Some times, no one wins: A review of Bolaji Olatunde’s ‘A Person of Heft’ – Olukorede S. Yishau
At some points in Bolaji Olatunde’s third and latest novel, ‘A Person of Heft’, you may be tempted to ask: What just happened?
One such instance will most likely be when you realise the author is not telling a linear story. You will discover that one point of view is faster than the other: While the lead female character’s point of view is telling you about her time at an insurance company filled with intrigues and enslavement, the point of view of the lead male character has transported you to her time in a property development company. And as you read along, the picture of how she gets to the property development company now becomes clear from her own point of view.
Olatunde, in his new literary output which revolves largely around Demola and Tomiwa, renders in harrowing detail the characters’ resistance and survival instincts in the face of deficiency, deprivation, assault, and emotional war.
It begins in 2016 with Demola’s mother and father mounting pressure on him to start a family, not long after getting him to call off a relationship on account of a dream his sister had.
Tomiwa is also of marriageable age. They meet accidentally on the street of Abuja when each is trying to outrun the other. Demola memorises the number plate of her car and starts using Twitter to search for the beautiful and mischievous babe who smiled after outrunning him with her Toyota Camry car.
In between the two of them is a Caucasian, Wayne, who walks into Tomiwa’s insurance office and they become close after she helps him insure his car. Wayne and Tomiwa become super close and Tomiwa begins to see a future together. A spanner is thrown into the works when her surprise birthday visit to him reveals another love interest. They settle eventually. Meanwhile, Demola is also trying his luck with her. They go out a few times and chat a lot via the BBM and Twitter DM.
Within the drama going on in the life of the trio, the spectacles in their offices also help to move the plot forward. This sub-plot is the oxygen on which the romances thrive. Also embedded within and alternating with these experiences are flashbacks, which properly contextualise the narrative.
Demola works in a government agency in Abuja, whose responsibility is to get companies to pay a percentage of their revenue into the federal purse to improve the health sector. As typical of most government agencies in Nigeria, officials help the companies cheat the government, civil servants collect Duty Tour Allowance for trips unmade. Demola’s resolve not to be part of this fraud turns him into a pariah.
Tomiwa’s time at the insurance company reads like the author’s ‘blow’ on the insurance industry where clients never get what the firms promise, where marketers are treated with disdain, and where back-biting is the rule rather than the exception.
There are other interesting characters such as Femi whose Point of View helps shed light on some developments; Tosin, who seems to struggle between loyalty and survival; Raymond Ibiloye, the manager who cheats his subordinates; Agnes whose favourite line seems to be “Me, I want to fuck o” and the sexual harassment master called Gboyega Iremide.
Set between 2016 and 2017 with some flashbacks to events before then, Olatunde succeeds in making Abuja a character in this novel. Olatunde crafts spare and unsparing sentences, and evokes the Abuja landscape hauntingly, as a land of beauty and ugliness so profound it assumes the quality of myth.
For those conversant with the Federal Capital Territory, chances are they will chuckle at his accurate representation of real places in the city. He brings out its beauty, its ugliness, and its sounds and blends them believably with the lives of the characters. There are subtle jabs at the President Muhammadu Buhari and the Dr. Goodluck Jonathan administrations, under which the events and actions in the novel take place. Aside from Abuja, the insurance industry and the civil service also qualify as characters in this book because of the illuminating attention the author devotes to treating them.
This absorbing, stirring novel is a fun, enjoyable read filled with characters who make mistakes and also triumph. The pages drip with witty lines that will induce smiles. With adequate suspense, Olatunde succeeds in telling a compelling tale of unrequited love, betrayal, and corruption in high places. His handling of Demola, with his burdens, makes it hard not to feel for him. Other characters also afford the author the opportunity to present a moving portrait of lives on slow and fast lanes. It also has some well-realised kinky scenes that highlight the humanity of some of the characters.
Though a massive 523-page, the novel’s easy-to-read diction, humour, and relatability are enough to see the reader flipping page after page, and in no time, the behemoth will be defeated with a smile most likely playing on the reader’s face.
The romantic may, however, raise placards against Olatunde, who was twice nominated for the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) prizes, for the way the novel ends, but the end only tells one fact of life: at times and in some situations, no one wins.
Olukorede S. Yishau is the author of ‘In The Name of Our Father’ and ‘Vaults of Secrets’