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And After Many Days
By Jowhor Ile
Tim Duggan Books
Reviewed by Nora Rawn
It's surprisingly easy to forget what reading a truly wonderful book feels like after spending too much time reading mediocre writing. The first page of Jowhor Ile's debut clears out the cobwebs left by too much good-enough prose and middling character development, instantly setting a distinctive scene and creating a vivid world that it's a pleasure to be immersed in. His novel places the reader in 1995 Port Harcourt on the day when the Utu family's oldest son disappears. Paul's absence is the heart of the book, and it reveals not just the family dynamics but also those of Nigeria itself, held down by repressive politicians and battered by the economic interests of Western oil companies. Never polemical, it is a novel both highly personal and highly political. The Utu family patriarch is a respected lawyer, solidly in the middle class, and the family's children all receive the best educations--yet their relative economic security is no defense against the chaotic backdrop of student protests and government retaliation.
Ile moves back and forth across time to show the childhood of the Utu siblings before their idyll was disrupted by Paul's disappearance as well as the fallout of his loss. The portrait of Nigeria is equally deft, showing the fragile balance between animism and christianity, developed city and still tribal rural town. Narrated by Paul's younger brother Ajie, the voice is fresh and evocative without ever straying into lyricism for its own sake; the jumps in time are similarly complex without ever marring the emotional truth of the book with mere formalism. It is a truly engrossing debut, and hopefully the start of a new literary career.
Out of 10: 9.6