Immigrant

Chasing Butterflies: When Love Hurts

By Ráyò

What do you do when love hurts? A pocket review of Yejide Kilanko's Chasing Butterflies.

 

Y

ejide Kilanko’s first book, Daughters Who Walk This Path, was a thoroughly enjoyable read for me—albeit a sad one. Thus, when I picked Chasing Butterflies, I tried to prepare for another emotional rollercoaster. Like the former, this novella, though set in the United States, revolves around family issues and the lasting effects of childhood traumas. Kilanko, as with the first, focuses on abuse—this time, however, domestic violence as opposed to sexual abuse.

Titilope’s 45-year-old husband, Tomide, is quick with his fists and has terrorised her into believing his violence is her fault. Titilope hides her scars, and all that goes on in their marriage, from even her closest friends. Kilanko writes from both main characters’ points of view, so that one is as keenly aware of Tomide’s motivations as one is of Titilope’s traumas. Tomide, himself raised by a physically abusive father, believes that, "early on in their marriage, it became evident that Titilope didn't need him or respect him the way he deserved. Even when he was forced to hit her, she would just stand there and take it as if he was nothing."

Kilanko’s novella explores how cultural expectations of women—to be subservient to the man—foster abuse, especially when met with the slightest resistance. The irrationality of Tomide’s violence is highlighted in how visceral his reactions are to mentions or memories of his father. Yet, the memories of his mother’s sufferings do not keep him from inflicting pain. When his wife offers him the chance to get help through therapy, Tomide balks, showing how equally toxic cultural expectations of masculinity can be.

In Chasing Butterflies, domestic violence runs through the generations, encouraged by dangerous clichés like, “a good mother does not run from her child's home. She always stays, and she fights.” The memory of those words, said by her mother about a neighbour’s abuse, keeps Titilope in Tomide’s house and life longer than she should have been; painting a picture of how often survivors are psychologically embattled and shamed into returning or remaining. Not even finding out that he was abusive in his previous marriage makes her rethink.

As Titilope deals with her physical and emotional wounds, she also has to deal with the hopes of family members back in Nigeria, especially her mother and his. Sentiments as 'Do not break your marriage.' 'How will I hold my head up?' 'What kind of woman sends her man to jail?' spout in the face of conflict. When things then come to a head and he beats her so close to death, their 4-year-old son, TJ, calls the police. Even then, the sentiments still remain. Here, the book paints a familiar picture of the prevalent attitudes towards domestic abuse and victimhood amongst Nigerians.

A quick and easy read, Chasing Butterflies tells a good story. The novella could, however, have dwelt more on the lives of the characters beyond the aspects directly connected to the focal theme. There is barely any learning of Titilope before her marriage to Tomide nor of the couple's childhood. Nonetheless, Yejide Kilanko's work is an important addition to the conversation on domestic violence. She does not shy away from the less spoken about issues—she tackles them head-on.



Have you read any of Kilanko's books? What did you think?

 

A review copy of Yejide Kilanko's novella, Chasing Butterflies, was kindly sent to The Book Banque by Quramo Publishing Limited, in exchange for a review. All thoughts expressed in this review are honest, and that of the writer, Ráyò. Chasing Butterflies was published in 2018.

 

Huchu's 3Ms: The Maestro, The Magistrate And The Mathematician

 

An exclusive excerpt from Tendai Huchu's The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician.

Tendai Huchu's The Maestro, The Magistrate And The Mathematician tells a layered story of three Zimbabwean exiles as they chart the course of their new lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. Each distinct in background, personalities and thus, in their narrations, they share a paradox of belonging and identity, and a conflict of cultures — respectively affixed to immigration.

The Magistrate, as implied by his name, was formerly a custodian of justice in Zimbabwe. In Edinburgh, however, the ladder rungs are reversed, and he is forced to take on menial jobs for survival. This excerpt, stirring yet hilarious, provides a glimpse into his jarring reality and the disservice political unrest is capable of instituting.



T

he Magistrate waited, listening to her strident advice, while she did not even look in his direction. He felt small, a gnat, intruding on her space. The office had two desks placed together in an L shape. The other desk was empty. Both were untidy with paperwork chaotically stacked, a scattering of empty mugs with dried lipstick stains around the edges. The Magistrate remembered a time when he walked into places and people rushed to serve him. Mwana wamambo muranda kumwe. The wastepaper basket between the two desks was overflowing. The windows were grimy.

The bench was a lifetime ago. It pained him to think of his past, to recall memories of what once had been. If only he had no memory, no sense of his old successful self, then it would be easier to accept his new circumstances.

