Eghosa Imasuen: On Fine Boys and Yellow Girls – A Review by Ikhide Ikheloa

“In mid-1992, CNN reported that sixteen-year-old Amy Fisher had just shot Mary Jo Buttafuoco, something about wanting the older woman dead so Joey – the bloody cradle snatcher – Buttafuoco could be free, I remember Amy was my age. Germany was unified, and British MPs had just elected a woman as speaker. The Soviet Union had been over for about two years, and the Russian-speaking part of Ukraine was threatening secession. The police officers who kicked Rodney King’s head in were getting acquitted for the first time. Grunge rockers were breaking their necks to that song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – inspired by the smell of latrines, I think – and African reggae singers were in a panic, rewriting songs, rearranging LPs and pushing back release dates now that Mandela was really free. Fuel prices here increased for the first time past the one naira mark. We had civilian governors and a military president. I was awaiting my matriculation exam results, hoping to make it into the University of Benin to study medicine. I was learning to drive on the busy Warri Streets. I was being a good son.”

– Fine Boys by Eghosa Imasuen

Digital technology is poised to save Africa’s stories from the comatose printing presses of Africa’s “publishers.” Good writers still languish in Africa, staring at lovely stories trapped in the mediocrity of imitation books. But all that is changing. E-books are here for African writers who are savvy enough to port their books to the Kindle or the Nook and share with the world.  It is a good thing. I have been buying and downloading books by writers living in Nigeria, warts and all. I am happy because now I can read many more of our stories than ever before. The Internet has been a boon to our literature. Why do I like reading books by writers “on the ground” in Nigeria as they say? I pine for the stories of our people unvarnished.

One of those books is Fine Boys by Eghosa Imasuen. I heartily recommend this book. There are many reasons why you should read this coming of age story. It is an important book on many levels. I do not know of any Nigerian novel that has taken the time to record history in the 90s through university campus life as this novel has done. In this book, we follow the protagonist, Ewaen, and his siblings as they endure life under constantly feuding middle class parents and grow up amidst the drama that is Nigeria. We accompany Ewaen to the University of Benin and through his eyes we witness several issues that occurred in Nigeria in the 90s. There are so many issues: campus cults took youth peer pressure to violent and deadly lows, there were brutal military regimes, a thwarted attempt at democracy (June 12th 1993), deteriorating educational and social infrastructure, etc. All through the dysfunction, the reader is taken through a tour of numerous relationships, some touching, some banal, and many quite dysfunctional. Marital abuse in the protagonist’s home is a sobering reminder of the war that young children endure in many homes. I admire how Ewaen, the protagonist’s spirit remained unbroken; he continued to weave joy and adventure out of situations that should have broken him irreparably. The book is a fine reminder that every day children trudge bravely through wars that they did not ask for, many of them in their homes.

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Eghosa Imasuen at DWSeries 12

Established in 2011, the DWSeries has become a major avenue for consistent interaction between industry practitioners and youths, challenging young minds to creativity and focus.

Held on the main campus of the University of Lagos, the Design Workshop Series has received an enthusiastic response from audiences and has come to be seen as fresh and forward-looking. Since February 25th, 2012, Tunde Kelani, Kelechi Amadi-Obi, Paul Kodje, Bez Idakula, Omoyemi Akerele, Kunle Afolayan, Ohimai Atafo, Dapo Akintunde and a myriad of others have graced the DWSeries stage.

This month, the series will feature novelist Eghosa Imasuen, whose latest book, Fine Boys, has been making waves in the literary world; music legend, Bisade Ologunde (popularly known as Lagbaja); and Lanre Olusola, philosopher, people manager and life/executive coach.

Date:  Saturday 28 July 2012
Time: 12.00 noon prompt (attendees to be seated by 11.30 am)
Venue: PG Architecture Studio, University of Lagos, Akoka, Yaba, Lagos

Attendance is free, but seat reservations need to be made. Send an e-mail to dwseries@gmail.com with the subject “Reservation” and your full name in the body of the email.

For more information on the workshop series, and to keep up with our events, please visit our website, www.DWSeries.oneea.com.ng, check us out on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/DWSeries and follow us on Twitter @_DWSeries.

