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??!!