“Crows of the Yellow Stream”: An authentic African epic -Yusiff Nanah Charm Kamara

I stumbled on Odili Ujubuonu’s Crows of the Yellow Stream on Amazon.

I was instantly drawn to the word “Crows” in its title.

These birds have been known in several cultures to signify death, danger and sometimes lead actors in a cast of avian mysteries. This stoked my interest. So, I eventually paid for it and downloaded the book.

Odili and I had met two years earlier, a few weeks before the breakout of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China. We sat together on a flight from Abuja to Lagos. I was on my way back to Sierra Leone after witnessing the official debut premiere of Rita Daniel’s movie The Enemy I Know right there in Abuja and he was heading home to Lagos. 

We remained friends afterwards. I was surprised he never mentioned he had a new book coming. He didn’t know I had bought the book until last week when he shared a post about its release. By then, I had almost finished reading it. I learnt from him that the online version had been up on Amazon since mid-May this year.

I have no regrets buying and downloading this book. I must say it is one of the most exciting novels, by an African writer, I have read in recent times. This is not only because of the storytelling style or the ever-twisting and unpredictable plot. Rather, it is more for the author’s technical handling of such a big book without sending the reader to sleep. Odili confidently takes the reader with seamless ease through a breathtaking maze of interconnected plots, sub-plots and micro-plots.

“Crows of the Yellow Stream” opens with Okwudo, the Ogbanje niece of the protagonist, Ikpeama, being pulled away from her father’s compound with an invisible leash by a mysterious bird. The bird leads her to the dreaded Crows’ Stream from where she finds herself in a strange shrine. There the story of her people, Odoro, is graphically reeled out to her from the still-water screen of a large clay pot.

Through this gripping sub-plot, Odili unveils the book’s subject matter – man’s relationship with his environment and the belief that humans can’t be trusted to keep to the rules of nature. Udojiagu and his family pay a heavy price for breaking their contact with the rulers of the forests. This continues to hurt and haunt Odoro for generations after, because “Cats don’t forgive, cats don’t forget.”

With a skillful use of language, Odili pans a word-camera that elevates the emotions of his message: 

“A huge, beautifully patterned mother leopard ambled into the cave. Her right limb was missing. Blood flowed ceaselessly out of the wound. The tired animal slowly pulled itself into safety. Behind the bleeding cat were cubs appearing one after another. The puppy-like creatures had pale patterns of their mother’s spots. Their blood-stained paws scurried after their wounded mother.

“Nnenne fell on her knees. The mother cat rubbed her neck against hers. She gently caressed the cat’s neck and back. The cubs inserted themselves into pockets of spaces left between Nnenne and the leopard.” 

The cat family’s story with all its twists and turns, magic and secrets draws a curtain with the birth of a child whose arrival spins a new course for Odoro’s beleaguered history. From the dust of this history, Ikpeama emerges and is accused of stealing kola nuts—an unforgivable crime among his people. This simple hook drives this thriller and keeps the reader wondering if Ikpeama did or didn’t commit the crime he was accused of until the very last page. This nervy and intense suspense makes “Crows of the Yellow Stream” an un-put-down-able novel.

Odili has taken African storytelling to a new level and challenges us, filmmakers, to grab the opportunity of creating a global movie from this masterpiece to show the world that the raging conversation on the Earth and Environment is truly and has always been an African concern.

This,however, is a challenge only the bold can dare.

So, if you love high-octane fiction, and you are really after an authentic African epic, you’ll definitely find “Crows of a Yellow Stream” a good read. 

Yusiff Nanah Charm Kamara is a Freetown, Sierra Leone-based Filmmaker

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