Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sins of the Past, By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Published:

A Review of Ugochi Chienyenwa Oshai’s Bumps of Life.

It is indeed very instructive that the 213-page debut novel, Bumps of Life by Ugochi Chienyenwa Oshai, is subtitled “An African Tale”.

It is not just in the subject matter that the book depicts the African world writ large. It is crucially in the style of telling the tale that the African landscape is creatively unfolded in a carnivalesque and episodic manner akin to the immortal moonlight stories.

The book which was printed in the United States and published in the United Kingdom bears a blurb that runs thus: “Ohamadike is a successful director of an international engineering company. He lives happily with his wife and twin girls in metropolitan Lagos.

His family is sheltered, sophisticated and upper crust. His wife has complete trust in him and believes that he has no skeletons in his cupboard… etc. etc.”

Incidentally the only depiction of the super-duper family life of the protagonist Ohamadike appears only in the last chapter of the novel. The plot of the novel goes way back to Umunono village in Igbo Ukwu town of Aguata local government area in Anambra State where Ohamadike and his twin brother Ebubedike started out as Otakara, that is, kindergarten pupils.

Born into the esteemed Onwuchekwa compound, the twins Ohamadike and Ebubedike are a study in contrasts. While Ohamadike is quite charismatic and intelligent without needing to study hard Ebubedike, on the other hand, is brooding and not bright but only strong in a practical sense.

The nightmarish action that sets the tone of Bumps of Life depicts the village bully Odinbu seizing the utu fruit of Ohamadike and insisting never to let the boy have the fruit back until Ohamadike distracts the bully with a holler of a snake, and then takes back his utu and runs back home in a race of life that bears out his nickname of Ikuku, that is, the wind.

The halcyon life of the village is dominated by characters like Onyenkuzi the teacher and songs such as “Akwukwo na so uso”, extolling the joys of education. Ohamadike plays truant in school and is punished, with the reproachful song “Ohamadike onye ujo akwukwo” giving him the blues. He turns a new leaf, and flying colours become his gain.

The limited means of Ohamadike and his father Papa Nonso stand in contradistinction to the massive wealth of the uncle, Chief Ifediegwu, who beatifies his son Obindiora with the esteemed Ozo title as “Nze Eze Nnajiaku” at a very young age.

Bumps of Life Book CoverBumps of Life reflects the Igbo man’s life after the tragic Biafra War.

The vast riches of Onitsha form the attraction for Papa Nonso, as Ugochi Chienyenwa Oshai writes: “it was impossible to overlook the town of Onitsha with its loud, aggressive people, who never slept and were constantly in your face. The town was built by sheer determination and a vision that was born out of oppression.

A vision that was in direct response to starvation that was deployed as a weapon of war. It took the Igbo man over ten years after a war that claimed to have no victor no vanquished to build a commercial city for himself. By the time the war was over, the average Igbo man could not get back the position he held in the federal establishments.

His landed properties were seized and redistributed among the indigenes of the state where they previously resided. All his money in the bank was confiscated except for the paltry sum of twenty pounds he was given as an ex-gratia irrespective of what his bank balance was. It was indeed clear who the victor and the vanquished were.

But it was not in the character of the Igbo men to sit down and bemoan their lot. They were after all the Jews of Nigeria. They had to make up for the years lost that could never be retrieved. The youth dropped out of school and now had to play the catch up game, at least in their finances. They believed strongly that the years lost in education could be equated with amassing wealth.”

Ohamadike’s holiday in the giddy lofts of his uncle Chief Ifediegwu’s home in Enugu is cut short when his father dies quite suddenly, and he must perforce return to the village for his burial.

Life turns harsh for Ohamadike and his twin brother Ebubedike as well as their elder brother Nonso, especially as Chief Ifediegwu forsakes them any help with the following words: “the boys are no longer children, they are old enough to take care of themselves. I was only ten years and Papa Nonso six years old when our own father died…”

It becomes the forte of Ohamadike and Ebubedike to work on the farms of others to pay their way through school until Ebubedike eventually drops out.

Ohamadike’s escapades as a serial lady-killer gain cubits in complication when Philomena is put in the family way, even as Angela was the apple of his eye.

Meantime, Chief Ifediegwu’s heir Obindiora who had been sent abroad to study at the University of Mid-East London turns into a drug addict and is brought back home, almost mad. The criminal Odinbu, now known as Stone, and his sidekick Ekwutosi alias Baron, are made to face the firing squad for a high-profile armed robbery in Benin City.

In the final catch of Bumps of Life Ohamadike’s sheltered life, as Engineer Dike Onwuchekwa of Stagganitti Engineering on Queen’s Drive in high brow Ikoyi, with his wife Edith and twin daughters, Ekpereamaka and Ekelemchi, gets shattered with the appearance of Nnamdi, the son Philomena had for him. It is a classic case of sins of the past catching up with the present.

Ugochi Chienyenwa Oshai has in Bumps of Life given the world a stark and socially realistic rendition of the woes of our troublous times.

Her commitment to high morality is unmistakable. The characters are sharply drawn, and the flora and fauna of the Igbo, Nigerian and African world are well represented. However, there should have been a further development of the plot to bridge the gap on how Ohamadike rose to become a top engineer.

Also, there are editing errors as per quotation marks, commas, periods and in the sentence on Page 89 which reads: “Papa Nonso, Mama, and Ebubedike watched the yellow Mercedes Benz car glided (sic) away…” It ought to be “glide away”. Even so, Bumps of Life is so reader-friendly and with a first-class print-quality that dwarfs all other books in the library.

Ugochi Chienyenwa Oshai is a storyteller of immense promise. On the evidence of her first novel, Bumps of Life, Nigeria stands to reap a rich harvest from her fecund imagination and lush delivery.

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