Title – Makwala
Author – E.E. Sule
Publication – September 2018
Publisher – Origami, Parrésia Publishers Ltd.
Genre – African Literature
Jackson and Ende, growing up in a post-conflict and cosmopolitan Kano City slum of the early 2000s, find themselves in a world where they have to grapple with questions that relate to identity, destiny and society. While Ende is troubled by the absence of a mother he knows nothing about and a rather strange father who makes matter worse for him by withholding information regarding his mother. Jackson, a biracial boy also called Lebanese Pikin, is trapped in deep self-hate resulting from abhorrence of his mother’s prostitution. Their friendship begins on the day Ende discovers Jackson’s drawing of “a frail woman stuck against a wall by a long iron bar.” This is the beginning of a haunting narrative of hate and love, of violence and compassion, of concealment and revelation. In this cutting urban realism, the reader will encounter memorably quirky characters in a setting that reflects their precarity and their hopes. Told descriptively with the sophisticated simplicity and blending of the comic and the tragic of the author’s first novel Sterile Sky, this new novel brings our attention the deep entwinements of individual struggle with the survival of a community and, ultimately, of a postcolonial nation.
Makwala is a town in Kano, Nigeria. A town where the people live their lives lawlessly.
Quite frankly the blurb of this story starts off by telling us about Jackson and Ende, but it’s really more than their story, yes their lives take centre stage but, also the lives of the other characters that live with them, is equally as important, because the story of Makwala is the story of the people in it, especially of the people who live in the apartments compound owned by one boisterous Mama Maria.
There’s Martha—Jackson’s mother, who unintentional found herself deep in prostitution. Odula, Ende’s father. Mama Maria and her four children—with Kemi being the most important of them all. Nwayi the Deeper Life and Mama China. I’m sure there were other tenants, but these where the people’s whose lives we get to know a substantial amount.
Ende wasn’t given enough justice in this story, because the way he is portrayed gives me a great cause for pause, because it wasn’t adequately explained. There were actions of his that I felt were glossed over. With the cause of his erratic nature being from the ailment that his mother suffered from, but it wasn’t really told and at the end of the day, I don’t really understand Ende’s and Odula’s relationship. I know there’s a build up and we have a rational explanation for why something happened, because of past trauma etc. But I just feel the mental health segments of this story was treated extremely poorly.
Jackson, on the other hand, is a troubled kid, rightfully so. He was raised in a brothel because his mother brought her prostitution business home, for more than one occasion from an early age, he was subjected to watching his mother get taken brutally by men, not only was he exposed to sex at an early age, he was subjected to abuse from a woman who he was put in care of during one of his adolescence years, because of that experience, he has a deep-seated hate for prostitutes and the female sex at large. So he was left unprepared or unaware that men could also hurt him. Because of this Jackson character is a terrible one, with so much hatred inside, there’s only so much he could have contained before he finally gave into the darkness lurking inside him, nevertheless, I could not feel sympathy or him, because I found him to be a destructive and utterly selfish human being.
It may be just me but, many Nigerian male authors works I’ve read have a thing for rape. It’s like a common theme in all their stories, it’s so rampant how it’s tossed in their storylines. Both women and men are getting raped right and centre in this book. Which I get is one of the issues the book is trying to tackle, especially child abuse but mostly sexual abuse and exploitation.
While tragedy seems to be occurring every other day in Makwala, to our main characters, I found it alarming that there wasn’t really any redeeming arc in this story. A lot of people got away with severe crimes, I hate stories where the characters behave horribly, yet there’s hardly any moral lesson to be learnt from their experiences.
I haven’t read this author’s other book Sterile Sky, but I believe it must have been written in similar style, where the story is interwoven with the present and past occurrences in the lives of the characters. I have no fault with this style of writing, but I feel the transitioning from present to past could have been executed a way lot better.
I loved that this story features LGBT elements, as well as in its own way of speaking out against political exploitation and corruption, in the workplace, religious houses and government. Apart from the horrible acts, I like the atmosphere of Makwala and it’s people. There’s something captivating about it.
What I mostly got from this book, that everything is not always as it appears and secrets have a way of keeping people prisoners.