“Of entanglements and a life of constant trouble”: a review of The Mechanics of Yenagoa – Sylva Nze Ifedigbo

Michael Afenfia’s The Mechanics of Yenagoa is an interesting feel-good read that grips the reader from the first page and keeps you flipping the pages like a compulsive disorder, as the narrator leads you deeper into the funny, disjointed and often troubled lives of the different characters it portrays.

From the title, one is wont to assume that it tells the story of different mechanics in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa state. Not quite so. Instead, it is the story of one mechanic, his apprentices and how the choices they make impact on or is influenced by, the cocktail of characters in their lives.

At the center of it all is Ebinimi (who also goes by Brother Jacob), from whose narrative voice the story is told. He is a university graduate who opted to be a mechanic and runs his auto repair shop on Kalakala street. The irony of a graduate as a mechanic is made even more remarkable by the fact that he is also pursuing a second degree, an MBA, at the state university. With that somewhat unusual profile, he presents an image of one who had it all together but that seems to be all that is good about his life. The rest of it is a web of emotional entanglements, perpetual trouble baiting, fights, ambition, betrayals and their unintended consequences.

When we meet Ebinimi he also introduces us to his allegedly pregnant on-and-off girlfriend, Blessing (who will prove to be his undoing in many ways), his sister Ebiakpo whose marriage is perched on the precipice, his three apprentices, Biodun, Broderick and Saka who seem to have no cares in the world and Reverend Ebizimor, who is that behind-the-scene character instigating much of the conflict in the book and who smartly exits the scene, like he was never there, just when it is all about to unravel. We see how Ebinimi, in the course of his normal existence is drawn into situations which in his effort to solve, triggers other events that threaten to engulf his entire existence. Indeed, for most of the book, he is basically quenching fires, and sometimes igniting new ones himself but managing somehow to navigate through it all.

At its core though, The Mechanics of Yenagoa tells a much deeper story about the dysfunction of society, the everyday coping mechanisms of ordinary people, the breakdown of marriages and the games people play to get and retain power including the weaponizing of religion and the use of violence as a political tool.

Afenfia serves the story in little chunks of goodness. Each chapter feels like an episode of a soap opera. This is not surprising given that the story was initially serialized as blog posts. He employs the use of suspense and cliff hangers at the end of most chapters which leaves even the most passive of readers eager to flip on to see what happens next. That is a smart way of keeping a blog readership coming back for more and it worked well in this novel.

The characters are presented in their natural state of existence and they are an interesting bunch. Witty, mischievous, stubborn and gullible. The tone of the narrator is conversational and engaging with just the right sprinkling of humour. In some ways it reminded me of that carefree voice of Holden Caulfield in J.D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye mixed with the humour of Chuma Nwokolo’s Diaries of a Dead African. The language is simple with the characters moving seamlessly from pidgin English into proper English in their conversations. And quite importantly, the author gives us a tour of the city of Yenagoa where the story is set while highlighting some of the things that make the people  unique, like their choice of western names which could range from drinks to objects and even ideas.  

But it felt a bit too much at some point.

Perhaps there was a need to fit all of what had run as a blog series into the book. While readers of the blog would have had no issues returning to lap up new episodes, in book form, some of the scenarios didn’t feel necessary neither did they help the advancement of the plot. In my opinion, the entire story could have been told in fewer pages without losing much. More so, the two interludes which the author introduced to give some back story was a bit jarring as it departed from the narrative flow and felt too explanatory. Indeed, the second of them which gave the details of Reverend Ebizimor’s story could have been done without. A simple reference to his disappearance would have served in keeping with the suspense the story rides  on.

Overall this was an easy and enjoyable read made even more so by the nice cover design (shout out to Anderson Oriahi) and very good print. It is a quality addition to your book pile and a good way to relax after all the bustle of the day. There is no doubt Afenfia is a gifted writer and I will recommend this work to every lover of fun, feel-good stories, well told.

Michael Afenfia | Masobe Books, 2020 | 305 pages

Sylva Nze Ifedigbo is the author of My Mind Is No Longer Here. He is available on twitter at @nzesylva

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