An Afternoon with Professor Demas Nwoko

Dream Arts and Design Agency (DADA), in association with the Centre for Excellence in Film and Media Studies, invites you to an exclusive afternoon with Nigeria’s foremost renaissance man, Demas Nwoko.

Demas Nwoko is an architect, artist, industrial designer, and theatre director whose work is highly acclaimed. The book on his work, The Architecture of Demas Nwoko, written by John Godwin and Gillian Hopwood and published by Farafina, continues to be highly sought out among lovers of the arts. This is an opportunity you wouldn’t want to miss.

Date: Saturday, July 21 2012
Time: 2pm to 5pm
Venue: Centre for Excellence in Film and Media Studies, 44A Palm Avenue, MKO Abiola Gardens, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos

Entry is free!

Killing me softly with Fine Boys: A review of Eghosa Imasuen’s Fine Boys, by Chimeka Garricks

It’s uncanny how, in many ways, Eghosa Imasuen’s Fine Boys is the story of me, from many lifetimes ago.

After reading it, my first reaction was surprise – by the tears in my eyes and the realization that I’d been ambushed into a therapy session I did not know I needed. Then, in an epiphany, I fully empathized with the lyrics of “Killing Me Softly” (a song I never really liked despite several versions).

However, there’s plenty to like, no, plenty to love in Fine Boys.

First, it works as a story because Eghosa Imasuen is a skilled storyteller (and not a wordsmith trying to show off). Fine Boys is a haunting and darkly funny story about the real Lost Boys, characterized by Ewaen and his friends in their early years in university in the 90s, where they vainly struggle to escape the influences of campus gangs and a military dictatorship, while trying to have as much fun and as little responsibility as possible. It appears to be a simple coming of age tale, but that is a con. The genius of the story is in its multiple layers, and its saving of an accurate snapshot of our history (lest we are all afflicted by the particularly Nigerian curse of forgetting or airbrushing it).

There is a proud and pleasing element of Nigerian English in the writing. In proper Nigerian English, distances are measured in NEPA poles, NEPA “takes light”, we “branch” to see our friends, who then “escort” us to various places; we describe people as “yellow” or having “open teeth”, and guys “gist” (not gossip). Fine Boys is also a startling reminder of the beauty and power of our Pidgin (that criminally unappreciated and easily-ridiculed language). For example, how many English words would one require to explain the full meaning and range of jaguda; or can ‘buttocks’ or ‘arse’ ever be as powerfully rude as yansh?

Yes, there seems to be an autobiographical slant to Fine Boys, but in my view this only adds to the authenticity of the tale.

If anything, Eghosa Imasuen has written the biography of our generation (and this, I suspect, was his intention all along). Writing in glorious, vivid, HD (and even complete with the nostalgic soundtrack of the time), he has exposed the foibles of a generation which, arguably, is one of the most scarred in post-war Nigeria. A generation which lost years of academic life to strikes (for example with no ‘extra year’, I completed a five-year course in seven years). A generation that remained blind to the irony of bravely protesting against the tyranny of military dictatorship, while having no compunction about doing mindless violence to members of rival confras. A generation which cursed corrupt leaders and elders, but cheated in exams. A generation which, incredibly, deludes itself still, that it is better, nobler, than the rest. Fine Boys is not just our story – it’s our ode, diatribe, lamentation, and our what-the-hell-happened-to-us.

Like I said, I cried after reading Fine Boys. My tears were for my wasted youth, scars that will never heal, lost friends, and the death of innocence.

And when I dried my eyes, I thought: Eghosa Imasuen, guy, you sabi write sha.

Chimeka Garricks is the author of Tomorrow Died Yesterday, published by Paperworth Books in 2011.

Eghosa Imasuen at Authors Talk

Eghosa Imasuen, author of Fine Boys, will be at the Authors Talk event this weekend. Authors Talk is organized by the Goethe Institut and The Life House, and presents a platform for emerging writers to mingle with publishers, journalists and lovers of the arts.

Date: Saturday, July 7, 2012
Venue: City Hall, Catholic Mission Street, Lagos Island
Time: 3pm

Entry is free!

