In Nwanganga Shields’ novel Coming Back, a young man returns to his Nigerian parents’ homeland to learn more about life there and his family’s history.
Clint is a new college graduate bound for law school, as his parents, a doctor and attorney, expect. But Clint is dissatisfied with his life and becomes increasingly drawn to Nigeria, a country he visited once with his parents.
After deferring enrollment in law school, he travels to Nigeria, where he lives with his grandmother Esther in the village of Aro Chukwu. There, he meets family members and learns about native traditions and beliefs. He is particularly interested in the history of the slave culture. Clint has been plagued since childhood of dreams he is a boy living in a Nigerian village and captured into slavery. In Nigeria, the dreams continue and Clint learns that the Aro Chukwu people believe that death is not the end of life, but that one returns after death to live again “as a child to some member of your family, and your next life is better than the previous life.” Clint believes that in his former life he was his grandfather, Achi, who was a slave as a boy.
This story is strong on Nigerian history, culture and traditions, and skillfully illustrates the divide between those who live a contemporary life in the U.S. and those who cling to traditional Nigerian ways. The main characters are layered and well developed.
However, the numerous minor characters can be difficult to keep track of. And while the plot moves at a reasonable pace, the dialogue sometimes feels stilted. For example, when Clint’s friend suggests he ask a classmate to the prom, Clint responds, “I can’t. I hardly know her. We’ve spoken a total of four times this year. I’m afraid of rejection.”
Nonetheless, the book will offer rewards to those interested in African culture and history.
Also available as an ebook.