“During the rainy season of 1995, in the bustling town of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, one family’s life is disrupted by the sudden disappearance of seventeen-year-old Paul Utu, beloved brother and son. As they grapple with the sudden loss of their darling boy, they embark on a painful and moving journey of immense power which changes their lives forever and shatters the fragile ecosystem of their once ordered family. Ajie, the youngest sibling, is burdened with the guilt of having seen Paul last and convinced that his vanished brother was betrayed long ago. But his search for the truth uncovers hidden family secrets and reawakens old, long forgotten ghosts as rumours of police brutality, oil shortages, and frenzied student protests serve as a backdrop to his pursuit.” Source: Penguin Random House.
1995. The Political.
Nigeria has asserted its independence from Britain 35 years ago, but the devastating aftermath still resonates through all fronts of the post-colonial struggle. The militarized government (overturned and replaced in coups multiple times) executes human-rights activists it labels dissidents (BBC News). University students take to the streets in protest as reports of police brutality percolate the toxic atmosphere.
As metaphorical darkness reigns, the (actual, physical) lights go out. Nigeria’s primary provider of electricity cannot sustain the country’s expanding grid as oil shortages are reported. Big Oil has been plundering the Nigerian landscape for years (Ogoni people struggle with Shell Oil, Nigeria, 1990-1995), and now the economic havoc caused by the wreckage comes into focus.
1995. The Personal (Is Political).
Young Ajie is plagued by guilt. Last to see his brother Paul, Ajie cannot stop turning the events of that day over in his mind, looking for clues to Paul’s disappearance. Later, he recalls:
“Things happen in clusters. They would remember it as the year the Mile Three ultramodern market burned down in the middle of the night… It was the year of the poor. Of rumors, radio announcements, student riots and sudden disappearances. It was also the year news reached them of their home village, Ogibah, that five young men had been shot dead by the square in broad daylight.”
And After Many Days weaves the story of Paul’s disappearance into a broad tapestry that evokes the plight of a country fighting for its identity after hundreds of years of colonization. As Ajie and his family think about what may have happened to Paul, they recount the story of their family, and, in the process, of Nigeria. It is a striking contrast: told through a young boys’ eyes, the quotidian aspects of life, even amidst the violence, emit an optimistic sheen; still, profound loss is the driving force of the novel, in both the personal and political dimensions.
As a novel, And After Many Days does not work terribly well, because it lacks a plot and compelling force that drives the story forward. Rather, AAMD unfolds as a casual stroll through Nigeria (in space, and time), with commentary. Still, this commentary for me is worth four hearts – I knew embarrassingly little about Nigerian history before picking up this book, and Ile’s work taught me a pinch while sparking my interest in learning more, and in seeking out other Nigerian authors.