The Thing about Fine Boys

Eghosa Imasuen’s latest novel, Fine Boys, is making big waves on the literary scene! Haven’t got your copy yet? This review by Stanley Azuakola for YNaija should convince you.

Eghosa Imasuen had quite a few doubters after the release of his début novel, To Saint Patrick. For the most part, the doubts were not a criticism of his art, but an instinctive reluctance by many to accept the audacity of the book. The book demanded far too much from its readers, who were expected to accept its imagined Nigeria where power was constant, high-speed trains glided smoothly, and police officers were highly motivated and effective. In this our Nigeria? It is easier for Nigerians (with the exception of those in power) to relate with a far worse depiction of the country than one which paints it in over-flowery strokes.

Imasuen’s response to his critics is a second novel, Fine Boys—a finely crafted tour de force. It tells the story of the 90s in a brilliant, fun and piercing narrative. In many ways, that decade was the most significant in the annals of our nation, save the decade of independence itself. It was the 90s of rival gangs in unending turf wars in our tertiary institutions, and the 90s of the bespectacled dictator in Aso Rock. Somehow, Imasuen was able to weave a tale which merged those two realities and their fallouts in such a way that the reader is left feeling that it was only fitting that Nigeria was dealt with the two nightmarish scenarios at the same time. It couldn’t have been any other way.

Through the eyes and tongue of the young and smart Ewaen, the author takes us through the ordeal that was university life in those days, one that—unfortunately—current undergraduates can still relate with. Set mostly in the University of Benin, the beauty of this narration is how it is told with so much fun and so little didacticism. With the exception of Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani in I do not Come to You by Chance, no other contemporary author comes close to Imasuen for wit and humour.

We meet other well-developed characters as the story proceeds, like Wilhelm, Ewaen’s oyinbo friend who was at the centre of the book’s main conflict; Oliver Tambo; Yibril; and Brenda. In those short pages, we literally see the characters evolve and grow as they encounter friendship, love, sex, betrayal, strike actions, fear and brutality. We sympathize with and berate them as they make some crazy choices, we exhale as they manage narrow escapes and we agonise for them when tragedy comes calling.

Like any adventure which involves young people, the pages of Fine Boys are fueled by verve and vibrancy as the characters, in their own way, weave through the maze placed by cult groups (confras) in school as well as the uncertainty during those days of MKO Abiola, pro-democracy activists and soldiers occupying campuses. What Imasuen did with this book was dispel the notion of university cult gangs as mystical, occult conclaves. The lads were foolish, misguided, insecure maybe, vicious and violent even, but cult gangs were not centres of ritualism, channelling or voodooism.

The greatest compliment for Fine Boys has to be that the book is bold and shorn of pretences. The author avoided the sin of excessive italicisation or translation of ‘Nigerianisms.’ You will find words like mumu, oyinbo, yansh and ebelebo tree throughout the pages. They weren’t italicized, placed in inverted comas or translated in a bracket. Imasuen had no problems writing ‘we cheat sha,’ ‘that one pained me oh,’ ‘she liked play-play,’ or ‘they loved each other well-well.’ This was not a work crafted to meet the tastes of some foreign agent or publisher.

One issue some readers might not be able to shake off easily is the autobiographical feel of the novel. Ewaen sounds strikingly like the author himself; their life experiences are identical as well, and those who’ve met the author can identify some of the other characters in the book among those in his close circle of friends; not that it takes away anything from the work.

Fine Boys is a book which every book lover—every Nigerian—should read. It expertly conveys the irony of the Nigerian experience. Consider this excerpt as narrated by Ewaen on the day his younger brother wrote JAMB: “I looked across the street at the secondary school where my brother was supposed to be writing his entrance exams into university. Rundown, ramshackle. It was a symbol of everything wrong with the system.” Interestingly, Ewaen, by this time a 17-year-old University of Benin undergraduate, did not consider himself sitting in a market stall waiting for ‘expo’ or illegal answers to smuggle in for his brother as a symbol of what is wrong with the system. He only saw the rundown structure, not his rundown ideals. How very Nigerian.

To order copies of Fine Boys, please call 08035730205 or email orders@kachifo.com.