Roses and Bullets… A love torn to shred by war
BY ANOTE AJELUOROU
ROSES and Bullets (Jalaa Writers’ Collective, Lagos; 2011) is the story told from the eyes of a young Igbo schoolgirl, who is caught in the grip of war like all others in the region, while nursing boundless ambition for the future. Ginikanwa is not particularly loved by her stepmother and her father is reserved. She and her only brother, Nwakire, had lost their mother while still young. This fragile family structure soon caves in to the war pressure to widen the fissure.
But Ginikanwa is consoled in her Auntie Chito and Uncle Ray, where she regularly escapes in Enugu to avoid the censorship she receives at home in Mbano. But as the war drums intensify, her father, Ubaka, is left with no option but to take her home. At Mbano, she manages to make sense of her surrounding. But soon, she is taken to Ama-Oyi, her father’s hometown, where she is to stay while the war rages as her father gets posted close to the warfront.
But it is here that she comes in close contact with the man, Eloka Odunze, who would mean the world to her. Much against her father’s advice, she marries him. Her brother, whose university education is disrupted by the war, joins up the Biafran Army to defend the breakaway new nation from Nigeria. Nwakire’s father, Ubaka, is devastated at his son’s action against his wish.
With Ginikanwa leaving home to join Eloka as wife and Nwakire at the warfront, it seems Ubaka’s family is headed for disintegration. Eloka’s father, who evacuated Port Harcourt in the heat of the war, is given a prominent role to play at the local council at Ama-Oyi. He uses his position to ensure that his only son, Eloka, does not get conscripted into the Biafran Army to fight. But after many brushes with the conscripting officers to draft him into the war, and as the war drags on, Eloka, much to his father’s chagrin, enlists to fight. He announces this news to his wife, who weeps her eyes out.
But there is no changing Eloka’s resolve. Even his dotting mother resigns to fate at her son’s going away to the battlefield. While he is away, Ginikanwa is to stay with Eloka’s family to await his return from war. But this is where her will is put to the test. No sooner had her son gone away, than Eloka’s mother confronts Ginikanwa on whether she is pregnant for her son. On Ginikanwa’s response to the contrary, Eloka’s mother descends on her, accusing her as a useless wife who would not give a man going to war a son while he is away as a possible replacement in the event that he did come back alive.
All her entreaties that it was Eloka’s wish for them not to have children while the war raged fell on the older woman’s deaf ears. She could not forgive the ‘barren’ wife for failing her son; Ginikanwa had not been the choice of wife for her son anyway. This charged atmosphere proves Ginikanwa’s undoing. As a means of temporary escape from her mother-in-law, and her father-in-law, whose adultery secrets she just received, she unwillingly attends a party with her colleague, Janet, with whom she works at the refugee camp, at an army base some kilometres away.
By the next morning, Ginikanwa discovers she had been drugged and raped. Not long after, she discovers that the ‘unknown’ soldier had also impregnated her. She is heartbroken and distraught. What will she tell her love, Eloka and his family? What about her own family? After taking Auntie Chito into confidence and enlisting her help, they embark on finding Eloka and to give him the news but this proves dangerous and futile.
When she tells her parents-in-law, she is thrown out as ‘win-the-war-wife’, one of those loose women soldiers regularly patronised. Her father and stepmother also reject her; they had not sanctioned the marriage in the first instance. As the war bites harder with hunger ravaging the civilian populace, Ginikanwa, Auntie Chito and her children and their grandmother experience the utter hopelessness of war. No news also about Auntie Chito’s husband, who had joined the war effort; where he was posted got cut off from the Biafran heartland.
Adimora-Ezeigbo’s Roses and Bullets is one more searing account of the Biafran side of the Nigerian Civil War. This is obvious; the entire infant Biafran nation was the theatre of war. It started out as the narrative of a family at the brink of disintegration. Then the echoes of war hasten the disintegration.
Ginikanwa and Eloka’s love is a classic case of perfect love torn to shreds by war. Adimora-Ezeigbo’s controlled narrative is remarkable as she fleshes out the emotions of war in this novel. She takes her readers down to the trenches and back. But more importantly is the horrors the civilian population face in a war situation. Adimora-Ezeigbo writes with candour and humanity and she charts Ginikanwa’s progression from a happy childhood to a disillusioned teenager before the war takes its toll. Eloka returns from war to meet his wilted roses in the garden, just as his love for Ginikanwa wilts on the discovery of her unwitting betrayal.
In the end, only the faith of a foreign teacher on her former student comes to rescue Ginikanwa from a horrible, and from then an upward spiral to the crest of distorted ambition.
Roses and Bullets is a breath-taking and memorable read with its haunting story of love and war. Indeed, Adimora-Ezeigbo has brought the Biafran story alive again even for those who would wish for collective amnesia. Indeed, the story of the Ginikanwas of Biafra has found a voice in this sublime war narrative…
Why I write on the civil war, by Monye
BY ANOTE AJELUOROU
Although it happened 41 years ago, the horrendous civil war that rocked the nation for 30 months six years after independence has continued to generate intense literary interest.
