21 Jul A REVIEW OF RICHARD ALI’S CITY OF MEMORIES By Dr. Passy Amaraegbu
First published in Sunday Sun Newspaper, 8th July 2012.
Like someone rightly said, nothing succeeds like an event whose time has come. Imagine writing this book a decade before or after now? The former would qualify as a prophetic experiment and would have created much tension while the latter would qualify as a historical pedestal. This is why I believe that City of Memories is the first part of a sequel of novels. Without mincing words, one must begin this review by appreciating the author’s sincere and serious effort to tell a bold story. From the outset, the book sets out as a philosophical x-ray of the sociopolitical upheavals in North Central Nigeria. With eleven large chapters and two hundred and ninety-three pages, City of Memories captures the sudden cataclysmic and calamitous events which besiege the once serenity of North central Nigeria.
Significantly, one takes note of the poignant justa-positioning of the major cities of Jos and Bolewa; the protagonists; Ibrahim Dibarama and Ummi al Qassim, George and Eunice Pam, Faruk and Rahila; the reincarnation of love scenes between Faruk and his mother. Mr. Ali positively stretches the realm of mystic realism. Another plus factor in this debut novel is the comprehensiveness as well as the indepth-ness of character and location descriptions. For instance Nnamdi, one of Rahila’s male acquaintances is described thus;
He was of a peculiar complexion, high yellow with a thin nose from an Israeli mother; large and jolly with a smile like melting butter, easy spread. He had clear eyes and an impeccable sense of style (p. 39).
Of Jos, the book says;
Jos was a city on a bed of mountains; it had always drawn people to itself – like some sort of jewel in the heart of the country. Through the peril of upward-winding trials with sudden fatal drops, through the cold that started like a lover’s touch… p.89)
This depth of knowledge reaches also to the understanding of subject matters. Examples are the accurate and succinct descriptions of topographies, family houses, business centres, roadsides, paintings, political terrains, dress sense, military governments and their coups. Further, the novel provides the reader with a robust view of a parental–children conflict which then assumes an astronomical magnitude in religious bigotry. Jos and Bolewa, Christianity and Islam, strong willed Eunice Pam and iron-willed Ibrahim Dabarama are enmeshed in a deep conflict of interest and intrigues—what could be the final result?
One mustn’t forget the compulsory journey of discovery embarked on by the protagonist Faruk Dibarama, in order to unearth his origin. A journey of self-discovery and development, full of revelations and reverie, it almost turned out to be one of a fulfilled revenge. Eunice Pam’s rivalry against Ibrahim Dibarama nearly would have cost the latter the loss of his precious son and the charming prince of the former’s daughter. But such is the complexity of human life – love and lust for blood, harmony and hatred, attraction and attrition exchanging positions in proximity. Why would one plan to kill one’s daughter’s suitor? But Eunice Pam would retort, why would a prestigious retired soldier plan to destroy a mere woman? Why did honour and dignity go awry?
Nigeria is being destroyed on the campuses, not at the caucuses. (p. 44)
This was a succinct analysis of the sociopolitical situation of our nation as captured in the novel. It is prophetic and potent as a renewed praxis which culminates into a national picturesque. Daily we see a display of this prophetic utterance in our national political life in the form of twin daredevils. First in the form of unconscionable youths in our campuses, creeks and communities banding themselves into destructive gangs who willfully inflict incalculable harm on the society. The other side of the coin is when they yield themselves as instruments of mayhem and devastation in the hands of unscrupulous and inept Nigerian politicians.
Quickly, one notes that the author’s style of dealing with libido in the novel is remarkable. He wisely and carefully refused to follow the cheap and charade approach of celebrating lechery and lasciviousness. Faruk stood faithful to his commitment to marry Rahila and resisted the seductive advances of Maryam Bazza. This is commendable. How can one easily forget or over-look the author’s excellent application of appropriate literary terms such as simile, personification and ironic nuance? All these come together as forms of literary styles that make this debut novel rich and remarkable. Finally, the novel wisely employed the use of comparisons to its own advantage. Perhaps in no other area did this issue play out most outstanding than in the issue of family religious differences or bigotry. The major and unending war between Eunice Pam and Ibrahim Dabirama was hatched, bred, nurtured and implemented based on this factor.
In articulating how to improve the work of this novel, one suggests that the author should do a sequel. The story ended in the middle. Faruk and Rahila, though reunited, never got married. They never met their parents to reconsider their request to marry. Therefore, the story line should continue in a second novel. Again, this novel may be adaptable as a film. In all the chapters, one notices multiplicity of scenes as well as active characters which can enhance acting.
One noticed what could be termed an erroneous spelling in page 242. About paragraph six, the word supernal may be supernatural.
Finally, one thinks that a big novel like this should be spaced into more chapters. Some of the chapters are really long and may attract less readership in a poor reading society like ours. In conclusion, City of Memories is worth its salt. It is a remarkable debut of not just the author but for Jos and the whole of North Central, Nigeria. It is an idea whose time has come. Congratulations Richard Ali Esq.