“Men like that need to be taught a lesson. If my boyfriend did that I would chop his thing off… Yeah, he knows it.” The woman on the phone was explaining her philosophy for a stable relationship. The Magistrate involuntarily crossed his legs. Attempted murder? Grievous bodily harm? A crime of passion? The most popular one with aggrieved women back home was to pour boiling cooking oil over the philanderer’s face, though none of those had ever reached his court. He’d dealt with a lot of domestic violence. But then again crime feels common if it’s all you deal with day in day out. In his line of work it was natural to assume society was sick. The law was rather mute on couples that actually loved one another, except, that is, for marriage, a ceremony he disliked presiding over.

“Excuse me,” he said.

“Can’t you see I’m on the phone?” The woman returned to her caller.

“Some people are just so rude, ha, they can’t wait just a few minutes.”

“I’ve been waiting for twenty minutes!”

The woman continued her conversation as though he was not even there. He could feel rage swelling up within him. He stood up abruptly and his chair fell over. “Calm submissive state, my arse,” he thought. The woman gazed admiringly at her nails.

“Have a nice day,” he said, making for the door. As he opened it, Alfonso fell in, struggling with several plastic bags.

“Aikaka, Magistrate, you’re here?” Alfonso blew air from his mouth.

“I was just about to leave.”

“And go where? I’ve just arrived,” Alfonso said, ushering him back in. “I’d just gone to Lidl for my shopping. It’s called multitasking. I have a theory–”

“Your receptionist is very unhelpful.”

“I’m an administrator,” the woman called out.

“No, no, there must be some misunderstanding. Don’t worry; I’ll take care of you. Here at Busy Bodies Recruitment and Employment Solutions we aim to provide First World service to Scottish businesses, governmental departments, the charitable sector, and other not-for-profit organisations. We are the one stop shop for all your recruitment solutions.” Alfonso was really trying to say he was sorry but couldn’t do anything about it since she was his small house. “Please, please, sit down. Let me just put these to one side and then we can talk.”

The Magistrate was reluctant but Alfonso’s imploring face with its comic meerkat-like appearance stayed him. Alfonso rushed round to the other side of the desk and sat down. He straightened his tie. He was a small man and behind the desk he cut a ridiculous figure.

“So, what brings you to our offices?” Alfonso smirked with apparent relish.

“I need a job,” the Magistrate replied in a low voice.

“Sorry, I didn’t get that.” Alfonso cupped his left ear and leant forward.

“I need a job.”

“Aha.” Alfonso leapt up. “I told you he would come, Spiwe. Didn’t I tell you he would come?” He looked intoxicated, gleeful; casting his hands wide open as if embracing the whole world. “I knew it. I just knew it. How long has it been? A year?”

“Not that long.”

“Near enough.” Alfonso nipped round his desk, grabbed Spiwe’s phone and cut her off.

“What do you think you’re DOING?”

“I told you he’d come.” Alfonso spoke in a frenzy. “This man is like a brother to me. He’s smarter than me; he has a degree, a Master’s, and many, many certificates. But let me tell you one thing, he doesn’t know the UK like I do. I tried to tell Mai Chenai. I said to her, ‘Look, tell him to stop applying for those posh jobs in the newspapers. They are not for the likes of us.’ This country now uses a system I call voluntary slavery. They used to bring you people in big boats, shackled together – you didn’t even need a passport, and then you started refusing, saying you wanted equality. Now you flood their borders looking for work. What do you expect them to do? I’ve seen it all before, many times: Nigerians, Jamaicans, Polishans, Congoans, Russians, Indians, you name it. There was an electrician from Bulawayo, you know Mdala Phiri… of course you do. Phiri came here with his wife, a nurse, he thought he was going to get an electrician’s job. I told him, ‘Phiri, this is the Civilised World, forget it,’ but he didn’t listen, no one listens to Alfonso. So, he went for an interview and do you know what the man said to him? He said, ‘Look here, why are you bothering us? Can’t you see the electricity we use is different from the electricity in your country?’ You don’t believe me? I swear it. Phiri himself told us. Spiwe here is my witness.”

“Leave me out of your stories, Mr Pfukuto,” said Spiwe.

Alfonso strutted around the room with a limp, as though one leg was slightly longer than the other.

“It’s even worse with the law, Magistrate. I tried to say it but no one listens to Alfonso. They think we come from the jungle. They think we have kangaroo courts. They will say, ‘How can you practice law here when you couldn’t even preserve the rule of law in your own country?’ I knew your applications would come to nothing. They didn’t even reply you, did they?” Alfonso ignored the Magistrate’s obvious discomfort. “Only nursing is the same, because no matter where you go in the world, wiping bums is still wiping bums. But don’t worry, that’s why I’m here. I am going to make sure you get a good job with good rates of pay too. You’re not like these tsotsis weaving and ducking without papers. No, you will get a good job, a very good job.”

