Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Book Review of "Igboland."

IgbolandIgboland by Jeff Gardiner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had been eyeing this book for some time, mainly because I have always been interested in understanding what happened in Biafra in the 1960s. In the 1990s, I had traveled to Nigeria on several occasions, usually for an average of one week or so, but was always on official U.S. government business, so I didn't have much in the way of knowledge or history of the country. I was just doing my job as a functionary, as it were, and wasn't permitted to travel outside of Lagos or Abuja, the capital.

Mr. Gardiner has done a good job of weaving the history of the war with the lives of a British missionary (Clem) and his young wife (Lydia), the latter who is still coming to terms with her beliefs about God and religion. As she's only nineteen years old, she has a lot to learn, and gets swept up in the lives of the Igbos of her community. She learns a lot about the Igbo "religious" traditions, which are not religious at all, but a way of thinking that pervade their being as a people that makes her feel a bit self-conscious about her husband's efforts to spread the Christian gospel.

The story touches on the war, mainly in regard to the logistics of what was happening around where the missionaries lived. Travel was spotty because of road blocks and fighting, and there was animosity against them by some Africans. But overall, we see a people tolerant of the British presence in their land. Considering the mayhem caused by British support of the Nigerian government forces and their resources, I would have liked to understand more about Clem's politics and whether he had any guilt in being from a country which was causing so much bloodshed through its military support which was devastating the people he wanted to help.

Mostly, the author weaves a good story of characters together, with the biggest backdrop being the Igbo people themselves. This might be the first book that I've read that gives me a glimpse into African spirituality, something I know exists, especially ancestor worship, as I have those same beliefs as an African-American, but don't know from whence those beliefs of mine originate. Much because I am Westernized and indoctrinated by those beliefs, it gives me a jumping off point through which I can explore further.

The novel is part travel-journal, part drama, as we see the world through a housewife, who is left to her own devices because her husband travels so much of the time.  We see the insecurity of a young woman who knows she's not as interesting as Charlotte, a missionary who is very much at home in Nigeria, and with whom her husband spends (too much) time. I would have liked to learn a bit more about what brought Clem and Lydia together in the first place besides her naivete. The fact that he was sexually awkward with her, and oh-so British didn't do him justice, at least in my opinion. Clem was a very committed and brave man, who risked a lot to do his work, putting himself in danger especially amongst a people who were questioning the White man's presence in their country. I'm not sure why his passions for Jesus didn't somehow transfer to his display of love for his wife.

This book is good on so many levels. At points it got monotonous as the fact of cars and their cock-ups and the terrain got a bit tedious. I couldn't help but see the male author trying to marry his inclinations as a writer, with trying to sound feminine enough as the protagonist. He did his research, however, and his descriptions of Lydia's physical transformation, as it were, seemed quite authentic.

I'm giving the book four stars as a great effort. He's done his hard work. He's told a good story, while teaching us about life in Igboland; the characters were believable, especially Grace, who was a scene-stealer, of sorts.

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