Blurb “City of Memories, a debut novel by Richard Ali, follows Faruk Ibrahim, his father, his lover and her mother as they negotiate peculiar Nigerian traumas. Towering above them is the story of Ummi al-Qassim, a princess of Bolewa, and the feud, madness and death that attend her first love affairs. All four are bracketed by the modern city of Jos in central Nigeria, where political supremacy and perverse parental love become motives for ethno-religious crisis designed to destroy the Nigerian State.”
Dialogue Quite formal. Written in English and peppered with Nigerian languages, mainly Hausa and Nigerian Pidgin English.
Themes Feminism, Love and hate, Identity, Religion, Mental health, Family, Change vs tradition and Quest for discovery.
Editing A number of errors.
Plot City of Memories is about star-crossed lovers, Faruk Ibrahim and Rahila Pam. Following rejection by his lover, Faruk embarks on a journey of self-discovery to the place of his birth, Bolewa in Northeast Nigeria. Bolewa holds the answer to a secret which led to his mother, Ummi al-Qassim’s mental illness and death. Rahila’s mother, Eunice Pam and Faruk’s father, Ibrahim Dibarama are arch enemies who do not want their children involved with one another. They are on opposite sides of a crisis brewing in Jos which threatens the fabric of society.
What worked? This is an intriguing debut novel which explores many themes and could be referred to as a hotpot, making it difficult to categorise it. There’s politics, romance, history, family feuds, religious and political conflicts and murder plots. City of Memories explores the history and culture of parts of Northern Nigeria and is a fascinating read.
The book is very philosophical or rather, the characters in the book all seem to be very philosophical about life and whilst it was interesting to read the intellectual discussions, it made the dialogue a bit unrealistic. It’s also not easy to read as it attempts to address complex issues on the themes mentioned above and needs concentration in order not to get lost in the plot.
There is liberal use of flashback as a technique to tell the story, the best of which is newspaper interviews of Eunice Pam. It was clever the way the author took us on a flashback of Eunice’s life in politics using those interviews; they are well written and realistic.
The main characters in the book are all strong characters who are multi-faceted and complicated. Although, Faruk was so well rounded, he sometimes seemed too good to be true and a revelation about him towards the end of the book added to this view. One can see the contrast between Faruk and his father, Ibrahim’s relationship and the more complicated relationship between Rahila and her mother, Eunice.
On the ethno-religious crisis in Jos, it was interesting to see how Richard flipped the narrative between the two religions, Christianity and Islam on which is more hostile.
The pace of the book is well done and builds up nicely to a climax. For a debut novel following a trail of political and religious conflicts, City of Memories is a promising start. Though it sometimes felt as if Richard was trying to put his thoughts on various issues across through his characters.
What didn’t work?
Lady B The editing in the version on Okadabooks which I read left a lot to be desired. It is disappointing to read a book published by a traditional (even if new) publisher with so many editing errors. Some of these errors were grammatical but most of them were formatting errors which can be corrected. These errors were a distraction and detracted from the enjoyment of the book.
The transition between scenes wasn’t properly done and this causes some confusion for the reader as unrelated scenes run into each other. Towards the end, the story veers off the initial plot with the development of a minor character, Funmi which did little to move the plot further.
Mo The constant use of flashbacks left me in a haze, I found myself flipping pages back and forth to get a proper grasp of the holes these flashbacks were trying to fill.
Page numbers 493.
Publisher Parresia Publishers.
Damage N500 on Okadabooks.
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