prevent them, pushing back with their greater strength. People are arrested without cause and imprisoned without proper protocols. There are a lot of disgruntled people, and it is apparent with their display of civil disobedience and protests, but it is also apparent that they are David and Goliath, and Goliath, in this story, is winning the battle.
Paul Utu is the eldest son about to go abroad for his University education. The current University students are staging a protest in town, and he feels restless and leaves the house with his backpack to visit his friend Fola. He is expected to return in a few hours, but he never does. For the next decade, the family wonders what has happened to him, and the trauma of that day he went missing is never far from their minds. All of their lives have been impacted in individual ways. The mystery and loss profoundly affects not only the Utus, but also their friends and family. The household, once the hub of conversations and advice, becomes one to be avoided. Some friends slowly drift away from them, unable to bear or share the burden of their pain and loss, some fearing the contagion of such a disaster upon their own families.
The story moves back and forth in time, as life’s memories often do, highlighting the family life of the Utus. Ajie tells the story from his youthful memories and point of view. Through his eyes we learn about their culture and their way of life. The reactions of the characters to the news of Paul’s disappearance, is subdued at first, with disbelief more than fear. Soon, however, when he doesn’t return, the reality of their loss sets in, and there is deep grief and psychological pain
. It was sometimes difficult to figure out which moment in time is being described, but regardless of the particular time frame, past or present, the novel illustrated the lives of the Utu family as they experienced the effects of Paul’s disappearance, the changing political scenes, the student uprisings, the different ruling parties and regimes, the civil strife, the business interests at odds with their own, and other various traumatic events that shaped their lives.
The author places the reader in the thick of things in Nigeria, but does not paint a pretty picture. The government seems corrupt and brutal in its methods. The Company ignores the concerns of the residents of the community that they were slowly destroying, often choosing one or another of them to bestow favors upon so they would coerce the others to go along with their methods, pitting neighbor against neighbor. There was smoldering resentment and bickering among the friends and neighbors and retaliatory, brutal methods were often used when they failed to agree and go along with the prevailing powers that be. The setting and the dialogue seem authentic, and one can hear their conversations in the different dialects as if they were just now taking place. The phrasing, vocabulary and juxtaposition of the words makes the conversations seem more realistic.
The book does not move quickly, and one must be patient reading it to appreciate it. Sometimes the details seem to overburden the page, but they enhance the picture of Port Harcourt with the civil disobedience and the brutality of the police and military in power. The information presented about Nigerian life and the dynamic of a family that must cope with every parent’s nightmare, makes it a worthwhile read. It inspired me to do further research on the area and the city.

I was not drawn into the book as a captive, but rather by the mystery of Paul Utu’s disappearance which ceased to be the focus of the story after its introduction, yet remained the catalyst for everything else that happened in the Utu family afterward. Instead of being about the unsolved mystery of the disappearance of their son, it was about their family life, the politics surrounding them, their disappointment with the government, and the oil industry’s impact on their way of life and culture. At times, I was overwhelmed with tedious details, but it was, nevertheless, interesting, because without including them, the picture of Port Harcourt would have been incomplete. Shopping excursions exposed the third world nature of the infrastructure of the country and the lack of modern day advanced equipment, and, in some cases, technology. The interaction of the characters showed the nature of the tribal aspect of the community, which had so many diverse groups. Their different cultures were often at odds with each other. Even ten years later, when the mystery was solved, the country did not seem to have advanced that far when compared to the modern world.
The foreign worlds made it difficult to follow in some places, and I was forced to do research on Port Harcourt and its lifestyle and industry, which wasn’t a bad thing, at all, and which was a redeeming feature of the book; it encouraged a greater understanding of the country and its people. The book I read was an advanced copy. Perhaps in the final version there is a glossary.


About omasvoice

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