Finally, an ARC and a book that counts toward my summer reading goals: a book by an author of color. Jowhor Ile is a Nigerian writer, and this is his debut novel. I was so excited to be able to request it as a review copy! As always, you can find or request books like this at your local bookstore (bonus points, yes, if it’s Magers & Quinn, haha).
And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile (Tim Duggan Books, 244 pages)
A spellbinding debut about a country rife with change and a family’s bond and growth, And After Many Days is a novel I will remember for a while. In Port Harcourt, Nigeria in the 1990s, we meet the Utu family—a middle class, respected crew of five—through the eyes of the youngest child, Ajie, on the tragic day of his older brother Paul’s disappearance.
Ile’s description of Nigeria and village life is rich with poetic language, but the stark details he includes are refreshing and make for a quick read. “The skies open and drop water all day—drizzle this time, but the streets get flooded, drainages overflow, okada men in rain capes hang about under the eaves of roadside shops, shielding their motorcycles from the water, ignoring prospective passengers.” His talent for showing emotions without explanation of the family’s reaction to events is to be praised. This style wouldn’t work for every novel, but here it brings the vibrant Utu family’s interactions to life.
Unlike mysteries where the story begins with the puzzle and works to solve it, this book starts with the catalyst that sends the Utus’ normal existence spinning but then backtracks, starting with background family history and launching into Ajie’s childhood memories. The jump is almost startling. “The seeds of Paul’s disappearance were sowed by his parents. This was what Ajie decided. . . As for Paul, you really can’t blame a person for his own disappearance, at least not while he is still missing and cannot speak for himself. . . To tell Paul’s story, you would have to start from before he was born.” Unfortunately, we are fully immersed by Ile into the past and don’t return again to the present until it is almost forgotten, and by that point it is unclear exactly how many years have passed. Sometimes the story moves at a slow pace and other times you could have skipped many years without knowing. Though Ile’s talent lies in connecting the changing atmosphere and political strife of Nigeria to the growing children’s perception of their world through the eyes of Ajie, it was not enough to make the writing flow easily enough.
Though Ile is lauded by some for his seamless switching of stories through time, I found the book slightly confusing. I was in fact almost worried we would never find out what exactly happened to Paul, at least not to the level of detail I wanted, since the present does not get referenced in the past. Furthermore, there are instances in the book that make the reader uncomfortable—and that is what makes it interesting—but it almost didn’t have enough of Ajie’s personal thoughts or details of Nigeria’s tumultuous state (both extremes) to make the impact it could have. In all, I would laud this as a successful debut and one I wouldn’t steer anyone away from, but I just can’t call it the masterpiece I wanted to. Still, it gets 4 (or 3.5) stars on my Goodreads for being compelling, important, and a beautiful literary piece.
I received this book free from Blogging For Books as part of their Book Review Blogger program in exchange for an honest review.