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Wednesday, 21 March 2012 19:39

BOOKS & REVIEWS: Scavengers' Orgy, a novel by Ozioma Izuora...Review by Jim Pressman

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Scanvengers' Orgy,  a novel by BARRISTER OZIOMA IZUORA

Review written by Jim Pressman


Abuja Barrister Ozioma Izuora, Executive Director, Mediators & Advocates of Peace (LAMPAIX), is is dedicated to Peace-Building and Conflict Resolution work. Her first novel, Dreams Deferred (first published by Topaz Books and then re-issued by Kraftgriots in 2010) won the ANA/NDDC Ken Saro-Wiwa Prose Prize in 2009.
Her second novel just came off the Kraftgriots hotplates and is due for public presentation April 23. It is entitled Scavengers’ Orgy, [Ibadan: Kraftgriots 2011] and comes to further establish the position of this elegant wife, mother and activist lawyer-writer.

Somehow, Izuora demonstrates in this book, there is no running away from your past, as it sooner than later comes haunting you, and often will catch up with you! Her characters epitomize this truism as they “bare their selfish and aggressive desperation for vain glory. However, like scavengers foraging in the dirt, their desires elude them as they return in style to their roots.” [Emphasis ours.]
Vanity and desperation for conquest of everything and everyone around them, or in their way are the leitmotif driving forces of the often false lives of many of the characters which people Ozioma’s book in ways similar to Beatrice nicknamed ‘Bee’, brought home by 45-year-old Charles, described thus early in the work (p.8):

“She continues to inspect herself. Just like she habitually does even on passing by a parked car. Or any reflective surface. From the time of her birth, she has had it etched into her head that she is beautiful. For s long as she had recollections, she has been assured that she is exceptionally well-endowed. Her breasts hang out like huge ripe pawpaw fruits. Her waist, reminiscent of the hour glass, rests atop rolling mounds of hips, like the well – rounded giant pots that grace beautiful galleries during Abuja Art Carnivals…”

Charles and Bee like others have a fixed idea and an axe to grind with society, inspired by his sad memories of a run-away father who abandoned them, she in her own case “weaned on her mother’s philosophy of life: you trade what you have for what you want.” Little are we surprised then when she soon battles the country’s psyche for which recognizes only certificates, by using cash from her ‘Whiteman’ (Peter Brocklehurst) who pays her way through Marketing degree she mistook for easy as she imagined it was no different from her regular life-style (p.18). Agnes Johnson, née Amaka Agbo (‘Aggs’ for short) the lawyer keeps nursing nagging, gripping secret fears she cannot afford to share.

Charles with his stunted education hangs on to information on the soft underbellies of his many big contacts, social and political, for the raining day (of blackmail), as he schemes to get Bee at the right time cashing in on his knowledge of her dirty undergraduate days (pp. 24, 226-27, etc...)

In summary, for all of them in their different ways, the past is lurking in the dark, a haunting bogey, as their guilty minds torment them even while they try to dominate and conquer everyone and everything on their scavenging way. Every move is with an ulterior, usually selfish and material motive, from Clement’s kindness to Nma Agbo before Amaka’s birth, through Chief Udegwu’s offer of scholarship to the brilliant and beautiful growing Amaka Agbo to Amaka’s friendship with Shirley, second marriage to Femi Johnson and her Law School friend Shirley’s opportunistic choice of rich though thrifty but ageing Englishman Harry, etc…

“For young Amaka Agbo the once acclaimed beauty of Amada, the intelligent, first ever lawyer, pride of the entire town, and the daughter of the peerless beauty Nma; her dilemma began when she got betrothed to Clement, even before she was born. In a manipulative bid to escape her life as the fourth wife of Chief Udengwu, she reinvents herself by assuming a new identity and abandons her three children.

Her metamorphosis from being the wife of a wealthy chief to Agnes Johnson, wife Femi Johnson, for whom she has a son, completes her long sought-after life, as she believes she has met and married her choice of a husband. Fear and anxiety [however] grip her when she discover a stranger from her past; a past whose lid could blow open at anytime and [at] the instance of another situational irony, a memory loss from a car accident reverses her new found identity..”

