The author of the phenomenal Stay With Me, Ayòbámi Adébáyò, plays a trick in her sophomore novel, A Spell of Good Things. In the novel, the author never mentions the name of the town the story is set. It looks like Osogbo, it shares semblance with Abeokuta but to the discerning, it is undoubtedly set in Ilesha, the same town her first novel was set in. There are so many footprints that give away this fact about this novel whose preoccupation is classism: the rich and the poor.
This heavily political novel is built around Eniola and Wuraola.
In the opening paragraphs, we meet Eniola first through Caro and later while running errand for his father, he makes us salivate to the taste of agbalumo when all he is doing is to wish away humiliation and imagine something positive in its place, after a vendor spits on him for seeking a newspaper on credit for his job-seeking father.
Eniola and Wuraola first cross paths loosely, but their choices seal their fates. The convergence at the end is devastating.
Eniola is a secondary school boy, whose teacher father is out of job because the government of the day deems History and a number of subjects unimportant. So, Eniola’s father and several of his colleagues are shown the exit, a situation which leaves many of them dead “after a brief illness.” After losing his job, Eniola’s father apparently becomes depressed and stays most times on his bed and stares at the ceiling from where he one day dashes under the bed, when the landlord comes asking for the rent. Paying school fees for Eniola and his brilliant sister, Busola, feeding them, clothing them, and doing anything that requires money become herculean for Eniola’s father, and his mother is forced to resort to picking recyclable stuff at refuse dump to get cash to support the family. It peaks when Eniola’s mother cooerces her kids into street begging, a plan she might have thought of after discovering that a supposedly blind beggar isn’t blind afterall.
Eniolá pities his father so much that his “lips grew heavier and heavier whenever he wanted to discuss his school fees with his parents.” So ashamed was Eniolá’s father that he “often seemed slightly surprised and disappointed to have woken up.”
On the other hand, Wuraola, a freshly-minted medical doctor, lives in affluence. Her father, Makinwa, is a successful business owner who indulges his wife’s, Yeye’s, obsession with gold jewelries. Wúràolá’s mother, Yèyé, experienced poverty growing up and sees life as “war, a series of battles with the occasional spell of good things.” This makes her think of a fallback plan for a rainy day.
Yèyé also believes that in Nigeria, “real wealth was intergenerational, and the way Nigeria was set up, your parentage would often matter more than your qualifications.”
Wuraola becomes engaged to Lakunle, a newscaster and son of two professors of Medicine. Kunle is controlling and intrusive.
Lakunle’s father, Prof Coker, is challenging a member of the House of Representatives for the governorship ticket of their party, a major driving force for the novel’s plot and structure.
At Wuraola’s mother’s fiftieth birthday party, the House of Representatives’ member threatens Prof Coker to drop off the race. At that party too, Wuraola’s sister calls Kunle by his name and he feels Wuraola is defending her. Her statement about his not studying Medicine so that her sister could address him as Dr Kunle throws him off balance, and he slaps her with guests feeling the ripples.
This book of two parallel lives has one father who is able to support his family and the other castrated by the society and rendered useless to his family. One mother needs not worry about money and the other mother is degraded to the point of begging.
Adebayo has written the story of the modern Nigeria, where the rich keep getting richer, and the poor poorer; where politicians play politics for pecuniary gains, where the life of an average citizen isn’t worth much, where infrastructure is at ground zero, where values are debased, where potentials aren’t fully utilised, where leaders are dealers, and where the political class sees nothing wrong in shedding some blood to attain political power. It is a warning about the dangers of classism in our nation with deep economic fissures, underfunded health service and challenges numerous to recount.
The book indicts a political class with little or no concern for our needs but capitalise on a largely poverty-stricken population to achieve selfish goals. It also calls them out for aiding political factionalism and its resultant violence, which mostly affects the poor on our streets.
This book is proudly Ijesha, proudly Yoruba, and proudly Nigerian because the author freely uses Ijesha, Yoruba and Nigerian allusions without bothering whose ox is gored!
In a way, the novel is a homage to some great African novels whose titles serves as the sub-titles for its parts. The first part is named after Sefi Ata’s Everything Good Will Come, the second part is named after Chika Unigwe’s On Black Sister’s Street, and the third part is titled Waiting for An Angel, Helon Habila’s first novel. The fourth part is named after Teju Cole’s Everyday Is for The Thief and the last part is named after TM Aluko’s Foreman.
A Spell of Good Things is a tragedy, very tragic that a few tears may be shared because of its climax. The climax is so heart-rending but as sad as it is, Adébáyò’s language use is bound to make a reader feel there should still be more.
One more thing: Its treatment of violence in relationship, especially the excuses the victims give to continue staying with the abusive one, is really instructive.
This is a massive literary achievement and a worthy and more ambitious successor to Stay With Me.
About the Author:
Olukorede S Yishau is the author of In The Name of Our Father, Vaults of Secrets and United Countries of America and Other Travel Tales. He lives in Houston, Texas.