KWENU: Our Culture, Our Future
Thursday 23 April 2009
A Snake Under A Thatch
(ISBN: ISBN13: 978-1-4363-6378-5: Xlibris Corporation, USA, 2008; p.266; Price, $19.99)
Chike Momah’s fifth book, A Snake Under A Thatch is a befitting sequel to his debut novel, Friends And Dreams. Momah cleverly brings to a full circle and completion the story told in his earlier work, and he does so with a deft touch of a societal and cultural raconteur combined.
In continuing the saga of friendship and duplicity, which began in his cliffhanger first novel, Momah seeks the redemption of his protagonist, Cyril Jideofo. Much of the book is devoted to Cyril’s blind search for justice and redemption, encapsulated in a lost letter -- a DNA of sorts, being the only way that would prove his innocence and clear his name from eternal perdition. Cyril had earlier on been betrayed by his trusted but drug-trafficking friend, Bernard Ekwekwe, resulting in the former spending eight fateful year in jail for a crime he neither committed nor was aware of, and another twenty years trying to clear his name, while “living through the agony of frustrations about whether Bernard’s letter would ever surface.”
Consequently, Cyril’s everyday life and the ill fortune that had befallen him is meshed, along with his fixation with the unkindness and the deeply cruel injustice of the American justice system, which had been seemingly blind to his innocence. As Cyril proclaimed, “I was the unwilling guest of the United States Government’’ (p.9) and “my mind was on my sense of the American system of justice that had me incarcerated for someone else’s crime” (p.222).
A Snake Under A Thatch, like Momah’s prequel, is set in New Jersey, USA. Though Cyril Jideofo had done his time and restitution to society and was presumably rehabilitated, started a family, found a good job with a Nigerian-owned accounting firm, and had the support of his loved ones relative and friends, his life was clearly devoid of reason and mission, so long as he carried the dubious distinction of being a convicted felon. The proverbial admonishment of being careful about what one wished for seemed well suited for Cyril’s insensate search for the truth, for justice, and for redemption. What Cyril sought eventually came, but not before the many twists and turns of revelatory life’s encounters and a surfeit of human foibles.
Intertwined and meshed into Cyril’s life and quest for a liberating answer to his downfall is an endearing daughter, Chizube, a precious and gifted athlete. She is the jewel on Cyril’s crown and remained so. What Cyril saw in his daughter was clearly what others also appreciated. Enter Jacob Bola Akande, an Ivy-league smart student, who soon after he meets Cyril’s daughter, Chizube, falls madly in love with her. In him, Cyril finds a disquieting parallel of himself during his courtship many years before.
Although Bola and Chizube were scarcely a mismatch, Bola’s mother, Hannah, inexplicably cast them as irreconcilable distracts; yet, she was unyielding in proffering her reasons for such a reservation. Unlike Cyril Jideofo and his wife Rosemary, who accepts Bola for whom he is, Hannah, though manifestly fond of Chizube, is puzzlingly hesitant and indeed opposed to the two young lads having a relationship. None the wiser, Bola, who is supposedly Yoruba, initially attributes his mother’s disinclination to the historical dichotomy between her Yoruba nation and Chizube’s Igbo nation. However, Bola had another twisted problem: he does not know his father, but he suspects that he is Igbo -- two facts his mother is loath to discuss, least of all confirm.
As the years wore thin, and Cyril’s hope for finding the redeeming missive began to fade despite his resolute determination, A Snake Under A Thatch takes an unexpectedly twisted turn, one of many there is in the novel. Damaged egregiously by a gross act of hubris and betrayal by a friend, the deep hurt is so indelible that not even the forces of temperance could assuage Cyril of the attending anger and dreads of future ills. Whereas life does not always guarantee a second act, Cyril Jideofo needed one badly and fate acquiesced.
Though unseemly, a fortuitous twist of fate led Cyril and his wife Rosemary to come to the aid of Joy Udozo, the pregnant wife of Obi Udozo, casting aside their hurt about her husband’s role and the impact his lying caused Cyril.