Alfonso threw an application form in front of the Magistrate and gave him a pen. He picked up the phone, flicked through a diary and dialled out.

Spiwe, help him to fill it out.” Spiwe gritted her teeth, but she stood up and went to the Magistrate anyway. She hovered over him as he filled the document in. He was slow, thorough, reading each question carefully before writing. He was used to going through legal documents where he could not risk misinterpreting the contents.

“Hallo, hallo, is this Olu?” Alfonso asked, in a faux Nigerian accent, to someone on the phone. “Oh, my sister-wo, how are you in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour… Yes, I am fine… Listen, Olu, there has been a problem with your shift tonight. They have cancelled it… I know it’s terrible. I said to them, ‘Why did you book it if you knew you were going to cancel it?’ Don’t worry I will call you as soon as I get something. You are my number one… God bless you, my sister-wo.”

He got off the line and smiled at the Magistrate. “I’ve got you a shift. You start tonight. First we must give you a pair of safety shoes, a tunic and some industrial gloves… Don’t worry we’ll deduct the cost from your first pay cheque… It’s okay, don’t thank me. That’s what friends are for.”

 

Tendai Huchu's The Maestro, The Magistrate And The Mathematician was published by Kachifo Limited under their Farafina Books imprint in 2015.

Read reviews by This Is Africa and Wawa Book Review here and here.



About Tendai

Tendai Huchu is the author of The Hairdresser Of Harare. His short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Manchester Review, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Gutter, AfroSF, Wasafiri, The Africa Report, Kwani? and numerous other publications. In 2013, he received a Hawthornden Fellowship and a Sacatar Fellowship. He was shortlisted for the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing.

 

TBBNQ Reads: Ghana Must Go By Taiye Selasi

BY ASSUMPTA

Guest edited by Ráyò.

Image:  Zaynab .

Image: Zaynab.

I

n Ghana Must Go Taiye Selasi explores the complexities of relationships - familial, amorous and platonic; the devastating effects of breakdowns in such connections; the immigrant hustle; loss; the consequence of shame; and the significance of belonging or feeling as though you do. The novel opens with the death of Kweku Sai in his birthplace - Ghana. The narrative then unfolds through flashbacks that allow the reader experience how each member of the Sai family deals with the news of his death.

Unsurprisingly, it was the title that attracted me to Ghana Must Go. I was curious to know what was being offered by a novel provocatively named after a blue, red and white striped bag that came to prominence in Nigeria in the 80s. The title leads one to expect a story linked to the expulsion of migrants from Nigeria in 1983; this was, however, not in any way related to the plot. Instead, Ghana Must Go tells a story about a family struggling to operate as one and stay together in the face of adversity.

Though the author, Taiye Selasi, uses poetic-prose that is beautifully arresting in parts and original, it often served more as a hurdle rather than a driver of the story; making the first few pages a drag. One sometimes gets distracted by convoluted descriptions and sentences like:

...dewdrops on grass blades like diamonds flung freely from the pouch of some spirit-god who’d just happened by...

Now the whole garden glittering, winking and tittering like schoolgirls who hust themselves, blushing, as their beloveds approach.

 

The Ephemerality Of Home

The concept of home is prevalent throughout Ghana Must Go. Ghanaian doctor Kweku and his Nigerian wife Folasade (Fola), both leave their home countries to study in America, where they meet, fall in love and marry. Kweku and Sade strive to build a home for their four children - Olu, Taiwo, Kehinde and Sadie - in Massachusetts.

They settle in a “perfectly lovely…red brick” colonial that Taiwo finds lacking compared to the other massive houses on their street. This is a metaphor for the plight of many an immigrant in reality – although the life you craft may be perfectly lovely, it could still fall short when compared to those of indigenes, yet that does not abate the desire to keep trying.

When Kweku deserts his family, and moves back to Ghana to build a new home, the one he had created with Fola falls apart, leaving her and their children devoid of a safe-haven when things get tough. This is evidenced later in the book when Taiwo hears the news of her father’s death while in a taxi “and is thinking to ask [the driver] to drive and keep driving, to wherever, not here, not this house-not-a-home, but to where?”

For many, home has always been where their family is, but when families fracture, it is interesting to consider what becomes of said space. In her TED talk, Selasi speaks for people who do not have a singular concept of home. For the people “who feel at home in the town where they grew up, the city they live now and maybe another place or two." For those whose daily experiences and rituals shape their locality and home.

