Genre Nonfiction: Essay/Memoir.
Blurb “In this memoir, about a house his father built, Adewale Maja-Pearce captures the essence of the last decade of the 20th Century. He paints, in the minutest of detail, the sense of transition, of inevitable change, of frustration at its slow pace. The reader, while focused on the small details, is coerced to lean back, and take in the big picture.
“But all that was a long time ago now, longer than the time it took me to dislodge the Alhaji and Ngozi and Pepsi, and longer again since my father died, the man who had willed me the house he built that made it all possible. I have written about him elsewhere. I had my problems with him; he had his problems with me. One of them was that I wanted to be a writer, not a physician, an incomprehensible decision which kept us estranged for years. The irony was that Nigeria was all that engaged me as a writer, which was why his gift was so apt, even if he hadn’t imagined it that way.”
Themes Identity, Corruption and Injustice.
Editing A few errors.
What worked? This is a documentary essay styled book written in first person in a manner similar to a memoir. Whew! That was a strange sentence right? This push and pull between documentary essay and memoir created a tension in the narration which was weird, for want of a better word. The language though is simple. Adewale narrates his ordeal when dealing with tenants in a house he and his siblings inherited from their late father. It is set in Lagos in the 90s and early 2000s and touches on the socio-political situation in Nigeria in that period and how this affects the everyday person in the city.
In a saner environment it would be easier to evict tenants at the end of their lease but not in Nigeria in the pre-democracy era as Adewale finds out. He writes about the dysfunction in Nigeria as a whole and Lagos; corruption in the judicial system (the police force and the court system). Bribes, abuse of process and human rights abuses which he details in his memoir will be all too familiar to Nigerians.
The tenants’ antics are supported by the corrupt judicial system. The stories point to a country that has abdicated its responsibilities to crooked citizens. Adewale realises that evicting tenants could be the most difficult thing anyone can ever do in a lifetime.
It was interesting to see how Adewale over time, adopted some illegal actions which he had once frowned upon when others had acted in the same way. Perhaps, a case of “if you can’t beat them, join them.” He is introspective about his own shortcomings which contributed to his ordeal. Being biracial, his musings about identity and acceptance is poignant.
Mo The stories are funny and sometimes, they make you self-reflect.
What didn’t work?
Lady B I found the narration in this essay dry and sometimes, choppy. There were parts which some may find humorous but the humour, deliberate or inadvertent didn’t quite hit the mark for me.
I was also surprised by some Nigerian-English phrases in the book such as “NEPA had taken light,” “next tomorrow” and “in my very before” which seemed out of place in the essay.
Mo The writing falls short, short of what I don’t know. I think it could have been better written. For most parts, it’s disjointed. You read this book because it’s interesting and you want to finish the gist not because of the writing prowess.
Page numbers 330 on Okadabooks.
Publisher Kachifo Limited (Farafina).
Damage N1,000 on Okadabooks.
Have you read The House My Father Built? What were your thoughts? Let’s chat in the comments section.