If Congo is Africa for Africans; the obsidian consciousness of a continent – Nigeria is Africa for the rest of the world, as both its promise and its threat.
Nigeria is old. Epic battles of ancient armies; the resounding echoes of empire and emirate rising in a raucous cacophony which still rings true in the ears of her people and reminds them of where they have come from. “Identity is like history, it should be a tool, not a burden.”
It has been said that, if western philosophy is born of wonder; the African version is the child of frustration (Consolation Philosophy they have called it). Albert Camus’ joyful nihilism replaced in favor of Chinua Achebe – stories of post-colonial liberation quickly become those of enduring corruption and violence. “And who are you fighting against? I see all your hackles up but I can’t see why,” Funmi said finally. “Nigeria. I am fighting against Nigeria.” “The same Nigeria you are fighting for?” “Yes,” said Rahila.
“City of Memories” by Richard Ali is about all this; about ancient ethnic feuds – the religious and tribal making common cause with dynamics of love and power. A Romeo and Juliet story against the backdrop of an African high plateau. This is a love story; but also a story about faith and futility and sadness. But it is a Nigerian story so it is not one of hopelessness but instead of the epic struggle to overcome; not ending in suicide as the Montagues and Capulets of old bit instead in joy.
Now to mechanics – for that is what really matters. And it is here where Ali shines. Because this book was a joy to read. The beats were fast paced when needed, and then tempered by the descriptions which give the reader a chance to catch his breath and become immersed in Africa. The dialogue rings true; the characters are compelling and the novel ends in a crescendo.
I encourage you; read this book, become immersed in Nigeria as you learn how a Muslim boy and a Christian girl can find each other. And as you do, think about this, “If they can overcome so great a chasm, maybe we also can find our way to peace?”
On a personal note, I have had the chance to get to know Richard Ali a little bit – which has in no way influenced my review of his novel. Those who know me, at least, will accept that. What I will say is that it has been a singular opportunity; to debate Donald J. Trump and Albert Camus and Francis Fukuyama with an African intellectual while eating chicken and fries in a small restaurant in a rain-swept African capital. Isn’t that what gives two writers the most joy of all??!!
I’ve lived in Africa. Nothing comes out of Africa but poverty, disease, and refugees. One has to live there to understand that it demonstrates the worst of humanity and always will.
I’ve lived in Africa for 12 years. I disagree