On Saturday, March 12, the Port Harcourt Book Club hosted Othuke Ominiabohs @ohmstonweth, to a fabulous reading and signing session of his debut novel Odufa at the Bookville World in Port Harcourt. Here is a review of Odufa, written by Franklyne Ikediasor.
I was very wary before reading the book Odufa; the book had a massive PR machine driven mostly by social media. There was a lot of talk about the book including a hash tag but nothing actually on its content; I viewed it the way I view food that is excellently decorated, because I often think the beautiful layering and arrangement of those kinds of food was a ruse to distract from the fact that it just wasn’t tasty. So I approached Odufa and its massive PR machine with such caution.
First of all I am always excited to read a novel written by a Nigerian which is not a immigration story, because it’s often like that’s most of what we get around here and at some point it has become exhausting. Odufa however was a story of Romance; exploring the themes of love, patriarchal nature of our society, failing systems of Nigeria, the strength of family bonds in this part of the world and very importantly also mirroring how fragmented the soul of Nigeria is along ethnic lines.
I must praise Othuke for his descriptive prowess and I think it is very important for a fiction writer to be as vivid as possible when telling a story. He took us to Kano, Lagos, Warri and all and each city came alive on the page. You could almost hear the people on the streets like you are there with them and all of that helped put the story into perspective. Odufa to me read a bit like Nothing comes close by Tolulope Popoola; not a very similar story line, but similar themes set in London, Lagos and Milton Keynes but unlike Othuke Ms Popoola failed to take us to those places with her writing.
The story itself scared me; especially the very toxic and dangerous relationship between Anthony and Odufa. I don’t have much experience with relationships in Nigeria but I remember asking a few friends from my book club if this kind of relationship was actually possible. The narcissism between the two lead characters was shocking, their inconsistency in personality worried me (especially Odufa’s) and at a point I began to wonder if this was really a relationship or a dependency. Also Odufa has some sordid past which affected nearly every choice she made in this book, so I was quite surprised that the past was not mentioned. However the writer clarified that a sequel will delve into this.
I am a feminist and I found this book very chauvinistic to the point of shock and bewilderment. The expectations Anthony had of Odufa were scary; she was practically his slave who waited on him and did all his bidding. I was also surprised how Odufa automatically financially depended on Anthony (who did not even have a job) simply because he was her lover. The tone of writing too came across as chauvinistic to me and at a point I became confused as to whether the writer is merely showing us a typical relationship in these parts or does he actually believe some of these things because in my experience as much as all (fiction) writers deny it, their personal values often finds its way into the book somewhat. I did ask Othuke about this point at a reading and he smartly evaded the question, so I shall never know.
Odufa as a character despite being the title character of the book did not intrigue me so much, Imoh her brother did. I had never seen someone who wanted to be as invisible as possible; it was as if Imoh only spoke when spoken to, he avoided people’s eyes and he slipped away at the slightest opportunity. I believe Imoh has a story too, it’s almost like he carried a burden only he knew and he felt if anybody came too close they would find out. So when the writer announced that the book was going to be a trilogy I was satisfied hoping that the deal with Imoh will be dealt with later hopefully.
In all, Odufa read to me like a Nollywood movie; it was a mix of hits and misses, more misses than hits in fact but it’s not a bad attempt for a debut novel. Lovers of poetry (which sadly I am not one of them) will love the big role poetry played in the entire story, how it was expertly woven in and the role it played in the relationship between the two characters. I found parts of the story lumpy; like themes were brought up and dropped abruptly never to be revisited but maybe the sequel will deal with some of them.
Othuke has a very vivid mind and describes everything down to the tiniest detail which sincerely helped make the story readable; someone said he was insecure about his writing which was why he ensured he explained every tiny detail but I disagreed. Othuke is a word artist and as much as possible he tried to paint a very strong picture with his words, he is also a very good story teller but in my opinion a better story teller than a writer because those are two different things even though they are often confused with one another.
The high point of this book to me was when Anthony said,
”Loneliness, I said. I fear loneliness more than anything in this world.”
Loneliness is my biggest fear also and when I read that line I felt a tear slip out of my eyes which I quickly wiped off and continued reading.
I look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy and I am sincerely hoping it won’t end like any cheesy romantic novel, as a lot of those abound.
Franklyne Ikediasor lives in Port Harcourt, and has lived here for over ten years. He enjoys running, cycling and getting together with friends to share bouts of wine fuelled laughter. Find him on Twitter @FabulousGuy_
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