Osondu’s first collection is a grim but compassionate look at desperate Nigerians both at home and abroad.
The voice of America is, for Osondu’s Africans, a siren-ish come-hither, but the promise is almost always either illusory or cruelly reneged upon. Not that that will come as a surprise to the native Nigerians here—Osondu’s Nigeria is overflowing with tricksters and frauds, some formed by cruel necessity, others by choice. Husbands are ruthlessly faithless; government corrupt; superstitions and family customs strictly enforced; and the world is plain ruthless. Still, over the course of these 18 stories, Osondu convinces us not only of the perils and hazards but also of the pathos of these people’s plights, and of the resiliency that makes them reinvent themselves again and again. In “Waiting,” starving refugee children in surplus shirts (“Tell Me I’m Sexy”; “Got Milk?”) vie to be adopted, a state much coveted and much mythologized. “Bar Beach Show” depicts a father taking his sons to a public execution of armed robbers, and we see the father grasping that the glamour of the occasion will have unintended—and fatal—consequences for his family. In “A Simple Case,” the beau of a prostitute is hauled in during a routine sweep, but things turn dire when an officer comes to the police substation and demands that all petty-crime detainees be hauled off to prison. An armed robbery of a high official has occurred nearby, and the appearance of quick and emphatic justice must be kept up; these suspects will do just fine. The young man is forced to negotiate for his life by charming his captors, and by the time he manages to extricate himself—a rare, happy result—his girlfriend has seized her chance and lit out for Italy.
A promising, if a bit repetitive debut. These tales are often horrific in outline, but Osondu's warm, humane, bemused tone deepens rather than undermines their impact.