E.C. Osondu’s entertaining and thought-provoking 2nd novel – Olukorede S. Yishau
E.C. Osondu’s latest novel, When The Sky Is Ready The Stars Will Appear, is peopled with men and women who are on the run.
War, poverty, fame, the need to help family members and such reasons are behind their decision to flee.
The travellers in this book do not have the luxury of travelling by aeroplanes. They instead follow the tortuous route of sand and the sea. The dangers notwithstanding, the Golden Fleece and the hope that by the time the open boats drop them on the European side, refugee organisations will be waiting to welcome them and give them the chance to start new lives.
Though an immigrant tale, Osondu navigates his second novel away from the common tale of suffering immigrants leaving for Europe. He finds new angles and ends up with a compelling narrative.
In the beginning, the nameless narrator regales us with the first time he heard of Rome and thought it was a place in heaven. The narrator, an orphan, lived in Gulu Station, a peculiar town that has only one of everything: one cripple cum cobbler, one place of worship, one store, and one madman. When the madman, Jagga, discovered that another person was about to go mad, he warned him against it because the town was too small to have two madmen.
The kernel for the narrator’s quest for a life in Europe was planted the day an indigene of the town arrived from Rome and the image he painted of this Italian city ignited his yearnings. The Rome returnee or Bros as the narrator chose to address him out of deference was close to the narrator’s father before his sojourn to Rome so on returning he picked special interest in the narrator, who saw in Bros’ display of wealth the tonic for his quest to break out of Gulu Station and plant himself in Rome.
The narrator had a blind foster mother, Nene, who before her death and ever after remained a constant voice guiding and directing his affairs. Nene’s character is one that will linger in the reader’s mind: She knew everything, could tell currency units apart by just touching them, went alone to the forest to collect leaves for herbs, could cure stooling sheep, and many more. She never aged, barely had wrinkles and looked like she would live forever. Nene took in the narrator after his parents’ death. His father, a truck driver, who had helped many suddenly started drying up and eventually died with people who had benefitted from his large-heartedness shunning his son and saying what killed father and mother probably did not want the son alive.
When the narrator broke the news of his plan to travel to Rome, Nene told him that his eyes would see many things on the way and he would wonder if he should have gone on the journey. And he really saw hell trying to get into Europe through the desert. He also met interesting characters on the road to Rome.
One of them is Ayira, who was travelling to Europe to help her family. She was ready to do domestic chores to make enough money to repatriate home. Her life was beautiful until the intrusion that toppled all. Her co-travellers feared she might end up a victim of sex trafficking.
There is Anyi, who wanted to play football in Europe so that he would become popular like Jay Jay Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu. He looked forward to commentators screaming his name. There is also Zaaid, who was fleeing to Europe to escape the war ravaging his country, a war that had made young boys disown their fathers and adopted the warlord as their new father. Parents were being killed to force their children to join the army so Zaaid ran.
There is also Abdu, the one travelling for love. Halima, the girl of his dream, threw his love back at him and he thought acquiring money and returning to claim his love was the right thing to do.
Qaudir is a character very central to the theme of this book. He is a Crosser, an expert in getting people eager to be in Europe to achieve their aims. The job has hardened his heart and death means almost nothing to him, but he is also quick to remind his client that he would always strive to get them to cross into Europe alive because his rate of success was central to his professional future.
Do the stars appear for these men and women when the sky is ready? You will find out in the book.
The author fills the book with many alluring sentences that will make you keep turning the book of about 150-pages.
For instance, “the day Bros returned from Rome he came back with so many boxes. The boxes took such a long time to offload and they were all the same colour. That was the day I came to realise that boxes could have families just like humans. There were two large boxes—the Mama and Papa Box—and many little brother and sister Boxes.”
And another one: “Our voices sounded like the voices of women in labour. Hoping the pain won’t be too much to bear. Hoping that the baby breathes, cries and lives. Hoping that what they have been told is true—that when they ultimately hold the baby in their arms, all the pain is forgotten and a joy they have never known before floods their entire being.”
There are so many witty lines too. You will most likely laugh at this line: “Ah. Don’t you know sardines are from the sea? Do you want the fish in the sea to see their brethren in the tin and get angry with us?”
Osondu’s mixture of written and oral African storytelling peps up the beauty of this work. He succeeds in showing that written and unwritten forms can co-exist and produce an amazing reading experience. He also demonstrates that no one form is superior to the other.
He gives faces and voices to immigrants who are mere statistics in media reports. He shows them as individuals with names, homes and stories. He also shows them as products of innocence and experience as well as the young generation ravaged by the ills of leadership. The situations of things in many African countries are so dire that people are ready to jump whether or not the coast is clear. Osondu’s characters show these terrible situations.
In all, Osondu has succeeded in gifting us a humorous, heartrending, buoyant, thought-provoking and entertaining tale of ties and acquaintances; it also paints the picture of the lengths human beings will go to break loose from shackles and achieve their desires.
–Olukorede S. Yishau is the author of In the Name of Our Father and Vaults of Secrets