Even as the story in the novel closes, the characters are still battling in, futility, with ‘skeletons in their cupboards,’ scheming revenge and manipulating for conquest, both symptoms of vanity (pp. 212 – 213): Yet, the very secrets and darks specs from the past they all try to hide or run away from end up catching up with them all, underscoring the vanity and futility of their false lives.

Prof. Nwoko’s adventure into politics is suspect; he does it to better his material lot, and to cover up the ‘skeletons in his cupboard, with the known cases of sexual harassment of his students, one of the gender concerns of lawyer-author Izuora since Dreams Deferred.

Femi for instance walks away from the merciless beating he has ordered for Clement (by ‘justices of the jungle’). But he too fares no better (pp. 164-165): “His life is shattered because of this ghost from his wife’s past. Why could he not stay buried in the past? Why ruin the perfect structure he has created to give his life a meaning? (…) In a mad rage, he dashes out into the streets, a broken man. All his years of scratching up a life; scavenging his way into respectability, all seemed nullified. The distance he has assumed between him and his street origin has closed in on him. He is floundering; wondering what he can salvage of his life and whether he can find equilibrium ever again.”

Even while serving an indefinite jail term, Femi still nurses the hope for revenge of what Charles has caused him (p.213): “That Charles! … Even if takes my life, I will get my revenge! … Me and Charles will die together, even if that is the last thing I do!”

Young Femi need not have bothered, as the apostle of his favourite slogan of ‘no permanent interests, no permanent friends’ is already facing his Nemesis elsewhere (p.206): “Charles does not make bail. He has been fingered in numerous shady deals the clean-sweeping anti-graft agency has been investigating …They have no difficulty, therefore, in finding him guilty … the mighty political structure he has banked on for so long crumbles faster than a pack of cards…”

The full circle evolution of each of the characters is epitomized by the sum-total summary of the life and times [the rise and fall] of the former village and city belle, Agnes Amaka (‘Aggs,’ ‘Bee’) at page 206: “A scavenger way away from poverty; recreates a world to be free from her past, it all boomerangs back to a state where honest poverty and ignominy would have been a blessing.”

At the end, the reader is driven instinctively to go back and chorus aloud with the author-narrator, the graffiti on the wall in Charles’s father’s room in the village (p.7): “Life na waa!”
****
Last Line:
Interestingly, the very successful cover illustration was done by another lawyer – turned artist, Abuja-based Laolu Senbanjo, whose father is a lawyer too, but has given him all the encouragement in his choice to paint, sculpt and draw, producing what he calls Art Afro-mysteric, “the mystery of the African thought pattern.” Other commentators have referred rather aptly to his many pieces as “consciousness on canvass.”

*Jim Pressman is an Abuja – based Freelance [reporting Art/Life, Travel/Tourism and Gender Issues]

Contact him: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Rags of Fortune, a novel by Chukwuma Oraegbu

(Journalist, writer, poet, essayist)

Reviews:

"Rags of Fortune (420 pages), is Mr. Chukwuma Oraegbu's first published novel. It is both a farcical comedy and a tragedy of monumental proportions. A novel of social realism about contemporary Nigerian society, Rags of Fortune catalogues the tragic story of poverty, hunger, unemployment, corruption, police brutality, military dictatorship and human rights abuses in a fictional, oil-rich, West African country called Galanta. It is delightful and provocative first novel."

 

CHAPTER ONE 

The cold wind cut through Nazala’s apparel, biting his body. He shivered. He was a young man of about twenty-four years old. A gangling youth, he was slim of build and tall of height. He had eyes that were at once gentle and penetrating. They were eyes that could hold yours for as long as their own wanted, eyes that could put you uneasy and on the defensive by their luminosity, but the next moment, would be as gentle and compassionate as those of a lamb.

He had a pointed nose that seemed carved on his oval face. Both features, combined with a glowing fair complexion, gave him a handsome, dashing look. His light complexion and almost aquiline nose had led many a people into thinking he had a Balataga ancestry. But he didn’t. He was of the Sastisga tribe, one of the numerous ethnic groups, which dotted the landscape of the African country of Galanta.

