Genre Fiction – short stories.
Blurb ‘A Broken People’s Playlist’ is a collection of stories in the soundtrack of life. 12 music-inspired tales are told about love, the human condition, life’s micromoments, and an every-people’s search for meaning and sometimes, redemption.
The stories are also part-homage and part-love letter to Port Harcourt (the city which most of them are set in). A man who throws a living funeral for his dying brother; three friends ponder penis captivus and one’s peculiar erectile dysfunction; and a troubled woman tries to find her peace-place in the world, helped by a headful of songs and ginger tea. There’re also interlinked stories: one of a teenage wannabe-DJ who just wants to play his first gig as his family breaks up; and another of him, years later, as a middle-aged man drunk-calling his ex-wife.
The prose is distinctive as it is concise and unapologetically Nigerian. And because the collection is infused with the magic of evocative storytelling, everyone is promised a story, a character, to move or haunt them.’
Dialogue Written in English and Nigerian Pidgin, the dialogues lend credence to the stories.
Themes Redemption, Love, Loss, Music, Family, Abuse, Friendship and Death.
Editing A few errors.
What worked? A Broken People’s Playlist (Stories from Songs) is a collection of 12 fictional short stories of ordinary people, bouncing off the back of music as though these songs are the soundtrack of their lives. The stories are said to be inspired by these songs with the same title and theme. It’s a melting pot of stories about the everyday issues of life in Port-Harcourt, Nigeria including domestic violence, infertility, infidelity, death of loved ones, police brutality, relationships and environmental degradation.
The book is an engaging and entertaining read and the link to music was the cherry on the cake. Anyone who has been following our blog will know how much we both love music. We often send playlists to each other on WhatsApp or send music that we think the other may like and reminisce on old music. In fact, we have an audio section on this blog dedicated to books and music. Though in our case, we work backwards in recommending a piece of music to go with a book or story. So, deciding to read this collection of stories after our long hiatus did come easy but we weren’t sure what to expect.
Most of the stories are easy to follow and the characters were believable and relatable. The stories are often narrated in first person against the backdrop of Port-Harcourt as a city. They are about people trying to navigate their lives within a city; blending melancholy, hopelessness and hope together.
Mo The stories in A Broken People’s Playlist are quite vivid in description and make reading fluid and quick, you find yourself flipping the pages and connecting with the characters even against your will. The short stories work and not just because of the music or the references to pop music but because even though they are about broken people the melancholy wasn’t overwhelming; you are not swimming in a sea of sadness after reading. Instead, you get a glimpse into people’s lives and their day-to-day troubles.
I like to think this is Tonse’s Port-Harcourt as he makes an appearance in a number of the stories. A trade secret for you to enjoy this book is to let the music that inspires the stories play in the background. However, if you are the sort that can’t function that way, you may just have to listen to the songs before you start reading the stories.
Lady B I think I am biased about this book because I was born and grew up in Port-Harcourt so the stories came alive for me. I could picture the scenes and understood the cultural background of the stories. I loved how I was able to connect with the emotions Chimeka skilfully evoked; loss and regret in ‘Lost Stars;’ or the defiant pain of a broken family in ‘Music.’ After reading the first story, I expected a sadfest but I was pleased that the stories were a mixed bag similar to the issues that it dealt with. Chimeka uses Nigerian lingo liberally and though I enjoyed it, it may be a little less smooth reading for someone who isn’t familiar with it.
My favourite stories are ’Music’ for its rhythm and all the memories it evoked; I could literally hear the music as DJ TT cued each track. I also enjoyed ‘I Put a Spell on You’ for the doubt it casts on logic and ‘You Suppose Know’ for the way it captures the fragile beauty and impermanence of our humanity and the twist at the end.
What didn’t work?
Mo As much as I love the rhythm of the book, some of the stories were hard to get into because they feel disjointed, you are not sure if it is the narration style or the constant musings that seem to be confusing. I particularly didn’t really enjoy ‘Music’ for this reason.
Lady B A Broken People’s Playlist dealt with many complex themes but Chimeka seemed to adopt the same almost cavalier attitude to all themes. This was both a strength of the book in that you don’t get weighed down but also a weakness in that you feel the theme isn’t properly dealt with.
Some of the stories were predictable. Like the first one, ‘Lost Stars’ and the tenth one, ‘Love’s Divine.’ Also, I haven’t figured out why Tonse appeared in a number of the stories. Was there some underlying reason which I missed? Some of the stories were not as successfully rendered. ‘Hurts’ felt rushed and bloated; with not enough character development and too many unexplored stories.
My least favourite story is ‘In the City.’ I found it difficult to follow, perhaps because I was trying to keep track of the timestamps and the characters.
Number of pages 154.
Publisher Masobe Books.
Damage N3,500 on Booksellers.
Have you read A Broken People’s Playlist? Let’s chat in the comments section.