Sunday, 29 April 2012

Book #40 Tiny Sunbirds Far Away by Christie Watson

Tiny Sunbirds Far Away

When I was 14, Alan Paton's Cry, The Beloved Country became my favourite novel. Nothing's changed. A South Africa set novel, I have always wanted to go to the continent of Africa since (never have) and when I come across an African novel look forward to reading it.

Tiny Sunbirds Far Away by Christie Watson is set in Nigeria. Siblings Blessing and Ezikiel live in Lagos, they have a comfortable apartment, a driver, and attend the International School. But, when their father suddenly leaves their mother for another woman, they find they must move to their grandparents compound in a small village.

The compound has no running water, no electricity, and the local school is cramped. Their grandfather Alhaji has converted to Islam and so must they. The life they lead is under constant financial strain and their safety is threatened by armed gangs that roam the jungle.

Blessing from whose perspective the novel is told makes a likeable protagonist as we see the events in their world and family life through her perspective. Alhaji is a bombastic frustrated man and yet he is loved by his family even with his flaws. Socio-political issues in Nigeria are dealt with with a somewhat "light" hand from armed militia groups, to the petroleum industry to the practice of female genital mutilation, and I would have preferred to have seen more depth of reflection here.

What didn't quite work for me was the level of culture shock and adjustment for these privileged city children, who seem to adapt to their circumstance a little too easily and without much complaint. However I loved the ongoing story arc of Blessing's relationship with her Grandmother and the portrait of loopy junior wife Celestine.

Overall it was engrossing enough to be considered a good read. Not the best I've read this year, but moving, enjoyable, and unusual nonetheless 8/10

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