Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Season of Crimson Blossoms is a story of a family dealing with the aftermath of the religious and ethnic unrests that plagued Jos between 2008 and 2010. These unrests resulted in the death of thousands, and saw neighbour turn against neighbour; damaging the sense of community that once existed. In the wake of this, the protagonist - Hajiya Binta - is relocated to the outskirts of Abuja by her wealthy son, Munkaila, when we encounter her story. This phase of her life is foreshadowed and doomed both by the title of the narrative and the opening tone.
By making central grief and trauma, the author shows the way they can manifest themselves regardless of time and distance, and simultaneously, bring people together. He shows grief across different age groups, particularly as pertained to death. His telling of grief reminds the reader that war and insecurity, like that faced in the middle belt of Nigeria, have repercussions beyond the physical. This narrative elicits an important conversation on psychological trauma.
Magic Realism Or Just Realism?
Be it in the bedroom with Hajiya or amongst his friends at San Siro, Reza - a kingpin area boy - is rarely without a joint in hand. In this sense, one can understand why critics pool the book into the genre of “magic realism” as fumes of perfume and cannabis are prevalent narrative constructs throughout. When under the influence of the drug, the reader observes a distinct shift in Reza’s tone: he either takes on a morbid philosophical perspective, or vocalises a dissatisfaction with his childhood.
The cannabis rounds out his character so that we see both the damage his childhood wrought on his psyche, and the potential within him to achieve a lot more than his current occupation allows. In a way, this could be viewed as a fair attempt to buy into a “magic.” However, Ibrahim’s exclusion of how images could be distorted under the fumes of this substance, takes away a layer of complexity that makes it hard to wholly identify with the categorisation of this novel as magic realism.
San Siro: Not Just A Place In Milan
That aside, I particularly enjoyed the construct and discussion of San Siro which is located within a predominantly Muslim community. San Siro negates the idea that occupants of the same locale have the same lived experiences. It operates with its own set of rules – scoffing in the face of governmental authority. It is also the place where area boys and runaways hang out, buy drugs and find women with whom they can carouse. San Siro’s occupants are heathens; refraining from all religious activity, partaking in illegal activity and constituting general nuisance with their late-night revelry.
The community provides a sharp contrast between the domesticity of Hajiya’s house and the grandiose comical performance Reza is treated to when visiting the Senator – his boss. The occupants that make up San Siro sought escape from parental and societal expectations of ‘normalcy’. Despite their eccentricities, an appraisal of Nigeria’s economic climate makes it near impossible not to understand what drives these men to seek unconventional ways of life. Ibrahim’s presentation of the group dynamics makes this bunch of men, oddly, very loveable.
The Collision Of Passion And Trauma
As one reads on, the novel’s title - Season of Crimson Blossoms - becomes cliché in the context of the story. The idea of passion blooming dangerously is linked to the affair between Hajiya and Reza: an affair that has repercussions in the familial, in employment and personally. I found the reasoning the author used to string the two characters together rather disappointing as I believe it affected the affair’s ability to be compelling for the reader.
Reza as a reminder to Hajiya of her lost son is a complex enough setting for a sexual relationship. Ibrahim’s decision to therefore have Hajiya remind Reza of his own mother is confounding. The incestual undertones are already pronounced from one angle; highlighting it from both angles felt like an overkill. It seemed there had to be a reason for Reza’s attraction – as though there could not have been an organic attraction between a 20-something year old man and a 50-something year old woman.
The linking of Yaro to Reza is interesting from a psychoanalytic point of view. There is residual trauma within Hajiya - majority of which is linked to silence. Given Hajiya’s inability to refer to her first born by name or show him affection, and the demanded silence from her husband during sexual intercourse, there seems to be a freedom in the ability to talk to Reza from both the position of mother and lover.
The advice she offers him on ways to secure a better future is juxtaposed against her cries of passion when bent over her bathroom sink during a liaison. There is a recapturing of her youth that does not require an escape from her body. In contrast, for Reza, the affair with Hajiya, which has been beneficial for storing his impressive wealth, quickly becomes a chore. This is more pronounced when he is forced into close proximity with an attractive young woman he holds in captivity.
Female Characters Anonymous
Aside from the attention paid to the construct of Hajiya’s character, Ibrahim’s writing of female characters was very limited. I was displeased by the lack of development of other female characters as I saw the potential for characters like Hajiya’s daughters - Hureira and Hadiza - to elevate the narrative, if explored beyond surface level. This lack of attention to characterisation made it hard to believe that these women share a lived history.
Of all, Fa’iza’s story had the most untapped potential, as it is through her that the reader gets pulled into a conversation on mental health. The lack of consistency in the portrayal of her character reduces the impact this sub-story could have had on the overall story. My guess is that Ibrahim, perhaps, lacked the tools to adequately depict traumatised teenage womanhood. It could also be that this narrative path did not hold the same urgency for him as it did for me.
The Constancy of Nigerian Political Authority
In terms of wins, the author excellently portrays Nigerian politics in Season of Crimson Blossoms. The character – Senator Buba Maikudi – represents politicians in Nigeria to perfection. Set in his belief that his actions, no matter how illegal, are beneficial to the sustainability of the country, the Senator fails to see how his use of boys like Reza to carry out the dirty work that comes with kleptocratic politics keeps the same cycles alive.
The interjection during one of these meetings by his son shows the disparity between what politicians promise the country and what they offer to their children. The son, educated abroad pays no attention to Reza, showing a clear disregard for him based on perceived financial hierarchies. I say perceived because the son is reliant on his father for all financial needs — meaning that, he has accumulated no personal wealth.
Wherein, towards the end of the book, we realise that Reza’s hustling has yielded money to his name. The sheen of a foreign accent and exposure to communities beyond Abuja and Africa, allow for Maikudi’s son to feel securely superior. I must, however, say this representation of children who have had the privilege of receiving a foreign education is a tired one in the Nigerian literary canon. This, notwithstanding does not deny the fact that there is merit in this portrayal.
In all, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Season of Crimson Blossoms was a bitter sweet read. Laying it against the many accolades it has received since its publication in 2015, including the $100,000 LNLG Nigeria Prize for Literature, my expectations were far from met. For me, this was another novel with the potential for greatness helmed by a writer unable to create fully formed female characters – a problem which in turn affects the construction of male characters. Would I read this novel again? Honestly not likely.