SEESAW is a new novel by a Nigerian writer and Havard-based academic, Timothy Ogene. Set in Nigeria and U.S., the novel is a riveting read that follows the journey of a Nigerian writer from Port Jumbo in Nigeria to Boston, the United States where he has been awarded a prestigious William Blake fellowship for emerging writers
The story begins at Port Jumbo.
The narrator, Frank Jasper, is preparing notes for a lecture which he is scheduled to give the next day at the Coastal Humanities Club. The lecture is drawn from his two memoirs in progress about his short stay in America.
Mr Jasper is an emerging Nigerian writer who lives an obscure life until his first novel, ‘The Day They Came for Dan’, which had been published by a local publisher, is found by an American in Nigeria. The latter becomes his gateway for a prestigious writing fellowship in Boston.
Upon arriving in America, however, he realises he is supposed to conform to certain notions, to play to certain expectations as an African writer in the company of other postcolonial writers. He also discovers that he is supposed to ‘defend his Africanness.’
Like another African on the fellowship, Barongo Akello Kabumba says: ‘For us African writers we must write to correct centuries of colonial misrepresentations. It is our duty to confront narrow-minded accounts of Africa. We must make it clear that Africa is not a country.’
He is however uninterested in being that kind of ‘African writer’. ‘I wanted them to know that I wasn’t advancing any single ideology or worldview or notion of progress, and wasn’t trying to attack anyone. I just wanted to exist and cry and laugh … and live and die without prefixing and suffixing my actions with any universal idea of blackness or Africanness or whatever thing out there that I was supposedly tied to as a POC or BAME.’ His tensions in the U.S. revolve around his status as an ‘African’ writer.
What may on the surface seem like deviance soon becomes a quest to understand what he is and is not, what he represents or should represent as an African abroad and whether or not he is willing to play by these expectations.
This is the ultimate result of his journey. Even though he gets expelled from the fellowship for non-performance – he doesn’t write nor participate in the fellowship activities- the journey, he quips towards the end of the novel, brings him “face to face with the true meaning of striking out to reinvent the self.”
However, even though he criticises other fellowship members, we soon realise Jasper is not entirely different. He is complicit in some of the very activities he seems to deride.
Reminiscent of Dambudzo Marechera in its resistance, the novel is at once a funny and poignant narrative, highly satirical and touching on topical themes that oscillate between the personal and the public with effortless ease.
About the author
Timothy Ogene was born in Nigeria. He currently teaches African literary and cultural studies at Harvard. His first novel, The Day Ends Like Any Day, was named Book of the Year by the African Literature Association, and his book of poems, Descent & Other Poems, was a finalist for the Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry. Seesaw is his second novel published this November by Swift Press in the UK.
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