Genre Fiction: Short stories.
Blurb “Reward Nsirim’s stories paint graphic pictures of life in Nigeria. They tell tales that are very familiar, in a voice that is sharp and succinct, quivering with the author’s signature wit. Some will move you to heavy sighs, maybe even the odd tear; others will leave you bent over with laughter. But they will move you one way or the other, as every good story should.” – Dikeogu Chukwumerije, Nigerian Performance Poet Laureate and author of “The Revolution Has No Tribe.”
Dialogue Well written and believable with a smattering of Nigerian lingo.
Themes Several including: Will to survive, Death, Illusion of power, Corruption, Injustice and Family.
Editing A few errors.
If you like collections of short stories, read our review of Wine and Water (romance) by Hannah Onoguwe.
Plot Fresh Air is a collection of 16 short stories. Each story is an independent interpretation of the Nigerian experience. The stories have frequently used tropes in the Nigerian literary scene but Reward makes each story eerily familiar. The stories are set in 1990’s Nigeria except for one story which is set in England and two stories set in both Europe and Nigeria.
Mo Because it is impossible for me to start a review without adding a little caveat or my experience with the book… Between Okadabooks and Reward, this book was published with no breaks between the stories. There is no table of contents or titles for each story at the beginning of the stories; just a long, winding book which has you guessing which story is which. Thankfully, Lady B’s sister has the book in paperback, and she came to our rescue with the table of contents (God bless you, you life saver!). Otherwise, this review would not have been possible.
What worked? Let’s talk about a few of the stories which stand out in this book.
The book opens with Funeral Arrangement, a story highlighting a well-known societal issue in parts of Nigeria-the exorbitant cost of burial ceremonies. It’s also a story about the sacrifices people living abroad make to keep up appearances at home. Though this story was dealing with serious issues, Reward narrates it wittily which keeps you entertained whilst not downplaying the weight of the issues discussed. The abrupt way the story ended without too much exposition was laugh out loud funny. (Recall that Lady B said she was searching for a hilarious book by a Nigerian author or publisher in her audio review of Memoirs of a Professional Bridesmaid).
Fresh Air is poignant, reminding one of the dark days of military rule when people were abducted, tortured and killed by agents of the military regimes. The details in the story place it in the 1990s during General Sani Abacha’s murderous regime when injustice was meted out to Ogonis for daring to speak up about oil pollution on their land. Sadly even today, people still get abducted, tortured and killed extra judicially by both the SSS and SARS. The narration was so real, especially the football parts it didn’t seem like a story. It felt more like a Polaroid picture – a snapshot of a moment in time.
Diary of a Troubled Traveller is a humorous account of a traveller’s troubles when faced with a tummy upset during a long journey. We’ve all been there. We’ve all executed the duck waddle in our mad rush to the toilet. The accurate depiction of the accents and mannerisms of the characters made the story hilarious. Read this story here.
In The Target, Reward writes about another societal issue, a home movies favourite. The lengths marketers (especially female marketers) have to go to meet targets set by banks. Nigerian retail banking is still in the Stone Age and is unable/unwilling to target customers in a country in which the vast majority are unbanked. This story will leave you conflicted, but it helps you understand how people hold their noses and do that which they swore not to. Life isn’t fair and sometimes people must do what they can to survive.
Keeping Mum, the shortest story in the collection was the most disturbing of them all. A heart-breaking story about an abused teenager. Despite its length, it is a powerful story of pain, loss and man’s inhumanity to man.
It was in equal parts amusing and embarrassing to read about Nigerian police officers investigating a murder case in Forensic Investigation. It’s always interesting to see your country from the eyes of a foreigner, in this case, the police from England called in to help with the investigation. This story is the most memorable one in the book. Read an excerpt here.
The stories in this collection are long enough to set the scene but short enough not to bore. They are plot driven so even though the characters are relatable; they are not well developed.
Reward writes in clear, simple prose which makes it more jarring when he throws in the random polysyllabic word seemingly unearthed from a Thesaurus.
The most striking thing about this book is the diversity of the subjects of the stories and the characters, who are from all walks of life. Reward narrates in a unique and engaging manner which helps convey the point and mood of the stories. You are sad and weary reading some stories, other times you are laughing or feeling embarrassed for the characters.
No experience was off limits in this book. The book is a breath of fresh air!
What didn’t work?
Lady B I would like to know what exactly was going on with Olufemi in The Conversation, the end left me unsatisfied.
Black Sheep about the familiar issue of a Nigerian parent forcing their children to read a specific course was a good storyline but the second person point of view narration style didn’t work for me. Rather than pull me into the story, it made connecting with the main character difficult.
The Motorcade about the Honourable Minister of Intracontinental Intergovernmental Interaction and his motorcade was my least favourite story. It didn’t work at all and just seemed a bit too farfetched and pointless.
Arggggh if I see “severally” instead of “several times” in another book or script, I’ll…
Page numbers 376.
Publisher Origami books.
Damage N1,000 on Okadabooks.
Have you read a collection of short stories by a Nigerian author or publisher you would recommend? Please share the title and author in the comments section.
 The State Security Service (SSS) is the primary domestic intelligence agency in Nigeria. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is a branch of the Nigerian police force, notorious for its gross human rights abuses. There is a viral social media campaign to have SARS scrapped called #EndSARS.