Sentinel Literary Quarterly

Vol.2 No.2, January 2009. ISSN 1753-6499 (Online). www.sentinelquarterly.com

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Bernard Gieske
Genna Gardini
Helena Carolinska
Michael Lee Rattigan
Nnorom Azuonye
Ramesh Dohan
Sholeh Wolpé
Terri Ochiagha
Tolu Ogunlesi
Uche Nduka
Uchechukwu Umezurike
William Stephenson
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ESSAYS

 

Friendship and Love in a Strange Land:

A Review of Chike Momah’s

The Stream Never Dries Up

 

by Terri Ochiagha

 

That Chike Momah should be celebrated as a relevant Nigerian writer is indubitable. A member of the Ibadan golden generation of authors, which includes such literary heavyweights as his fellow Umuahians Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo, Chukwuemeka Ike and Elechi Amadi, and others like Wole Soyinka, John Munonye and Flora Nwapa, his peculiarity resides in that quite unlike the rest of authors mentioned, Momah began writing a few years before his retirement from the United Nations in 1990. Since then, he has written five novels, all of which showcase the literary quality and unique African sensibility that made the works of his contemporaries famous.

 

The Stream Never Dries Up is Momah’s fourth novel. The first person narrator and protagonist, Nwafor Obiako, resident in the United States, succumbs to family pressures to marry a reputable girl from home. The girl chosen by his family members is Chigozie, seemingly gentle, unassuming and bereft of the scandals that had surrounded her older sisters, both of whom remain unmarried and live with their widowed father in his ancestral compound. While Nwafor is accommodating to this externally arranged marriage, he is not oblivious of the possible negative outcomes of such unions, based only on reputation and family-goodwill, for after all, such marriages, far from being romantic quests, are “something like a lottery” (11) After the ‘legalisation’ of the traditional marriage at a registry, Nwafor travels back to the States, eagerly awaiting the arrival of his wife. The first months after her arrival are almost idyllic, save for the decision of Chigozie to deter having a child for a while. However, the appearance of Sylvester, a previously unknown and distant cousin of Chigozie, sets off a roller coaster that threatens to disintegrate the blooming matrimonial life of the Nigerian couple.

 

While the initial chapters, which are devoted to the narration of Nwafor’s protracted bachelorhood, family background, and Igbo traditional marriage may seem slow-paced to some, Nwafor’s reflexive stance and the way Igbo proverbs and patterns of speech blend effortlessly into his descriptions prevent it from seeping into mere anthropological terrain. While the author is conscious of potential Western readers, his explanations, rather than seeming redundant to the Igbo reader will elicit smiles of recognition, and in some cases, melancholia. Things get more exciting as Chigozie’s arrival at the States approaches. With her incipient arrival, Nwafor resolves firmly to succeed in his marriage despite the odds.  In spite of his firm rejection of the Western concept of romantic love that  his African-American friend, Edwin, tries to gauge his marriage with, he finds out that

 

The mere mention of Chigozie’s name almost always seemed to bring a cheer to my heart. If that is love, then I was indeed a stricken man. But stricken or not, something in me- and I do not know if it had anything to do with my close on thirty-nine years –stoutly resisted being painted with that brush. Love was something men much younger than myself were apt to fall into. Not grown men like me! (34)

 

Ostensibly, the novel revolves around the adjustment of Nwafor and Chigozie to each other and to the realities of the Nigerian Diaspora, and the title of the novel originates in Nwafor’s interpretation of his father-in-law’s admonitions on the day of his traditional wedding, that, “marriage, like a stream, endures for ever. You can draw living water out of it: but no matter how often you do so, and no matter what obstacles try to block its way, it continues to flow, and never dries up.” (48)

 

Nwafor is the most sympathetic character, and a well-rounded one at that. His bounty and selflessness is tempered with the virtue of self-criticism and introspection. His friends, Erwin Clark and Ben Ugonna are antithetical, albeit complementary in their views, being African-American and Igbo respectively. Both, however, are loyal friends, and are instrumental in helping Nwafor face the vicissitudes that Sylvester’s appearance exert on the rapidly deteriorating marriage. As in the rest of his novels, friendship is a pervading theme. The appearance of Sylvester makes apparent the fact that a person’s real personality cannot be ascertained with a few meetings before marriage and a year of marital bliss.

 

Marital troubles aside, the novel showcases such dimensions of life in the Diaspora as the relevance of such associations as the Igbo Union of New Jersey, a society created because of   “the social imperatives of our coming together in a foreign land that was fast changing from a land of mere sojourn to a permanent place of abode.” (109) The Union, which provides its members with psychological, cultural and, in some cases, economic support, also guides and guards the morality of the community. In The Stream Never Dries Up, the Igbo Union day becomes the scenario for two of its key events: the drug-related assault on Sylvester and the final reconciliation that marks the denouement of the novel.

 

The Stream Never Dries Up has a largely entertaining plot, and proffers some reflections on such matters as colonialism, the Nigerian Civil War, the usurpation of Nigeria’s wealth by its corrupt leaders, the diverse manifestations of racism in the United States and last but not the least, drug-addiction and its nefarious effects on the individual and the community. However, these reflections are brief, and the tone, overall, not one of intense political commitment.

 

The strong points of the novel are the portrayal of Nwafor’s self-conflicts and struggles to make his arranged marriage work, the way that Momah craftily threads a web of intrigue and suspense around Sylvester, and the almost effortless blend of Igbo proverbs and expressions into English. Of particular interest is the convincing evocation of Nigerian highlife music through Nwafor’s appraisal of his wife’s participation in the Chocolate Sextet.  While gearing the novel towards a happy ending, the author’s depiction of Chigozie warns the reader about the possible implications of marrying someone whose character has only be ascertained by external assessment and reputation.

 

 

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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.

 

 

Sentinel Literary Quarterly

 Published by Sentinel Poetry Movement

Editor: Nnorom Azuonye

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