ONE such addition to the body of literary works concerning the war is Tony Monye’s Between a Valley & a Plain (Oracle Books, Lagos; 2011). Although his first work, Monye’s novel shows remarkable maturity in its execution. Yet to be born when the war ravaged the South-Eastern part of the country like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (author of Half of a Yellow Sun, also about that war), Monye, a banker, largely sourced his raw materials from listening to stories told about the war by his elders.
From such intimate tales told by those who witnessed the war, Monye gleamed an undying passion behind the nation’s darkest period. As he confesses, “I am certain you’d be surprised when I say the inspiration came from one of the characters in the book – The Great Lion. Monye was once here on earth and it is the reason why I chose to leave his name unchanged. He was someone I heard his story during growing up years from my father and many uncles.
“Yes, Monye was the biggest inspiration behind the story. Apart from him, I also would say the environment and the many stories surrounding the darkest period of our national life – the Nigerian Civil War – spurred me. I just brought fictional characters like Chibia and the rest to make up a whole story. I have heard from readers who told me that I have chronicled their experiences during the war without realising it.
“However, I must say this – the book is not necessarily about the civil war. Unfortunately, over the years, we tend to know or care less about our country – its histories, important dates and events. The lessons from these events are yet to sink in as a result, and we repeat these mistakes all over”.
Interestingly, war and love have always been intertwining issues in literature over the ages. Monye’s story isn’t devoid of these conjoined extreme emotions as they play out in the lives of the protagonist in the work. For Monye, therefore, “These two ends always evoke strong emotions in man and I think to some extent it was some sort of struggle because I wanted the lines and the expressions of both emotions to come out quite well… So, when I talked about love, I put myself in the moods of lovers and when it was time for war, I imagine man at his worst emotions…
“The shared love between Chibia and Ijeoma; the affection between Ikenna and Kechi and the one even between Grandma and her grandson, Chibia. I guess the Civil War still evokes strong emotions in our country. I really think we, as a nation and as a group of people brought together by God, should move on. Let me make some confession; it wasn’t an easy swing journeying both ends. I tried hard to get the language right… It wasn’t that easy but I think I managed well”.
Writing, like every other art form, has long been established as a talent inherent in every individual, and therefore waiting to be brought to public light. Although a banker, Monye has managed to juggle the two, and the result is the manifestation of an explosive talent for writing, and which makes for a remarkable read: He enthuses, “It is the passion for writing. I always love to write. The desire to write Between a Valley & a Plain’ came out at the best moment. I never set out to do a huge book. I found myself punching the keyboard of my laptop… one page, the next and then another page. And, before I knew it, I thought I had something I could call a book.
“At first, I had many doubts but as the pages turned, belief began to set in. After a time, I just knew there was no going back. And, I am happy it paid off. But I always remind myself that I am an economist by training and God gave me the ability to string words together to form a sentence… and then, a book. On the other hand, I work in a bank. Writing and working in a bank are jobs I enjoy. I dreamt of being a banker as a child because I loved their smart dress code and here I am. I also dreamt of writing for the fun of it and here I am. See!
“The love of them drives the two of them. Combining both only meant that there would be many trade-offs – yes there were many. I let go social engagements and obligations. I angered friends and hurt family members – people I love most. I am hardly ever seen at such gatherings. Now, permit me to use this medium to apologise to friends, family and relatives… I fell short here for them. They happen to be my bedrocks. For they have consistently supported me… the sales so far have come from them. A friend buys a copy, he reads and buys for his own friends or he recommends it to another. It is just the same, too, with family members – they have been some huge form of support”.
Although Monye argues that he didn’t set out to teach any moral lessons, he nonetheless concedes, “If the essence of the book is brought out, anyone striving to move up the valley definitely has some tales to tell – the traumas, the pains, the agonies and the challenges of life of being at the bottom of the pyramid, the sacrifice and on the positive side, the determination, the denials, the discipline, the celebrations of little daily achievements and, above all, the support, goodwill and love of others”.
The banker and new author cannot fully express his pain at the sad turn of events regarding the flagging reading habits of Nigerians, which make writers endangered species. He, however, counts the passion associated with writing too strong a force to resist in spite of how gloomy the situation may be, saying, “Reading is not one of our favourite pastimes in this part of the world (anymore). It leaves a pain in the heart and a hole in my being. For me, reading is the best human activity second to none. President Goodluck Jonathan and the likes of Wole Soyinka are trying to get the nation to read again. I hope they succeed. I just wanted to write, and that’s all.
“For me, passion is one of the greatest drivers of most human achievements. So, I will say that the passion fed well into the drive and something good came forth. I took very conscious steps into the world of writers and creative writing not for pecuniary objective or motive but for self-fulfillment. But more strongly, I had a tale to tell…”.
Source: The Guardian, 26th August 2011.