In Ghana Must Go, Selasi gives the reader insight into the transience of the concept of home through the Sai family. Even when Kweku builds his dream house, the picture is not complete because of the lack of family. Rather tragically for the Sais, it takes his passing and their return ‘home’ to Ghana for his funeral, to unite them after years of partial estrangement.

 

The Consequence Of Shame

When Kweku is dismissed from his job and overcome with embarrassment, he leaves “the life of the man he wishes, to be who he has left to become”. In doing so, he becomes the architect of his family’s misfortunes and the humiliation visits them all in some way, shape or form. The use of Kweku as a scapegoat, after the death of a wealthy patient, could be said to be responsible for what happened to the Sais. Ultimately, he had a choice, and instead of sharing his burden with his family, or at the very least his wife Fola, Kweku chose to leave.

“His children used to… intentionally…test him, to weigh the devotion of his profession against his devotion to them.” When Kweku lost his job, it appears as though he lost his devotion to them. However, Selasi does write that “...his devotion to his profession kept a roof over their heads. It wasn’t comparative, a contest, either/or, job versus family… The hours he worked were an expression of his affection.”

While Selasi’s characters are (mostly) believable, she fell short of fully realising some of their potential. For example, after Kweku leaves, Fola is unable to cope with the financial burden. She is too proud to ask a prep school for scholarships for the gifted twins Taiwo and Kehinde, but not too proud to ask an estranged brother for help. While it is understandable that people reach out to family during emergencies, Fola’s actions, in this instance, were a stretch.

The results of humiliation manifest differently in the twins, yet both of them succeed in managing their shared shame, - the cause of which is the most harrowing part of the book - enough to become well-regarded in their fields. Having said that, all the Sai children are not able to fully integrate in the world and sustain relationships in the way average people do.

Sadie, the baby of the family, who always feels as though she is falling short of her exceptional siblings, develops an eating disorder. She seeks solace by periodically immersing herself in a more (seemingly) functional family that is not her own. When thinking of Sadie, the phrase, “trauma is contagious”, springs to mind. She knew Kweku the least and has no real memories of him but is deeply affected by his absence. Despite getting the affection Taiwo believes their mother withheld, Sadie feels like she is dwelling in the shadow of her siblings – given how academically, creatively or aesthetically stunning they all are.

Although there was little room for in depth exploration, given the overwhelming characters, it would have been interesting to see Sadie’s eating disorder further explored. Sadie’s desire to change physically seemed like an attempt to renounce her heritage in order to be more like her best friend's family, deep rooted and weighted in history. This starkly contrasts with her family: “It is that they are weightless, the Sais, scattered fivesome, a family without gravity, completely unbound”. The hint at Sadie’s ambiguous sexual orientation was also glazed over.

 

Life Is A Losing Game

According to Kweku, “frustration is self-pity by another name”. Ghana Must Go is beset with frustration and, more notably, loss. Whether it is the loss of youth, as evidenced by Fola and Kweku’s decision to have their son Olu and become a family. There is also the loss of a dream, as demonstrated by Fola giving up her growing legal career to support Kweku’s ambitions of becoming a surgeon – and a top one at that.

It was frustrating to read Kweku tell Fola that one dream was enough for both of them. One would have hoped she would challenge him, to fight for her right to be a woman who ‘had it all’ – a thriving career and a family. Instead, Selasi chooses to highlight what is sadly still a reality for many women – such regressive rhetoric – particularly in Africa. It brought to mind what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie states in her TedX talk, “we teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man.”

Taiwo’s aspirations, very much like her mother, are eventually derailed by a man. Her losses are grave – loss of a father, her innocence, her best friend, and perhaps a promising career she had worked so hard to build. Selasi leaves Taiwo’s future career prospects fairly open so all is not lost. Her twin, Kehinde, almost loses something far more irreplaceable but is saved by his assistant.

It is as though Olu, the eldest of the Sais, loses his capacity to feel when Kweku leaves. Everything in his life becomes clinical and practical. Even his long-standing relationship with his wife comes across as being devoid of passion and merely functional – save for their lusty moment in Ghana. I personally found Olu the least interesting of Selasi’s characters, yet well drawn in the sense that it is perfectly plausible for someone to turn out the way he does, given what his family goes through.

Overall, Ghana Must Go is a sound debut for Taiye Selasi. The movement between space and time was both ingenious and confusing at points but told well enough for one to invest in the characters and appreciate the story. Selasi has an innate ability to bring subtle observations or character traits to life but this beautiful gift can also hinder the narrative.