Reflections as HarperCollins acquires world rights for Bisi Adjapon’s ‘Of Women and Frogs’ – Olukorede S. Yishau

African literature is rich, very rich and the rest of the world misses out when great texts, such as Bisi Adjapon’s ‘Of Women and Frogs’, are limited only to audience on the continent. A good time awaits the international reading public as HarperCollins is set to release Adjapon’s debut in September this year. The book will be published simultaneously in the U.S., the UK, Canada, and then distributed worldwide. The publishing giant will release her sophomore ‘Daughter in Exile’ next year.

When Farafina unleashed the book on readers in Nigeria and Ghana in 2018, Esi, the protagonist and narrator, was an instant darling. Now, she is going to become a citizen of the world.  The novel, a rich tapestry of Esi’s experiences and Ghana’s tortuous history, brims with so much information disguised as fiction. It shows an author who knows the importance of research, even in a fictional work.

Adjapon tells a touching tale. Esi, and her brother, Kwabena, find themselves in Ghana, their fatherland. For a reason they discover later, they are made to leave Nigeria for Ghana to stay with their father, stepmother and stepsiblings. Adjusting to life with their new family is not easy. Even pronouncing the names of her four sisters is a daunting task for Esi, who soon gives the sisters nicknames based on their approaches to her. 

Esi and her brother are thrust into a world where elders are in love with superstitious beliefs (Or is it lies?). Elderly people misbehave in this work: Esi’s father sleeps with a concubine on a king-size bed on which his daughter is asleep on;  her step-mother and other children at almost every given opportunity make Esi feel bad about herself and one even calls her ‘Nigerian Animal’ because of her Nigerian mother; and they criminalise her attempt to understand her body. Also, she is subjected to a ginger-in-the-vagina punishment and her father and step-mother always drum it in her ears that the glory of a woman is in her husband’s place. She is, also, constantly reminded that equality, when it comes to the relationship between man and woman, is a mirage and she must learn to live under a man’s shadow. In fact, she is made to feel men do not like educated women! In some other instances, her father makes her feel special, makes sure she gets into the best girl’s school and the University of Ghana—but he is not shy to remind her about what a vacuum will be in her life without a man.

This coming-of-age novel is a cheery story of a girl beating a path to self-discovery amid political turmoil in J.J. Rawlings’ Ghana and the tense relationships between her familial countries.  Anchoring the Esi story around major political developments in Ghana is a major plus. It takes the novel to a serious realm. The country saw hell and came back. Adjapon gives us insights into the fire Ghana passed through before becoming the destination for many a Nigerian to have fun: The aliens’ expulsion, the coups, the counter coups and the coming of Flight Lieutenant J.J. Rawlings, the one called Junior Jesus. J.J. led a revolution, which saw many being killed on account of alleged corruption. Soldiers took advantage of the revolution to wreak havoc on ordinary folks. But in the long run, Ghana rose above it all and is better for it.

The themes Adjapon examines in this amazing work include deceit, heartbreak, domestic violence, deaths, failure of leadership, military dictatorship and abuse of power. And these are the main strengths of this novel. The use of present tense mainly in the narration almost makes one forget that the events took place long ago. This, for me, is a plus. It brings some freshness.

Adjapon deserves kudos for her use of language and it is a good thing a wider audience is going to savour the fresh juice that her writing is. You will laugh at how words that look ordinary have meanings far beyond the surface. Imagine a pupil asking a teacher to explain how a man can enter a woman! The confused teacher rambles and eventually gets angry. Language is indeed a plus for the novel.

She paints imageries with words and uses them as planes to transport her readers from one point to the other. She blends words almost perfectly. She shows that with simple words you can tell a story and perfectly, too. She shows you do not necessarily need difficult syntax to achieve a perfect depiction of scenes and scenarios.

She is unpretentious in the depiction of sex. For the school of thought, which believes African literature should shy away from graphic depiction of sex, this is a taboo. A member of this school of thought moved unsuccessfully against the award of the NLNG Literature Prize to Chika Ungwe’s ‘On Black Sisters’ Street’ because of its depiction of sex.  He was to complain later when Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s ‘Season of Crimson Blossoms’ won the prize. 

This is an unabashedly feminist work in which a girl’s right to agency is established at every point possible and despite this, she still delivers a story with the capacity to keep the reader tied to the pages. The Ghana Adjapon depicts is not very stunning. Her characterisations are on point, especially her handling of the extended families. The book is also really hilarious and filled with astounding moments.

Esi’s story will be great on the big screen or for a Netflix Original series. It will not be surprising if Adjapon’s agent at Folio Literary gets it optioned for a filmic adaptation.

Olukorede S. Yishau is author of ‘Vaults of Secrets’ and ‘In The Name of Our Father’

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