Archive for April, 2010

Ozumba’s novel completes a “Nigerian trilogy”

There was a satisfying feel to this month’s group in that Kachi A. Ozumba’s The Shadow of a Smile was the third Nigerian novel the Berwick group has read, each novel from a different era.
The very first book the group ever read was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, set in the troubled period of the 1970s Biafran conflict. A few months later, we read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, published much earlier in 1958. Reading Ozumba’s more modern reflection on justice and corruption felt like a natural progression.
As Ann pointed out, the novel’s strength is in its exploration of the big ideas of justice and injustice in its many forms. The scenes of violence and the scale of corruption, seen through the eyes of the naive character of Zuba, did not make for a comfortable read. The powerful prison images will stay with many readers for some time to come – certainly Ozumba does not spare the reader’s feelings with his graphic descriptions.
Some found the book compelling, with evidence that Ozumba is a future writing talent to reckon with. For others, the book’s flaws prevented them from giving it top marks. The writing style is – perhaps understandably – a mixture of the African storytelling tradition, with its elements of fable (Ann saw Zuba as rather like a Christ-figure, for example in his feeding of the ‘fallen woman’ in the prison cell) and the western tradition with its classic story arc and more complex characters. There is evidence of this western tradition in Zuba’s relationship with his father and his feelings for Tanna. The conflicting styles make the tone less consistent.
There was a feeling that the characters – particularly the female ones – were not quite developed enough for some readers’ tastes. We were intrigued by the ambivalent character of Ike and liked the way the novel ended without full closure.
It was a tough read and some readers admitted they gave up. One of the problems was repetition (Zuba going in and out of the cells and the use of some similar descriptions). Another was the occasional use of cliched adjectives (“ample bosom” was one that rankled with me!). Some of us also found the humour very “male” and unappealing (for example, the bodily functions and the father ogling the nurse).
This, however, is a first novel and Ozumba’s talent is obvious. We’ll be looking out for his other work.
Join us next month for a discussion on Colm Toibin’s Costa Novel Award winning Brooklyn.
Next meeting: Tuesday 4th May, 6.30pm. Doolally’s on Marygate, Berwick upon Tweed.


About the book group

The Berwick Book Group meets on the first Tuesday of every month at the First Class Passenger Lounge on the platform of Berwick Train Station at 6.30pm.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit

April 2010
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