The novel opens in 1996, Lagos, with twin sisters, Bibike and Ariyike, somehow lost on their way home from school. They are ibeji twins, and in the Yoruba culture, considered magical, belonging to one soul. Although the story is told from the perspectives of the twins and their two brothers, it is the twins who dominate the narrative, providing the heart and soul of the novel.
For such a short novel the narrative spans almost two decades and time progresses with each chapter. In the first chapter the mother leaves with the father shortly following. The siblings are abandoned and left to fend for themselves under the care of their grandmother.
With each change of chapter there is a change in perspective between the four children. And this structure continues until the end, with time jumping randomly with progression. Broken into four parts, the story of the sibling’s lives makes for interesting reading, but it is part four that explodes like a hidden grenade.
A major theme of the narrative is the difference between halves. The difference between the twins’ lives, the difference between two cultures, the difference between rich and poor, the difference between male and female.
It is also about the use of religion as a power, and its abuse. Church leaders and politicians. Wealth dispersed amongst the favourites and powerful. Wealth used to procure two private jets for the church, but when a young woman from the congregation needs money for an operation to save her son’s life, the flow of wealth trickles to a stop. The Christian church in Lagos, in this time frame, has a hierarchy of power dominated by men. This baby is one of many that have come from the Pastor of the church, Ariyike’s husband, using the church to procure young women for himself and his politician friends.
It is about different cultures. When their mother returns from the States, she simply cannot believe that her youngest son does not want to travel back with her. She is baffled that somebody could prefer a “simpler”, less urbanized life.
The Yoruba cultural stories that are interspersed throughout the narrative, are a joy to read, with most in the form of a parable or proverb.
Abraham writes great characters. This along with the explosive fourth part, make this a wonderful debut and another Nigerian author to keep an eye on. 4 Stars!
Tola Rotimi Abraham is a writer from Lagos, Nigeria. She lives in Iowa City and is currently (2020) pursuing a graduate degree in journalism. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she has taught writing at the University of Iowa. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Catapult, The Des Moines Register, The Nigerian Literary Magazine, and other places.
Here is a link to a wonderful interview with Tola Rotimi Abraham here - https://africaindialogue.com/2020/08/10/culture-as-a-tool-for-characterization-a-dialogue-with-tola-rotimi-abraham/