by Akumbu Uche
Every so often, a journalist will try his hand at fiction. Daily Trust’s arts correspondent, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim is the latest to do so; prompting the question, do journalists make good fiction writers?
Put out by Parresia, Ibrahim’s The Whispering Trees is a slim collection of 12 stories, some earlier published on literary sites such as Hack Writers, African Writing and Sentinel Nigeria. (Parresia co-founder, Richard Ali is also an editor at Sentinel)
The Whispering Trees, makes easy, enlightening and occasionally, humorous reading and a subtly didactic prose style distilled with clear language, straightforward and short sentences – no doubt influenced by the author’s newspaper career – promises to secure this book a much better fate than Ibrahim’s literary debut, the poorly circulated novel, A Quest for Nina.
Ibrahim may be adept at compression but he is yet to perfect the sleight of hand needed to pull off suspense. For instance, in Night Calls, framed-for-murder Santi attempts to clear his name by recording the real perpetrator’s confession but when he half prophesies his running out of tape, the reader is cheated out of a climactic experience.
Sharper-eyed editors could have pointed out to the author that there is a thin line between foreshadowing and spoiling the show.
As indicated by the titling of the book as well as the stories Twilight and Mist and Cry of the Witch, magic is a recurring theme and characters are subject to the interplay of nature and the mystical in their lives.
A good number of the stories feature butterflies and moths as heralds of evil and enchantment. In Pledge of Fidelity, the mysterious Gambo not only wears a butterfly-speckled wrapper, the mere fluttering of her eyelids, imitative of “frisky butterflies dancing”, seduces the narrator.
Indeed, the author’s lepidopterophilia inspires a beautifully illustrated cover but when butterflies “bursting into incandescent colours”, “flapping their wings”, flit from page to page, story-to-story, dancing and “floating giddily” across rooms and characters’ faces, “sapphire lights glinting off their wings”, it borders on irritating.
There is much however that is good with Ibrahim’s work.
Dear Mother with its theme of domestic violence echoes the radio play A Bull Man’s Story, for which he won the 2007 BBC African Performance Prize.
Back then, he received praise for his ability to get into the mind of a child and now he displays an empathy for women.
An unhappy bride wrestles with guilt as she contemplates adultery and abortion in The Garbage Man while Closure is a depiction of two women mourning the death of their brother and husband in different but disturbing ways.
His male characters are just as emotionally fractured. In The Whirlwind, a father’s erotic attachment to his petulant teenage daughter puts his marriage under strain and the narrator in the titular story plummets into a deep, dark melancholy after losing his eyesight.
It is understandable that Ibrahim would wish to embellish his writing but in this collection, it is the stories portraying characters living their everyday lives, not the fantastic, which convey artistic beauty.