‘Darkness motivates men, mobilises armies. Use it. You are a warrior. Show me your roar. People are scared of your power, frightened of what you can do with it.’ Irenosen Okojie has a powerful voice which can upturn ships and mellow down racing bulls. The book came to light when it was shortlisted for Jhalak prize. Not too many Goodreads ratings to its credit, readers are really missing out on a great read.
The collection of the short stories is in one word - unpredictable.
The cover page displays a curly haired mystic woman who has words, where there ought to be, her mouth. The black and white cover page is a wonderful composition. The font compliments the graphic image. It keeps well the magical realism and the mysticism of the book intact. The book is not to be talked about but to experience from the inside.
There are several one-of-their-kind characters in each story. Henri Thomsen from ‘Animal Parts’ is a regular ten-year-old boy from a danish town, except that he has a long furry tail which his mother makes holes in his trousers for. Balthazar from ‘Outtakes’ knows something about everything, including octopus festivals, chortling volcanoes, and placenta-eating women. He is a wonderful character to fall in love with and assume a future. But there are always twists in most wonderful stories.
Nadine is a black girl missing. But she is not important. Missing black girls are never important. But he has decided to find out what has happened to her. An epileptic boy who can make electricity with his brain, enough to power laptops and start kettles boiling. He gives a damn.
There are several out of the box characters. Some of these characters force you to think. Not just think but move mountains. Some of them just exist like a voice talking to you through half crazy jarring buzz.
All the characters have one thing in common, though. They are all memorable.
The book is a collection of short tales of peculiar people. The collection begins with ‘Gunk’ where the mother asserts the importance of owning one’s own skin and not to be ‘a waste of space’. It is a powerful essay which possesses you right from the first sentence when it begins with ‘Get up. Try to hold your world. You can’t. You let it slip’. It talks about how darkness motivates men, mobilises armies. And how you can use it to start a war. These are all words spoken by a black in the world where the color of your skin defines your destiny and how you can shape it yourself rather than letting the world decide for you. This remains my favourite piece in the entire book.
Then comes ‘Animal Parts’ where a mother births a child with a long furry tale. The story is magical realism sighed with emotions. There are glimpses of mental illness seen in the stories and this one, in particular, will move you like nothing else.
‘Fractures’ is about two identical twins who have had a bad past and one blames the other for it. Hilly is bitter towards Grace and a small temptation drags her to wanting to live Grace’s life. It is a story with an unexpected ending. An extraterrestrial being and a girl who attracts bad luck.
‘Walk with Sleep’ is another magical realism story with a beautiful beginning and even more beautiful end.
‘Nadine’ is a story of a black girl missing and our protagonist trying to find her since a black girl missing does not attract as much attention. He wants to know what exactly happened to her. This is another story not to be missed.
‘The thumbnail interruptions’ is another story with a streak of mental illness. A photographer who is drugging his girlfriend and sending her photos to her colleagues. This is one of my favourite tales in the book.
There are other stories such as ‘The Arrangement of Skin’, ‘Snapper’, ‘Following’ and ‘Vegas’ that leave you engrossed throughout the story and stunned at the end.
The stories have an acute trace of mental illness sprinkled generously throughout the book. The imagination runs wild and meets all kinds of creatures in the stories.
The author has a great narrative style. You can read minds and swallow emotions like you have dry swallowed a pill. It sticks in your throat till you are jagged by its presence with a little bit of water in your eyes. Such is the writing style.
The cover page is simple yet meaningful. The characters are one of their kinds. The stories are inventive. The author has a different voice of her own which becomes the voice in the story, very intimate.
A few of the stories may need more than one reading to understand.
I recently started exploring the genre of short stories and this author has definitely piqued my interest. She is definitely one of the best story tellers I have read.
Whom do I recommend this to
Those who like to let themselves loose are going to love this collection of short stories.
Don’t follow the script. You weren’t designed for this.
Darkness motivates men, mobilises armies. Use it. You are a warrior. Show me your roar. People are scared of your power, frightened of what you can do with it.
Are you a small country? Are you a fucking island? Don’t let your enemies conquer you. Don’t let them limit you. Don’t let them gag you. Don’t let them buy your cooperation with their sleight of hand. Didn’t I give you ammunition? Didn’t we sharpen our tools? Didn’t we aim for our bullseye from every possible angle, every feasible position? Yet there you lay trying to show me what a waste of space you are.
Fuck everything that tell you if you’re good you’ll be valued.
Somebody always has to pay.
Make people pay.
We’ve paid enough.
Open your eyes. Get up from that bottom.
“You’re extraordinary, why would you want to be like everyone else?”
I should have guessed, men are usually fucking or want to fuck women they dismiss as crazy.
For ages, he had felt nothing, had been numb. He had simply functioned. Now he thought about the tube train and how it ran through tunnels, heartbeats, chests, through guts that grew comets and tongues twinned the flame.
The city carried you like its infant child then bled you. It put the night in you, snacking on all the injured silhouette you acquired. The city taught you how to build fortresses of sound you could never dismantle. It kept you falling till hitting the ground became the necessary act of an unnamed religion.
He felt a yearning to be close to her. He missed the taste of Guinness, missed the sky at night. He missed watching mindless TV while the roots within him begged to be uprooted and eating kebabs late at night with girl who could be slotted into neat categories.
She still hasn’t been found. There’s no media coverage because they don’t care about missing black girls.
The world outside opens and I fall into it.
She was drunk with knowledge. Cruelty was a currency in relationships.
I started to cry then because heartbreak smelled like half-eaten run cake at breakfast table.