He was clad in blue, faded denim jeans, a striped, beige, short sleeve shirt and a stonewashed jeans jacket. He had the tired, dusty, weather-beaten features of a wayfarer. And he was: by his feet were a large-sized gray suitcase and a smaller black bag. The cold wind blew without respite and the more it blew, the more uncomfortable he became. He fixed all the buttons on his jacket, flew the collar and wrapped the jacket tightly around his body. But yet the cold stabbed at him and pricked him.

Darkness was approaching slowly but doggedly. Already, a small ball of darkness was gathering in the horizon, caressing its fringes. Sooner than later, it would spread like a leper’s curse to Ozola and blot out the daylight, which was fast losing its luminosity.

He knew he had to hurry. He had to get to his destination in Atuaga in a hurry. He had to get there before the small ball of darkness in the horizon ballooned into a monster and extinguished the little daylight that was left. He feared that if he didn’t leave Ozola before nightfall, if he didn’t make hay while the sun was shining, he would find it difficult, if not impossible to do so when nightfall came.

But sadly, it wasn’t in his power to facilitate his movement. He had expended all the money he had on him on transportation. Now, he was without any money and it was his first visit to Kobata, the capital city of Galanta, and he didn’t know anybody around Ozola. He knew he was going to depend on the goodwill of good Samaritans to cover the one hundred kilometers that stood between him and his destination. There was a horde of people in Ozola, coming and going and going and coming. It was a confused multitude, a completely confused atmosphere. The multitude, every single one of them, seemed possessed of an ancient curse, for their behaviour was not imbued with order and discipline and organization.

Rather, they were totally orderless as they shoved and kicked and punched and slapped and cursed and fought one another in their individual bid to get the right of way. He had been appalled and bewildered and stupefied, when he arrived at Ozola, by the state of war in this ghetto of Galanta. Comparatively, Batu, Obala, Twata and Ezala, where he grew up, were still rural and provincial and people were orderly, well almost, in public places.

But what he saw in Ozola had to be seen to be believed. Despite the avalanche of stories, fairy tales he had thought them at that time, which he had heard about Kobata and its crazy slums, about its ebullience and wild ways and eccentricity, nothing had prepared him for the maddening crowd he met at Ozola. The crowd was straight out of Thomas Hobbes’ imaginary state of nature. The uncouth crowd had easily elbowed him out of the human-clustered way.

The crowd was a motley crowd. Like Nazala, some of them were wayfarers, some commuters, some drifters, some appeared to be ex-convicts, others appeared to be crooks, some market men and women and children, some con artists, some mad men and women and some beggars.

The beggars, clad in the most minimal of clothing, were all deformed in one pathetic way or the other: some blind, some deaf, some dumb, some possessing mangled limbs or without any limbs at all, and some exhibiting broken back bones. They all stood in groups and singles, the ones who could not stand nor sit sprawled out at the edge of the highway, so that they could be conspicuous to passers-by, and they moaned and sobbed and begged with the last ounce of strength in their impoverished bodies, sometimes emitting bloodcurdling yells that spoke of their misfortunes and helplessness, reminding luckier but tight-fisted passers-by that God loved a cheerful giver.

“Help me! Please help me in the name of God!” a deaf, crippled, middle-aged pleaded with unbridled emotion, without shame. Tears of hopelessness coursed down her hollow, begrimed cheeks like raindrops sliding down windowpanes. She was thin as a stick of broom and the two tiny babies she cradled so caringly looked more like rats than babies, so emaciated Kwashiorkor (malnutrition) had made them.

Her disheveled hair, which didn’t seem like it had come in contact with soap and water for a decade, and the rags she wore to protect her slightly visible femininity, made her look more like a raving mad woman than the destitute she was.

She sat at the edge of the highway, on the bare, cold concrete which passed for a pavement, and a thousand feet crossed her, showering sand and dust on her and her two, tiny urchins.

“I am hungry, so very hungry and so are my babies,” she wept in Yakoko language, even as some passers-by cast her bored, contemptuous looks. “We’ve not eaten for four days; we’ve been surviving only on water. Please give us some little money, whatever you can spare, so that our hungry tummies can be relieved of their hunger, even for a while. God shall pay you back a thousand fold.” Only a handful of people as much as looked in the woman’s direction, even as she tried without success to raise her thin lifeless voice above the din of the crowd. And fewer still, bent down to toss five pence or ten pence coins inside her ancient and battered aluminum bowl.

