Book Review: Maik Nwosu Weaves Reality, Fantasy & Magic in ‘A Gecko’s Farewell’
TITLE: A Gecko’s Farewell
Author: Maik Nwosu
Length: 256 pages
Genre: Fiction, Speculative Fiction
Publisher/Year: Parresia Publishers Ltd/2016
Reviewer: Obinna Udenwe
Writers who hope to make their mark must continually re-invent themselves and their craft. A great book must hold the reader captive with its narrative and descriptive powers – its plot must leave strong images in the reader’s mind, long after closing the book. These are what set Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude apart from other books. It is why the book continues to resonate throughout time. For years, African literature has sought books that could take such a stance – in the way it transports one into the world of reality, magic and fairytales created with vivid detail, and with characters who live life such that we see bits of ourselves in their activities and attributes. This is what Maik Nwosu has given the world in A Gecko’s Farewell.
Recently, African writers have grappled with telling the migration story. Writers like Teju Cole, Chimamanda Adichie, Chika Unigwe, Imbolo Mbue, Noviolet Bulawayo, Zukiswa Wanner and many more have tried and succeeded differently with this form of literary narrative, but Maik Nwosu brings a new experiment to the table and it is one as successful as no other. In the style of Marquez, the voice of Junot Diaz and the laid-back narrative style of Haruki Murakami, we follow the lives of three Africans in A Gecko’s Farewell, as they escape the continent in search of inner-peace and a better life.
A Gecko’s Farewell is the story of Etiaba (Nigeria), Nadia (Egypt) and Mzilikazi (South Africa). They each face challenges that force them out of their home countries to far away cities where they question their prior held definition of the word ‘home’ and learn that home is where the heart is. These three characters; Etiaba now living in New York, Nadia in Paris and Mzilikazi in London meet on the internet, on a website called Gecko X created by Etiaba to connect souls searching for a place to commune with fellow wanderers.
We follow the life of Etiaba, a young village teacher under the tutelage of Dr. Lookout who returns to Lagos after life in Sa’ra village becomes meaningless. In the city he comes face to face with the desolation that symbolises the Nigerian state and is seized by a desire to travel overseas. Through him we visit the American embassy where people stand in line for weeks to get interviewed, inventing all forms of lies and lives to escape the country’s harsh realities.
While Etiaba struggles in Nigeria, Nadia, a student photographer in Cairo lands a job with Al-Ahram, a respected news agency, but her escape from Egypt becomes imminent when she photographs a man who goes on to detonate a bomb inside a classy hotel. And in South Africa, Mzilikazi escapes death in Lamb Town when Cecil Rhodes Jnr., a white supremacist uses an untested veterinary drug meant for baboons on the unsuspecting villagers.
The book begins in the village of Sa’ra where dogs outnumber humans and villagers who haven’t recovered from the Nigeria-Biafra war engage in all sorts of activities to pass time and survive. In this village, Dr. Lookout — an Oxford University experimental physicist and local school principal embarks on one experiment after another. But he will be stopped by the military force of His Excellency, the president of Nigeria – who in reality is a satirical representation of a former military dictator, spreading death and anguish wherever he visits.
His Excellency’s visit to Sa’ra would cause the deployment of hundreds of soldiers to kill the ‘famous Sa’ra dogs’ and Dr. Lookout and Etiaba’s problems would begin.
Gecko X serves as the centre of their stories through which we follow a web of sub plots and radiant characters – we learn of Christopher Okigbo, the Nigerian poet who died during the Biafran war and whose voice would follow Etiaba all about, we learn of Miguel, a professor whose life is as complex as that of Father Lobito, Mzilikazi’s benefactor – a former Catholic priest who fell in love with a woman and left the priesthood, and we read of Leila of Leila Island in Alexandria, the woman of passion and love whose hotel is the meeting point of lovers and art and Amer Sadiq who goes missing in Alexandria when a bomb explodes in Cairo and many others.
In A Gecko’s Farewell’s twelve sections, Maik Nwosu tells the story of these three Africans in their own voices as their lives become a metaphor for transitioning from one phase to the other. His descriptive powers mixed with humour hold the reader captive. In page 62 we read:
“Father Lobito made a full confession and announced his decision to marry the woman who had brought about his fall in the first place. The church was aghast. First, Father Lobito was summoned to a retreat with the bishop. It did not change his intention. He was then invited to another retreat, with the cardinal. He came out of it sober but still unwilling to cancel his marriage plan. The local church quickly organised his evacuation to the Vatican for a retreat with the pope. . . .”
Vivid pictures of the Nigerian situation abound too.
“Everywhere I looked, especially when I returned to lagos, there were schools. There were schools in marketplaces, in people’s kitchens, in hotel lobbies, under flyovers. Almost everyone I met had one certificate or the other from a school with a windy name. Mama Ibeji, the woman who fried akara by the corner, had a certificate the size of a small window, in Aromatic Technology, from the Institute for Aromatic Excellence. Jonas, the new security guard had one in Supernatural Security from the Polytechnic for the Surveillance of Everything. ‘I even learned mamiwota security,’ he told me proudly”. Page 252/253.
But most importantly, we learn that:
‘Every generation arrives at the frontier all over again, and it has to try and open new doors or widen the old gates’.