‘And After Many Days’ is Jowhor Ile’s debut novel. I was excited about this book from the second I found out about it. I knew I would love it because I’d read some of Ile’s work before, Taiye Selasi (whose writing I adore) endorsed it (with the most lovingly written review) and the story is set in Port Harcourt where I grew up.
The story opens with the disappearance of seventeen year old Paul Utu and subsequently goes back in time following the life of the Utu family. The Utu family is one of those fictional families that will stay with you forever, much like the Sai family was for me (they’re nothing like the Sais though). Ile’s words take you straight into the Utu home and make you want to stay with them forever. The love and tenderness is unmistakeable and oh, so nostalgic. I was often reminded of simpler times, fighting with my little brother as kids.
My favorite character is definitely Ajie, the last child. The story most of the time unfolds from his point of view and he is observant, mischievous and a deep thinker. Nigeria in the 90’s is also a huge theme in this book and it really is a bit sad that not much seems to have changed for the better. The Utu family is also from Ogbaland, where I’m from! It was such a breath of fresh air to see a minority tribe properly represented and seeing your language in print is pretty amazing.
Biased as I may seem to be, this is a stunning body of work and I’m a bit embarrassed that I only opened this book about one year after buying it. I just kept wanting to save it for the perfect moment, but there’s no slow-reading this one; definite page-turner. Ile’s language is evocative, full of rhythm and movement and poetry. So, so good.
A few quotes:
Things happen in clusters.
Nigeria was comatose, nailed shut in a coffin slowly moving toward a furnace.
Ajie sat on the sofa opposite Ma and hoped power would be restored. Even though the TV stations wouldn’t have come on yet, at least there would be that muted vibe, the hum of electricity waiting in sockets, making the fridge breath, and at least the ceiling fan would be spinning and blowing air across the room.
The absence of Paul would come to project itself, harsh and relentless, like a whistle at midnight. It would be the question mark hovering above the sentence of their lives, never knowing where to settle.
In all the lectures they received, nobody had bothered to mention that Uncle Tam had a housegirl. She now appeared to receive them, since she was the only one at home. As far as Ajie was concerned, such an oversight by his parents was significant. It just confirmed his misgivings about grown-ups, how they constantly missed the point.
There is something strange about standing in the room you grew up in after you have been away from home for a very long time. To look at the bed you slept in when you were eight or thirteen and still are expected to sleep in at twenty-six.
Few people, very few, have a treasure, and if they do, they must cling to it and not let themselves be ambushed and have it taken from them.
I think everyone should read this book and I’m excited to read whatever Ile writes next.