A well-dressed man, in a black jacket and wine coloured tie stopped in front of her and pulled out a soiled Galantan pound from his pocket. A smile of immeasurable gratitude appeared on the woman’s face. Then the men bent down, collected from the ancient and battered aluminum bowl, change for one pound, and then smiled owlishly at the dumb-founded woman and walked triumphantly in the direction of a dusty, rickety contraption which passed for a mass transit bus or molue as it is derisively called.

The destitute woman began to protest that what the gentleman had done was wrong and against God, that he had no right invading her privacy, that he ought to have asked her for change before dipping his hands into her bowl, and anyway, that she deserved some commission, no matter how little, for the service rendered, not withstanding he forced it out of her.

But then she stopped. The man had, in the ways of an Olympic high jumper, leapt into a speeding molue bus. Only his glistening black shoes were now visible as he wriggled his way in, through a pigeon hole-like window.

 Watch out for Chapter 2:

Excerpts: "  Assistant  Commissioner of  Police, Gasha Olanko, was a man who brooked no nonsense, be it at work, or in his private life. He was a fat, ugly man in his early fifties, with seventy wives, forty concubines and two hundred children. A mean, devilish cop, Olanko had a reputation at work, as a stern officer with a predilection for punishing those who took what he thought belonged to him. The same reputation was skillfully sustained at home. As a result, his wives and children, who otherwise were a bunch of ill-bred, ill-behaved lot, held him in great fear.

"His wives learnt, like the tortoise, to conduct their illicit private businesses with the utmost cunning, yet appearing chaste in his presence, and his children learnt to drink like fishes, steal occasionally, and smoke marijuana without his knowing. Even Olanko's superiors were wary of stepping on his toes, for the man, it had become obvious, had a long memory, which he picked with a ruthlessness that could be primitive. Those who crossed his path were forever looking over their shoulders, for the revenge, which they were certain, was lurking in the shadows. Some, who couldn’t stand the waiting,   initiated   a rapprochement with a big chicken or a big goat or even a cow, depending on the enormity of the wrong.

"Olanko's solid reputation for punishing those who advertently or inadvertently dispossessed him of his property was built on three well-publicised cases. The first occurred eight years ago, when he was an assistant superintendent of police.   He had discovered over a period of six months that his daily share of the illegal money collected by the police, from drivers at checkpoints, and from other sundry traffic and non-traffic offenders, had been sliding. He couldn't understand it, for at that time, a panel of brilliant senior officers, set up by the Inspector, had craftily introduced some cumbersome measures for commercial and private motor drivers to fulfill, which accordingly led to increase in revenue at checkpoints. The success of this new regime was hinged on the fact that since most drivers could not satisfy these elaborate measures, they were encouraged by the police to bribe their way through.   The motivation of course, was to increase the daily income of all and sundry in the force, according to rank.

"But ironically, instead of Olanko's share to rise by the day, it fell by the day. Troubled, he raised the issue with his friends, thinking the misfortune had befallen them as well, and that the initiators of the new, money-spinning measures had become greedy. But he was to learn, to his utter disbelief and shock, that their own income was rising by the day, and indeed one or two of his frugal friends had built mansions in their villages, from the money they had been receiving, since the cumbersome traffic regulations were introduced. Olanko got mad, and then characteristically calmed down. He had always believed in the Spanish proverb that vengeance was a dish best eaten cold. He knew one of his enemies was behind his misfortune, that it was not an oversight.   But who it was, he did not immediately know. It did not take long however, for he had a shrewd mind in such matters, to locate the brain behind his misfortune. He was also helped by his adversary, a deputy superintendent, who went about boasting that he had returned a past injury.

"Like the vulture he was, Olanko waited two full years for everybody, including his adversary, to forget the incident, in the belief that he had forgotten and forgiven. When he was ready, he walked into the officer's house undetected, and killed him in his sleep, suffocating him with a pillow."

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