“The rhyme and rhythm of broken lives”: a review of Chimeka Garricks’s A Broken People’s Playlist – Sylva Nze Ifedigbo

It was American singer and songwriter Marilyn Manson who said that music is the strongest form of magic. If magic is the power to enchant, then there is no better word than magic for describing this music inspired collection of short stories, A Broken People’s Playlist by Chimeka Garricks

George Saunders, celebrated writer of short stories and essays in one of his popular quotes opined that when you read a short story, you come out a little more aware and a little more in love with the world around you. A Broken People’s Playlist does absolutely that.

This collection of twelve stories about life, death and everything in-between is a delight from cover to cover. One is first dazzled by the cover design, which whets the reader’s appetite and prepares your senses for the music in the pages. As the Igbos say, the eye first eats before the mouth does.

Some will argue though that a book should not be judged by its cover. Quite true but we are saved that argument in this instance. What is served in the following 248 pages, matches the artistry of the cover and combines to deliver a work of art that tickles your ribs as much as it does your tear ducts, making you question the essence of life and at the same time reinforcing your faith in it all the while, delighting you with all the rhyme and rhythm that the African story telling tradition embodies.

Garricks does something unusual in this book. It is not very often that fiction writers avail their readers of their thought process, inspiration and influences within the covers of their work. That is the stuff for interviews, closer engagements during book readings and perhaps their memoir. But Garricks is a very generous writer. Perhaps to set the ground rules for any future interrogation of his work or as an appreciation to the composers who made the ‘track list’ of this album possible, he added a four page ‘Author Notes’ at the end of his collection. In it, we learn of his struggles with the muse after his debut novel, Tomorrow Never Dies and how a daily “immersion and meditation in sounds and lyrics” did the magic that birthed this collection, the beauty of which bellies any struggles that preceded it.

Garricks explores a range of themes, styles and narrative voices in delivering this collection. From the tragic reminisce of a love that could have been in the opening story to a man calling his ex-wife out of the blues – under the influence of alcohol – to bargain for another chance and the heart breaking story of how death can put a knife to the things that holds our heart together, we see love in its many ramifications. Precious yet fleeting. Here now, gone the next minute. But we also see the possibility of second chances and attempts at redemption in the stories of the troubled woman who makes peace with her estranged father, in the fellow who holds a living funeral and tries to make things right at the twilight of his life and the husband who traces his way back after risking a beautiful life thanks to the throbbing of his groin. We also see how we live with the consequences of our decisions in life, how it is not always happy-ever-after like in Nollywood movies and how fate (or bad luck in common parlance) is some ice cold bastard when you think of the story of the police team– a sad reminder of the #EndSARS campaign that is yet to yield any tangible fruit. 

Garricks’s characters excite and thrill. They are as familiar in their personalities as they are in their lived experiences. The dialogue is beautiful. Well-paced, unforced and laced with the right amount of humour. You could tell the writer had fun inking them. Some of the stories sound somewhat autobiographical, in the depth to which the author explores the detail of the characters’ experiences. While the writer did not make any such revelations in his Author Notes, it will not be entirely surprising given how easily fiction writers infuse their own lived experiences into their stories. It is also refreshing to encounter Port Harcourt where most of the stories are set (and its dark soot) in the pages of a book, a position the bigger, more cosmopolitan Lagos seems to have monopolized quite unfairly. 

I enjoyed reading his collection and I am certain you will too. Beyond the stories themselves however, one is reminded of the fact that our stories matter. In these times when the world is perched at the crossroads between globalization and protectionism and identities groan under existential threats, we must cease to be just spectators as others define our fate and tell our history. We must write it ourselves, one story at a time…immersed in sound and lyrics.

Chimeka Garricks | Masobe Books, 2020 | 248 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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