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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



Reviewer: DIKE OKORO

Title: The Debt-Collector and Other Stories

Author: by Tanure Ojaide

Publisher: (Trenton: Africa World Press 2009)

ISBN 1-59221-693-5     $19.95


“This is surely an exciting collection that will arrest every reader’s attention,” writes the famed Sierra Leonian poet and author of The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar, Syl Cheney-Coker, on the back cover of The Debt Collector and Other Stories, Tanure Ojaide’s recent short stories collection published by Africa World Press (2009).


    The ten stories in the collection are provocative, mind-puzzling, intense, and occasionally humorous. How successful Ojaide handles his themes tells us a lot about his familiarity with recent Nigerian history and the inescapable wave of conflicts people, especially the middle class and poor families, experience in a country healing from its umbilical ties to Britain. And yet, for a reader to truly appreciate the bread and butter of these tales, he or she must be patient with the author’s slow but tactful attempt to explore the intimate lives of his male and female characters. And this is one aspect of this book that its reader will find both interesting and exhilarating. These stories take us to different places and contexts throughout Nigeria’s landscape, but the Niger Delta town of Warri takes a central place in the author’s narratives. In the lives of each character we find a dichotomy of dreams we might share or situate within our own individual dreams.


    In “When the Widow Remarried,” a love story that begins on a sad note with news and reactions following the death of Nana’s husband, we are quickly introduced to a wave of conflicts that will later shape the decisions and struggles of Nana, a widow and the story’s central character. Largely based on events foretelling the impact of personal struggles and public struggles that seem to trail a widow and her children, this story depends on suspense, fate, and introspection for its climax and the resolution of conflicts. Nana’s husband, Madidi, was a lecturer at the time of his death. That his fellow lecturer at the same Polytechnic, Omatie, soon falls in love with his wife is no mere coincidence. After all, men with good intensions follow their hearts when it comes to finding the woman they desire most. With Omatie, we are presented with a character whose intensions at the beginning we might question, for his silence each time he visits Nana and her children could have been taken for something suspicious and manipulative. But this is what makes the story interesting, for sooner than later the author throws down the curtain and we learn at greater depths his heartfelt love for Nana whom he later betroths.


   “Next-of-Kin,” much like “When the Widow Remarried,” begins with news of a plane crash that claimed many lives, including some of Nigeria’s top ranked army officers. This story is centered on greed and chauvinism. The author, for the most part, does a good job of tracing the origin of the conflict and using humor to humiliate the antagonists, the immediate family and relatives of the late Major John Ubido. Like the rest of the stories in this collection, the women take on roles that evoke pity but show their empowerment in the end. Exploitation for personal gain seems to be at the core of the story. The late Major’s brother cleverly tries to claim his compensation from the military. But mounting pressures from family, who knew of the deceased's relationship with his wife and how that relationship could not be classified as an established form of marriage, sought a loophole to deny the widow and her child access to the compensation the military had for her husband. What follows in this story is a quagmire that shifts base from courts and hearings, from Abuja to Kaduna and then to Warri, where a resolution in favor of the family is eventually passed. The moral of this story, which is clear from the beginning, is that the African culture is symbiotically dependent on age-old traditions of bride price and family influences that, if not taken seriously, might deny a widow her rightful place and rights in the absence of her husband. But Ojaide’s careful handling of this story portends to some window of hope for a culture that is finally changing and recognizing the importance of the institution of marriage.


    “The Debt Collector,” the story from whose title the collection is named, is a sad tale with a triumphant ending. The narration of events in the story is identified with rigid forms of beliefs within the community the author explores in the story. A dead man’s corpse is denied to his family because he owed debts to a rich man at the time of his death. This story becomes a parody for critics who might find its conflict difficult to believe. But shocking incidents such as this happen today in civilized societies on the continent. The onus of the tale is the ancient saga of debt and debtors. Ituru, for all we know from the author, was a poor man who earnestly wanted to survive the hard times and make a living for himself. The loan he received was not monetary but was based on palm oil. Yet, as with most of Ojaide’s tales, fate threw a fastball at the poor fellow, for he soon became sick and died.  But Chief Shegbe, the merciless character who had loaned him palm oil for money in return, would not accommodate any excuses from the dead man’s relatives. Thus, to send a strong message to everyone in the community who wishes to be a future loan borrower from him, he opted to use the corpse to teach poor people a lesson. Anger, resentment, and chaos soon broke. It is at the height of all of these that the dead man’s family, apprehensive of the many possibilities of what the rich chief might do with the corpse of their very own, since word had begun to fly about of the use of body parts for rituals, rallied around to raise money and bring home the corpse of Ituru for proper burial. At least pride in family strength is restored at the end of this story, for the poor man’s family did not want to be held accountable by future generations for whatever curse or shame the community might attach to their legacy had they allowed the Chief to keep his corpse.


       Much as I enjoyed reading the stories in this collection, I am forced to admit that some of them could have been longer pieces. But to do so would be to question the author’s liberty and thus engage in criticism that deviates from the norm. Ojaide’s stories, a collection far more improved when compared to God’s Medicine Men and Other Stories, his first collection, leaves us with some food for thought. His language is sophisticated, something already echoed by novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who says Ojaide writes beautifully. In the same vein, I believe readers will find the beauty in these stories that crisscross a range of themes including greed, pride, myths, culture and family conflicts, witchcraft, and the impact of fate on people’s lives.  SLQ






Dike Okoro, PhD, is a professor of world literature/creative writing at Olive-Harvey College, Chicago, USA. Okoro obtained both his MFA in creative writing and MA in African American Literature from Chicago State University. His poetry collection, Dance of the Heart, was published by Malthouse/ABC Books in 2007. He is the editor of three anthologies of poetry and one selection of contemporary short stories from Africa (Trenton: AWP, forthcoming). As a scholar, he has contributed essays/chapters to Dictionary of Literary Biography: African Writers Series (Detroit: Broccoli Clark Layman 2010) and Emerging Voices of Post Colonial African Literature (New York: Cambria Press 2010).






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