4 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
Reminiscent of Chinua Achebe’s African trilogy, Oladele Olusanya’s A Time of Troubles is book 2 of the Itan – Legends of the Golden Age series. All books in the series (Gods and Heroes, A Time of Troubles, A New Age, and Semimotu and Other Stories) make up a wonderful fresco of Yorubaland and the Yoruba people, an ethnic group inhabiting western Africa, mainly Nigeria. If the first novel in the series relies on the fascinating tales of ancient Yoruba gods and heroes, A Time of Troubles follows the stories of war, displacement, and tragedy that marked the dramatic years of the nineteenth century.
In the foreword, the author confesses that his intention was to continue the tradition of the “arokens”, the ancient storytellers of the Yoruba people. Based on the tales of the Old Woman, his grandmother, and his mother, the stories in this historical novel have preserved the unmistakable charm of the oral tradition. The novel acquires epic dimensions when the author focuses on major historical figures and historic wars and battles fought by the Yoruba tribes among themselves or against the British colonists.
What I absolutely loved about this book was its genuine air of authenticity. The cover image and chapter illustrations are original art compositions by the author and Dipo Alao, a contemporary Yoruba artist. Each of the seven chapters is preceded by an original verse or quotation in Yoruba translated into English. All the pages of the novel are imbued with culture-specific terms referring to various customs and traditions, religious superstitions, local cuisine, clothing, names of musical instruments, or social ranks. The potential exoticism is counterbalanced by the realistic description of the day-to-day life of ordinary people who tried to make sense of the changes around them.
Contrasting the legacy of the Yoruba culture and history with the devastating effects of colonization, the author brings back to life an era called “igba inira”, a time of hardship and troubles. Like any extraordinary epoch, this historical period had its legendary figures. Step by step, each chapter revives the image of such a protagonist. The first two chapters, A New City by the Sea and Omo Eko, are dedicated to the impressive life story of Odumosu, an Ijebu native captured as a slave in his youth and later ironically turned into a wealthy slave trader and one of the most influential merchants in Lagos. Odumosu’s story is a pretext for the author to describe the corrupting and debilitating influence of slavery, the ensuing “Bombardment of Lagos”, and its formal annexation by the British.
A tribute to both his family history and the Yoruba past, chapters three to seven follow some prominent members of the author’s family. Chapter 3, The Warrior from Ife, weaves the story of Solaru, his great-great-grandfather. Born in Ife-Ife, he goes to Ibadan to become one of the war-boys who engaged in stirring battles to defend Yorubaland. Solaru’s son, Solesi, is featured in chapter 4, War-boy, and chapter 5, Solesi of Ikenne. I was impressed not only by Solesi’s amazing life journey from a drum boy to an important chieftain, but also by the fact that he was one of the pioneers of traditional Yoruba music. The last two chapters, War Comes to Ijebu and Baba Mamu, revolve around the author’s grandfather, Odusanya, a witness to the momentous events of the era. These include the signing of the peace treaty to end the Kiriji war, the massacre of around 2000 native warriors during the rebellion of the indigenous tribes against the British, and the establishment of the British Protectorate over the whole of the Yorubaland.
Fans of historical fiction at its finest will find this novel an engrossing read. The level of historical documentation is truly exceptional. Considering the intricate network of characters and the embedded narrative threads, the novel flows easily. Narrated in the style of the ancient stories, A Time of Troubles gives birth to a number of larger-than-life characters. Sometimes, there are gruesome details of certain war scenes. However, these are not disturbing because they become an integral part of the epic dimension of the book. Since the male protagonists usually have polygamous households, there are also descriptions of some erotic scenes that are not exactly explicit, but rather metaphorical and even mystical.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book to those interested in postcolonial novels and the history of colonialism. With patience and objectivity, the author skillfully unfolds the history of the British colonization of Yorubaland. He depicts the irreversible changes in the social, economic, religious, cultural, and political spheres of life. Despite the fact that the novel has almost 450 pages, Oladele Olusanya obviously did a great job of fixing any potential editing errors. All things considered, I have no hesitation in rating it 4 out of 4 stars. Last but not least, I am looking forward to reading the other books in the series. I have high expectations because the novel ends on an optimistic note. The whole book reiterates the idea of preserving the cultural legacy of the past while looking positively toward the future.
A time of troubles
View: on Bookshelves
Like cristinaro's review? Post a comment saying so!