We are so excited about our new book, Voice of America by E.C. Osondu! If you missed the book reading on Saturday, 21 May, well, here’s another chance to know more about the book. Here’s an review by writer and poet, Jumoke Verissimo published in the Guardian. Enjoy!
VOICE of America (Farafina, Lagos; 2010) by E. C Osondu is a collection of short stories that squeezes grim, sinister lives and sometimes humour in tales of departing and arriving for, and from dreams. There are 18 stories in this book, which deal with themes like loneliness, anger, destitution, longing, frustration and displacement. One of these stories won the Caine Prize for fiction in 2009. The book examines the struggles of immigrants who are caught in the shocking realities of finding out that America is not as they imagined.
Osondu sets his stories between the lives of Nigerians in America; Nigerians dreaming of America or people in an unnamed war zone in Africa, whose sole desire is to escape from the predicament they are enmeshed in. Thus, the reader is thrown into a socio-psychological milieu where America is not just a country, but the Promised Land.
‘Waiting’, the first story in the collection, also the story which won the Caine Prize, tells us of life in a refugee camp through the boy Orlando, who is named after the inscription on his T-shirt like the other children around him. From him we learn how things work in the camp he lives and his relationship with the other boys, who like him, look forward to being adopted by a rich white family to escape life as a refugee. From this first story, the reader realises that the characters in Voice of America are easy to know, but could also be too easily forgotten, as they dissolve too quickly the moment a new story begins. Perhaps that is why Osondu juggles memory with a stringing familiarity in characterisation, like repeating the characterisation of children named after the words written on their T-shirts, again in ‘Janjaweed’ which is also a story set in a refugee camp, just like in the story ‘Waiting’.
‘A Letter from Home’ is not as confident as the other stories in the collection. It is in an epistolary form, yet it lacks the intimacy that a reader should feel privy to as one reads; too much information. There’s also a struggle with situating the main character’s setting and social class; is he an illiterate rural dweller or an urban dweller in one of the ghettoes? ‘Going Back West’ is a simple story that does little from ignoring the normalcy of reality, yet finds a way to fascinate us with the expectations of fiction. Our character tells the story of his cousin, his mentor, Dele, an intelligent boy with prospect who becomes rascally in America, loses his place in his university and he is deported to Nigeria. He tries many attempts to return to America—borrowing money from a usurer takes him out of the house to involve himself in a crime that takes him to prison where he is killed. The story is told from his mentee’s point of view. There is something else this story does to you, because it does not end with the narrator, giving room for traditional belief of wandering souls.