A whimsical British first novel blends issues of adolescence, bereavement and mixed-race ancestry.
Nwokedi’s debut is set in Wistful, an imaginary South England town, in the recent and nostalgic past flavored by references to “Ironside” and Engelbert Humperdinck. Although 13-year-old Fitzgerald’s father is killed by a truck on page one, this is a story light on events and stronger on atmosphere and personalities, revolving around well-meaning oddballs who try to help the boy and his mother, Pauline, cope with the loss of their part-English, part-Nigerian father and husband. This much-loved figure, with his huge hands and passions for carpentry and dictionary definitions, supplies the benign if tragic heart of the story and perfumes it with odors of sawdust and tobacco. Fitzgerald, struggling with sexuality as well as recent loss and new responsibility, was always urged by his father to “Be proud to be African, son,” which is why he leaves, accompanied by boiled-candy-sucking Hyacinth—possibly an angel—on a mission to scatter his father’s ashes in Nigeria. The trip is funded by local friends and relatives like melancholic, cigarette-card-collecting Mr. Plucker, and Uncle Albie, a plumber with a passion for ghost-hunting. The African scenes are pungent, less quirky and brief, almost sketch-like. Back in Wistful, a late revelation about his father teaches Fitzgerald about alienation, shame and heritage, but he will emerge from this rite of passage as an individual, with woodworking gifts of his own and a less-burdened identity.
A slight, intentionally naïve, over-extended parable with some of the simplicity, charm and oddness of a fairy tale.