At the juncture when his search for Bernard Ekwekwe’s letter had gone very cold, lady luck smiled on Cyril when, by a fluke and mere happenstance, he obtains a critical piece of information at a welcoming party for him and his family. That information pointed to the whereabouts of Obi Udozo, the one individual, who having known that Cyril was utterly innocent of the charges preferred against him, had committed perjury in order to save his own skin, thus underlying Cyril’s presumed guilt and his eventual eight years in the slammer.
Finding the elusive letter became for Cyril, all consuming, and as dramatic and abiding, as one would expect. Still, he finds it in himself to forgive a dying Obi Udozo on his deathbed, while noting that he would never find the compassion to forgive his betrayer, Bernard Ekwekwe. The novel’s denouement comes not at that critical juncture but in what was indeed a masterfully crafted and contrived mind-blowing climax at the Newark International Airport, when Hannah tells Bola the unscripted and unvarnished story of his life. That terse diminutive is explosive beyond imagination, confirming as it were, the acuity and artifice powers of Momah’s plots and storytelling.
In A Snake Under A Thatch, Chike Momah continues his keen and deepening interest in chronicling the Nigerian Diaspora, especially the Igbo ethnic group. In this sequel to Friends and Dreams, a remarkable shift from his most recent book, Momah achieves and indeed recaptures the allure of his ennobling storytelling riposte; and so, with charm and effortless grace of someone deeply in love with his characters and setting and, therefore, uncannily knowledgeable about them.
Chike Momah essays a defining exposition for those unversed in and even those familiar with the effervescence ways of the Nigerian Igbo community. While doing so, he also unmasks the pained inner working and deep-seated dichotomies that confronts the Igbo Diaspora in America, which underlines prevailing cultural fault lines, and the continual loss of valued cultural cachet that once made the Igbo gregarious but very enterprising and united people. Clearly embedded in the work, are pointers to how valued norms of Igbo culture “within the American Igbo community inevitably lost some of its luster” (p.226), having been rubbished and mostly due to expediency.
Momah also virtuously but unapologetically chronicles the goings-on amongst the transplanted Igbo in America, the place of their ubiquitous community-based organizations in their lives, as well as the evident dissonance it routinely conjures. He highlights the culture of praise names, and the horror of the realization that Igbo was a dying language amongst its speakers. In this work, which is a cleft of a love story and an interpersonal and sociological saga, Momah successfully unearths as much as he reconciles the conflicting ethos and the troubling clash of Igbo culture and personalities. The book’s title, A Snake Under A Thatch, which is literarily translated from the Igbo dictum, agwo no n'akirika, is apt under the circumstance.
I hardly found any serious point of peeve or disputation in this novel’s substance, form or flow. Except for one devil’s print, there were only two silly issues of misplaced specifics; the attribution of the “keep hope alive” mantra to sports icon Reggie Jackson instead of Jesse Jackson (p.139) and the misnomer of studio apartment with a separate bedroom (p.157).
A Snake Under A Thatch is an elating work that rests on the foundation of human flaws, foibles and virtue, with key strands such as betrayal, poetic justice, repentance, gratitude, the power of the unknown, the tenacity of the wrongly accused and wholesome forgiveness. Inter-laced in between all these, is the poignancy of unfettered love and its unremitting and liberating power. The moral of the story, however, is that no matter how acutely illicit and cutting any betrayal might be, the greater remedy is not vengeance, as it is forgiveness. As usual, Chike Momah delivers so effortlessly, an embracing and joyful read.
Mr. Oseloka Obaze is a founding member of the Kwenu.com Book Review Forum, which is dedicated to the promotion of books with Igbo and Afrocentric themes. He is also a supporting Member of the African Writers Endowment (AWE). From 1999 to 2005, he served on the editorial board of INYEAKA, the journal of Songhai Charities, Inc., a New Jersey community-based charity founded and run by Nigerians based in New York Tri-state area in the United States, first as its founding Publisher and later as the Editor-At-Large. He is also on the editorial board of The Amaka Gazette, the journal of the Christ the King College, Onitsha Alumni Association in America. His collection of poems, “Regarscent Past: A Collection of Poems” was second among the top three finalists in the poetry category in the African Writers Endowment Publishing Grant Program for 2004. He is working on a novel titled “Happy Eulogy”. He reviews books and arts strictly as a hobby. © Copyright 23 April 2009.
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