Book Review: My Sister, the Serial Killer

My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite, tells the story of two sisters living with their mother in Lagos, Nigeria. Their father is dead. He was a successful if corrupt businessman and the family live in a degree of comfort. They have no reason to mourn his demise.

Ayoola is the younger sister. She is considered beautiful and turns the heads of every man she meets. She designs clothes which she then models online, understanding how to dress to flatter her looks and figure. Ayoola enjoys the power her appearance gives her, readily accepting the gifts and attention she receives.

Her older sister, Korede, has been aware since she was a child that she is not regarded as so aesthetically pleasing. Her mother has always expected her to look out for Ayoola. When the story opens she is helping clean up the blood from her sister’s latest murder victim. Unlike the previous men killed, this one continues to play on Korede’s mind as she questions why her sister stabbed him.

At the hospital where Korede works as a nurse there is a coma patient who is not expected to survive. This man is the only person Korede can talk to about her concerns. A young and popular doctor, Tade, who is her friend and who Korede would like to become more, complements her on the care she gives a patient others have given up on. Other colleagues are less than complementary about her efforts here and elsewhere.

When Ayoola decides to visit Korede at the hospital she meets Tade, much to her sister’s consternation. The compassionate, supposedly self-aware and empathetic doctor is then shown to be as facile as other men. Even so, Korede is concerned that his attraction to Ayoola puts his life in danger. She must choose between caring for her sister and the man she had dreamed of winning over for herself.

This is a story of: murder, or perhaps it was self defense; misogynistic abuse and the scars this leaves; corruption that skews the credibility of law enforcement; a society that sees marriage as a woman’s destiny.

The writing has a light almost playful quality yet it pierces the heart of the issues explored. The flow and structure, with short chapters and a fast moving plot, keep the reader effortlessly engaged. It is a surprisingly strong yet entertaining read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Atlantic Books.

Book Review: Born on a Tuesday

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Born on a Tuesday, by Elnathan John, tells the story of Dantala, also known as Ahmad, who was sent from home by his father for Qur’anic training while still a young boy. He learned quickly, albeit at the end of a whip. When the story opens his six years of training has finished and his father is dead. Instead of returning to his village and mother he has joined a street gang who earn food and money through violence. Political candidates make use of these young people to obtain votes and further their careers.

Ahmad becomes involved in an incident where he attacks an old man with a machete before seeing a friend shot and killed. He is offered refuge in a mosque and meets two very different and locally influential men – Malam Abdul-Nur and Sheiki Jamal.

Sheiki becomes Ahmad’s mentor, providing food and lodging in exchange for the boy completing tasks around the mosque. Here he meets Abdul-Nur’s younger brother, Jibril, and they become friends. Jibril helps Ahmad to learn English as well as encouraging him to sample more worldly pursuits.

The background to the unfolding tale is one of hardship and violence. Muslim belief in northern Nigeria, where the story is set, is becoming polarised and fragmented with Shiite leaders encouraging their followers to rise up against the more moderate Sunnis who they accuse of pandering to the infidil. With poverty rife there is much dissatisfaction within the wider population which religious leaders use to feed their cause.

The upbringing and lifestyle in this land appears to accept aggression. Children are routinely beaten by their fathers, wives by their husbands. With such familial violence experienced as a means to force compliance it is understandable that many grow up regarding force as appropriate when trying to exert influence.

I know little of Islamic teaching but have lived amongst religious extremism in Belfast and can appreciate how those brought up to fear for their eternal soul if they do not adhere to a certain doctrine can struggle to escape its shackles. Ahmad is devout but to the teaching in which he was raised. When large swathes of the population live with limited education, perpetual hunger and daily hardship, it is little wonder that they will listen to those who promise improvement in this life alongside rewards in the hereafter.

The writing avoids judgement presenting Ahmad’s life and thoughts in a spare but always considered narrative. Whatever one may think of religion it is easy to empathise with the boy’s hopes and fears. His story is poignant and it is hard to see how the denouement could have been avoided given the violent backdrop to his tale. Living as I do in a society that chooses to demonise without attempting to further understanding of other cultures, I found this an enlightening and noteworthy read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Cassava Republic.

Book Review: Lagoon

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Lagoon, by Nnedi Okorafor, weaves an earthly story around an alien landing off the coast of Lagos in Nigeria. It explores the imagined consequences for the residents of this corrupt and superstitious city of such an event, as well as individual and mob reactions to happenings that all would struggle to comprehend. Man seeking to exploit a situation for his own benefit is not a new subject to explore, but this tale offers an imaginative take on what is a familiar theme.

My reaction to the book remains mixed. I enjoyed the chapters told from the point of view of the non human creatures, particularly the ocean dwellers being slowly poisoned by human activity. I liked the magical abilities given to the small number of humans who still had some good in them to share. It was fun to imagine how a few could develop such power over evil even if in using that power their goodness were compromised. Not for the first time I wondered if the world would be improved if humans were wiped out.

I struggled to understand the segments of Pidgin English dialogue, not wishing to constantly refer to the translations of words and phrases included at the end of the book. Any sympathy that I may have felt for the hardships suffered due to poverty, or exacerbated by the struggling infrastructure that was unlikely to improve due to greed and corruption, was quashed by the seemingly constant desire by so many to trick or steal their way to wealth whilst pushing others down. I know little of Nigeria but any prejudices that I may have felt about the natives of the country were exacerbated by the characterisations in this book. One of the well educated protagonists had travelled yet stated that they had wished to return to Lagos. Having read this story I am at a loss as to why anyone would freely choose to reside in such a place other than with charitable aims.

The characters may have evoked little sympathy but I found the plot beguiling. The interweaving of alien powers and earthly magic was nicely written with a rhythm and cadence that perfectly suited the extra terrestrial tale. It is hard to see how any intelligent life form capable of reading the minds of man would choose to stay on this planet but by offering the prospect of enforced change radiating out through example and sacrifice, the story retained a message of hope.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Hodder and Stoughton.