16 February 2016
And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile
An unforgettable debut novel about a boy who goes missing, a family that is torn apart, and a nation on the brink
During the rainy season of 1995, in the bustling town of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, one family's life is disrupted by the sudden disappearance of seventeen-year-old Paul Utu, beloved brother and son. As they grapple with the sudden loss of their darling boy, they embark on a painful and moving journey of immense power which changes their lives forever and shatters the fragile ecosystem of their once ordered family. Ajie, the youngest sibling, is burdened with the guilt of having seen Paul last and convinced that his vanished brother was betrayed long ago. But his search for the truth uncovers hidden family secrets and reawakens old, long forgotten ghosts as rumours of police brutality, oil shortages, and frenzied student protests serve as a backdrop to his pursuit.
In a tale that moves seamlessly back and forth through time, Ajie relives a trip to the family's ancestral village where, together, he and his family listen to the myths of how their people settled there, while the villagers argue over the mysterious Company, who found oil on their land and will do anything to guarantee support. As the story builds towards its stunning conclusion, it becomes clear that only once past and present come to a crossroads will Ajie and his family finally find the answers they have been searching for.
And After Many Days introduces Ile's spellbinding ability to tightly weave together personal and political loss until, inevitably, the two threads become nearly indistinguishable. It is a masterful story of childhood, of the delicate, complex balance between the powerful and the powerless, and a searing portrait of a community as the old order gives way to the new.
I stumbled across And After Many Days via Rebecca mentioning it at some point on a Book Riot podcast. And it sounded really, really good. The intersection of Western drives/interference and traditional Nigerian family and cultural traditions told through the lens of one family's experience seemed like a good fit for my reading mood at the time.
I really liked the book's construction and how the reader kept getting bits and pieces of how the Utu family is connected or not connected to the political upheaval in Nigeria in the 1990s and whether Paul's disappearance is connected to those events. It mimicked the viewpoint of a child who does not have the same knowledge or scope an adult would. I wished, though, that Ile had also included one or two chapters set between Ajie being brought home from school by his mother and the final epilogue-like three sections. I would have liked to see how Ajie and Bibi were impacted by the loss of their older brother as they finished school and went to college rather than see an end product at the end of the book.
As I was reading, I was reminded of Stewart O'Nan's Songs for the Missing in subject. The settings are quite different, obviously, but the way the "missing" child is presented within the family's life and how the families are both disrupted was similar. Even the way the older, missing sibling relates to the younger sibling(s) was very similar. It provided an interesting contrast to how we in the US deal with a missing child, who has likely been abducted by a private citizen, compared to the possibility in Nigeria, at the time Ile set his novel, that the government or police may be the culprit.
Dear FTC: I read a DRC of this book via Edelweiss.