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CONTRIBUTORS

Akinlabi Peter
Amanda Sington-Williams
A M Gatward
Ayat Ghanem
Bobby Parker
Chuma Nwokolo, Jr.
Dike Okoro
E C Osondu
Katie Metcalfe
Laura Solomon
Mandy Pannett
Michael Larrain
Oge Anyahuru
Terri Ochiagha
Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

 

essays


 

Reviewer: TERRI OCHIAGHA

Title: A Snake Under a Thatch

Author: Chike Momah

Publisher: (Xlibris Corporation 2008)

ISBN-13: 978-1436363785

 

A Snake Under a Thatch is the much-anticipated sequel to the author’s opera prima, Friends and Dreams. The novel told the poignant story of the friendship between Cyril Jideofo and Bernard Ekwekwe, who grew up together in Nigeria, were separated when Cyril fulfilled Bernard’s dream of travelling to the United States, and are reunited few years later. Not paying heed to the evidences pointing to Bernard’s involvement in an illegal business, Cyril’s naďve and trusting nature finds him entangled in his supposed friend’s drug trade. He is condemned to an eight-year prison term from which Bernard and an accomplice, Obi Udozo, could have saved him had they procured a letter that proved his innocence.

 

            A Snake Under a Thatch does not take over immediately where Friends and Dreams left off. Twenty years later, Cyril, now an apparently placid middle-aged man, and his wife meet their daughter’s boyfriend, Bola Akande, for the first time. Cyril’s fleeting thoughts on the course of this encounter take the reader to the years of his unfair and painful imprisonment, the uncertainty of Cyril’s position when he is finally released, and above all, the wish to clear his tainted name, which becomes the driving force of the novel. After relocating to Newark, hints from other Nigerians put him back on track of the letter that could have exonerated him twenty years before. Cyril’s thrilling investigations and their aftermath take up the rest of the narrative. Bola’s own first-person narrative, which forms the bulk of ‘Book Two’ and the epilogue, sheds light on some of the mysteries surrounding his own life and their connection to Cyril’s ordeal.

 

In spite of being an entertaining novel, Cyril’s narration of his imprisonment and quest for justice is introspective, powerfully showcasing the intricacies of the twin matrices of memory and trauma. Both Cyril and Bola’s narrations of work, family and social life give a larger picture of life in the Diaspora such as the adjustment to life in a strange land and the determination to keep in touch with the pre-diasporic self through the observance of cultural patterns, the membership of Igbo and Nigerian associations and the reinforcement of the use of Igbo and Nigerian-flavoured English in the home and while communicating with other Nigerians. It is interesting to note that in spite of their seemingly permanent abode in the States, Cyril mentions that “the Igbo person’s mind is never far away from his original homeland – no matter where he lives. Is there any of us who, when the time comes, doesn’t want to be carried home to be buried there?” (112) Undoubtedly, clearing his name would enable Cyril to return to the country he left twenty-five years earlier, to palliate the sorrow his imprisonment caused to his family and to restore their good name.

 

 Although the novel begins to show the tints of a detective novel after the first hints over the whereabouts of Obi Udozo, attentive readers will realize that the web of suspense was already cast in the very first chapter. The formal division of the novel into three books is also a clever devise, and a good way of keeping the readers thrilled while allowing them to approach the final denouement with two interspersed viewpoints.

 

As aforementioned, the overarching theme is friendship. The gravity of Bernard’s betrayal is underscored throughout the novel. The constant description by most of the characters of Bernard as a friend of Cyril’s in spite of past occurrences and their intents on righting this verbal wrong may seem obnoxious at first, but they end up being justified by the final outcome of the novel, which comes to proclaim, like Cicero, that “ virtue (without which friendship is impossible) is first; but next to it, and to it alone, the greatest of all things is Friendship.”

 

A visit of Bola and Chizube to the theatre to watch Romeo and Juliet is interestingly used to discuss the issue of tribalism. Bola and Chizube (Cyril’s daughter) belong to different Nigerian tribes, the Yoruba and the Igbo respectively. Rosemary, Chizube’s mother does not thrilled when she learns of this fact, although she relaxes somewhat when she finds out that Bola speaks Igbo. Bola also worries about the possible implications of their ethnic differences and traces the parallelism between the play and the struggles of some inter-tribal couples:

 

I came very close to tears at the end of it all. And it set me thinking about my country Nigeria, and the eternal feud between my Yoruba people and Chizube’s Igbo people. Two peoples, each blessed with a large enough population (easily twenty to thirty millions), and abundant natural resources, to be a viable nation by itself, but who were forced along with two hundred other ethnic groups I, into an artificial creation called Nigeria.[…] The Igbo and the Yoruba are always, so to speak, at daggers drawn. Their never-ending struggle for primacy in the country has been largely responsible for the lack of cohesion in the Nigerian body politic. Their mutual distrust is so tangible you could slice it with the proverbial knife. It is rare for the two to intermarry, the prognostication for such unions being, routinely, disastrous failure. (163)

 

Unknown to Bola, the plot of the play is  symbolic of future  vicissitudes later on, yet another of Momah’s dexterity in constructing Cyril’s story…

 

In spite of being a sequel, A Snake Under a Thatch can be read as a freestanding novel, for Cyril’s exercise of narrative memory recuperates the key elements of Friends and Dreams, infusing them with further meaning, now that they can be assessed in a more retrospective manner. Because of its experimental structure, negotiation of memory and trauma, recreation of Diasporic life and its deliciously thrilling and entertaining storyline, Momah’s latest novel is a welcome addition to African literature in general and Nigerian literature in particular.  SLQ

 

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OCTOBER INDEX
EDITOR'S NOTE
DRAMA
ESSAYS & REVIEWS
FICTION
POETRY
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TERRI OCHIAGHA is writing her dissertation, which is an imagological study of Europeans in Nigerian narratives, at Complutense University, Madrid. Her other research interests include first generation Nigerian authors and the literary ambience of Government College, Umuahia. She is a member of the research project  'Studies on Intermediality as Intercultural Mediation', funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education.


 


 

 

 

 

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