Feels like a mood that squeals out of Kagara in Mark Nwagwu’s I am Kagara (2016).
The task: How an octogenarian novelist navigates such an inchoate path and must yet achieve fictional crudity, élan and allure. Little wonder why Mark Nwagwu has chosen this time to grace us with the return of his well-known character Chioma Ijeoma in his new book I am Kagara.
Now, I am Kagara is the third novel in the series that feature Chioma Ijeoma; we initially had Forever Chimes (2008) and then My Eyes Dance (2010). Forever Chimes was a prelude to the life of Chioma and that of her family; through that we are able to see Chioma as a child and how she grows into her teenage years. Chioma had a very privileged life and experienced family love to its utmost. We also get to see the life of Pa Akadike who happens to be Chioma’s grandfather. In My Eyes Dance, we see Chioma in a quest for cultural identity after the death of her grandfather, Pa Akadike.
Chioma Ijeoma could not have chosen a better time to re-emerge, especially at a time when many youth, young ladies inclusive, are conflicted about their African identity, and the overall import of this post colonial times. Reading Forever Chimes gives one a strange sense of perfection about Chioma’s childhood. She has everything. She has the love of her parents; neither does she have to experience the difficulties of an average Nigerian girl child, nor have to bother about her education or her meals for the day. She even has the opportunity to travel abroad! So what then was the author’s vision for such a perfect character? How would she endure a society she had absolutely no experience of? What was her path going to be? Would she end up having her seventeen children? Would she become a world renowned painter? Mark Nwagwu did surprise us all with the direction in which the book takes its course.
With My Eyes Dance, one begins to grasp the concept of Chioma’s character, even getting to understand the cultural diversity among the various people populating her universe, such as her great grandmother, Nneoma and her great grandfather, Pa Akadike; her students: Rosemary, Jeff, Cheryl, Dwight, Cathie, Bill, Jean, among others, later given Igbo names.
Apparently Mark Nwagwu had something better in I am Kagara. Here, we are again meeting Chioma for the third time and precisely at the point when she is struggling into the constantly unfolding reality of womanhood and embracing her roots. She is at the same time trying to figure out the world around; a world in which in spite of its pace, she cannot help but keep up with.
Throughout Mark Nwagwu’s tentative trilogy, Chioma’s goal is to understand balance and harmony, to understand that there can be harmony among the confusing mass of issues that pervades the human’s thoughts and life. One can do anything and be everything. Why should she have to restrict herself to just one sphere of life? Why should she have to choose between ethnic and religious groups?
Looking at the world around her fictional generation in particular, and her strive to keep up the balance, she cannot help but be conflicted. She wants to be educated, knowledgeable, have a say in the politics and economy of her country, but then she also wants to recognise her sole purpose as a woman and wants other people to respect and acknowledge that too. How does she balance all of these?
I am Kagara proves that balance is definitely not something Chioma made up in her mess of a mind; it is not impossible to achieve. Mark Nwagwu has provided us with a strange but intricate character. Chioma is definitely not Olanna in Chimamanda’s Half of a Yellow Sun, and neither is she Enitan in Sefi Atta’s Everything Good Will Come. Chioma is stranger than those beautiful women; she is masculine and feminine at the same time, and sometimes she is neither. Chioma is a devout catholic, in fact she is so devoted that she never misses mass (although that doesn’t stop her from seeing and speaking with spectral emissaries). She finds easy fusion of her African heritage and the judeo-christain religion. In this contemporary age where women are beginning to understand the meaning of liberation and equality, Chioma is what modern day women would regard as ‘independent’. She has a good job and an apartment of her own.
Regardless of her independence, Chioma neither forgets the emotional dependence on her roots as an African woman, nor does she forget her purpose when she is teleported back to Nigeria, which is to help liberate and free the young Kagara girls. I think what crowns the seeming paradox in Chioma’s character is that she is a lover of good wine; a return to the archetype of the aesthete as a wine connoisseur?
We catch a glimpse of modern day Nigeria through the eyes of Mark Nwagwu in his book I am Kagara, where terrorist organisations are threatening and killing people in the Niger Delta and in north-eastern Nigeria. Chioma is to save her society from collapse by rescuing the Kagara girls, all the while leading a liberation movement in spite of the distraction of having to fight off evil spirits, very much like Komona in Kim Nguyen’s War Witch.
Throughout Mark Nwagwu’s tentative trilogy, Chioma’s goal is to understand balance and harmony, to understand that there can be harmony among the confusing mass of issues that pervades the human’s thoughts and life. One can do anything and be everything. Why should she have to restrict herself to just one sphere of life? Why should she have to choose between ethnic and religious groups? Chioma did prove that one can indeed harmonise everything in life. I am Kagara offers a whole new aspect to Chioma’s personality. We see a whole new feminine aspect to her; we see how she rises to the responsibility of helping the kidnapped girls.
In fact, it must be noted that Mark Nwagwu finally provides us with ethically justifiable revolutionary violence in the must read I am Kagara.
Iwalewa Olorunyomi is a student in the Department of Classics, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.