A Review of “Dreams and Assorted Nightmares” by Uchenna Emelife
“This is Zango… Strange things happen here”
Dreams and Assorted Nightmares is a collection of 12 short stories by Nigerian writer, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim. The collection contains mysterious, strange and dark narratives that border magic realism, the supernatural, surrealism and other extraterrestrial ideas.
Abubakar takes the reader on a journey through Zango, a fictional city in northern Nigeria where the strangest of things happen; like a woman vomiting an almost 2m long braided strand of hair; a tree whose leaves represent human lives and upon drying up or falling, lives are lost too; a lady infatuated with a retired soldier, kills herself and haunts the soldier for life; a boy ashamed of his father’s crimes, refuses to take his name only to turn around and do worse; a randy painter whose artworks compete with the bastard sons he leaves in different homes and much more.
What stands out about the collection is how the stories intertwine. While they can be read independently, they all share a semblance in their mysteriousness or to put it more aptly, their Zangoness. This makes the transition from one story to another a smooth and interesting one. The references to characters in previous stories carrry the reader along, and you start to feel like you’re on a visit to Zango and the tour guides (narrators) are telling you about it but unfortunately, there are only dark tales about Zango. A complete redefinition of what a short story collection should be. Yaa Gyasi’s novel, Homegoing comes to mind in this interconnectedness of different stories.
Beyond the crispness and the aesthetics of the prose exemplified in stories like ‘The Weight of Silence’, ‘The Book of Remembered Things’ and ‘What The Sand Said’, Abubakar also tackles real life issues.
In the title story, ‘Dreams and Assorted Nightmares’, he looks at the abuse of polygamy rights; in ‘Mororo Masterpiece’, he shows the irony of an unfaithful partner who doesn’t want to be treated in equal measure; in the ‘House of the Rising Sun’, Abubakar shows how the society can be very insensitive toward mental illness and as well how being overprotective can cloud one’s judgement; in ‘Sajah’, he mirrors the transience of happiness in a family and the dangers of materialism; in “Daughters of Bappa Avenue”, Abubakar looks at the sex industry as being responsible for the descent to
the sex trade by many women he also throws a jab at the society as being responsible for the condition of many women; in ‘The Weight of Silence’, Abubakar shows us the fickleness of the friendship label and how two friends can know next to nothing about each other; in ‘Naznine’, we see how desperation to birth a child can alter one’s mental health. In ‘Melancholy’ we see the height of brokenness and how affection can ironically make one sink to their lowest while in the ‘Book of Remembered Things’, a moving story about a family, Abubakar tackles religious fanaticism. In the closing story, “What The Sand Said”, we see how stereotyping can make one become that which they have stereotyped of or worse.
As is usual with Abubakar, he gives us another memorable character that will stay with us for a long time. As with Reza, the lovable rogue in his debut novel, Season of Crimson Blossoms, there is now ‘Zaki’ whom you will empathise with, pity, love and hate all at once. Through his eyes, we get to see the root source of Zango’s strangeness, but what he does after his findings is both brave and stupid depending on the level of attachment you come to have for Zango.
Dreams and Assorted Nightmares shows, again, just how much Abubakar is the master of the short story form and the deliberate growth in his mastering of the art. His debut collection, The Whispering Trees while being a beauty in its own rights, pales in comparison with Dreams and Assorted Nightmares. If you love speculative fiction and stories that brave the otherworldly, then you will definitely love this collection.
Uchenna Emelife is a reader, literary enthusiast, creative writer, journo and bookseller. He is the co-founder and creative director of Book O’Clock Review.