A chorus of voices and perspectives brings small-town Nigeria to life in this debut collection of short stories.
It comes as no surprise that Total Recall I ends with an homage to the “grandfather of African literature,” Chinua Achebe. After all, Achebe’s influence is reflected not just in the book’s reliance on the oral traditions of the Igbo people but also in the generous weaving of Nigerian folktales into the stories’ fabric. Based on recollections (the titular “total recall”) by the author’s mother, this set of loosely interlinked short stories explores various facets of Nigerian small-town life.
While predictable tropes involving witch doctors and outdated superstitions are thrown in, the narrative often explains these customs from the African point of view. Set mostly in the small town of Obomkpa, these tales more or less fulfill their goal to “understand why Africans do their things the way the world has become accustomed to,” but they are weighed down by plodding writing (one really wishes the author would embrace pronouns) and a staggering number of confusing names: “‘Tell Nzemeka to bring them tomorrow,’ Chukwuma told her. Ejime saw Nzemeke and told him what Chukwuma said. When Nzemeke got to town, he came and told me that Chukwuma Nwasor said to bring us tomorrow.”
In its relentless focus on the inner machinations of small-town Nigeria, the collection also unfortunately ends up missing the forest for the trees. Firmly placing the stories in a context of time and place would have helped them pack a bigger punch.
In sum, stilted writing and a dizzying cast of characters mar this otherwise whimsical collection of stories from a little-known part of the world.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.