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TINY SUNBIRDS FAR AWAY by Christie Watson

TINY SUNBIRDS FAR AWAY

by Christie Watson

Pub Date: May 10th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59051-466-5
Publisher: Other Press

 

Uprooted from the comforts of Lagos by her parents' divorce, a 12-year-old girl must cope with dire poverty and violence in the Niger delta.

Watson's absorbing first novel, told through the eyes of the bright and observant Blessing, opens with a snapshot of middle-class contentment. She and her 14-year-old brother Ezikiel attend the International School for Future Leaders, live in an air-conditioned apartment and bask in the affection of their parents. But after their mother, a hotel worker, catches their father, an accountant, with another woman, they are forced to move to their grandmother's stark rural homeā€”the hotel employs only married women. Blessing is shocked by the lack of electricity and running water, not to mention separate beds and safe food for her peanut-allergic brother. But gradually, she adjusts to the conditions, her eccentric relatives and her family's shift from Christian to Muslim practices. Trained as a midwife by her wise, centered grandmother, she gains a stronger sense of self even as her angry, alienated brother falls under the sway of a roving teenage gang. When her secretive mother becomes romantically involved with a well-off white man, who however decent works for a violently oppressive oil company, things intensify. Left to their own devices, the women bond together to stand up to corruption. Unlike her mother, Blessing ultimately rejects the dream of a Prince Charming whisking her off to a happier place by committing herself to her home, her homeland and her own family. The ending is a bit pat, and the book could use a few more sparks. That said, there's much to admire in Watson's measured, flowing prose and her avoidance of melodrama. Blessing is an appealing pre-teen protagonist.

A memorable debut novel about a Nigerian girl's coming of age.