Friday, October 10, 2008

Thanks to the Africa Reading Challenge hosted over at siphoning off a few thoughts, I've finally managed to prioritize reading the fantastically named MY MERCEDES IS BIGGER THAN YOURS by Nkem Nwankwo. Onuma in fact swans around in a gold Jaguar, rather than a Mercedes, but that's just nit-picking - the Mercedes appears several times throughout the book in the hands of other drivers as a status symbol. At one point Onuma, sans Jaguar, refuses to take public transport because of the drop in status he feels this shows, and a lift he is offered in an aquaintance's Mercedes rankles hugely. Nwankwo's satirical take on changes in Nigerian civil life was published in 1975 and is long out of print. It has a couple of psychedelically orange-coloured ladies on the cover looking heavenwards towards a floating Mercedes emblem (if I can ever figure out how to scan and upload images, I'll be sure to show you this one!). Nwankwo produced two books of stories for teens and his first novel DANDA (1964) before this title. His third novel THE SCAPEGOAT (1984) was, I understand his last. All of these books are now out of print.

I must admit the opening page nearly put me off the entire experience, and is frankly well deserving of the Bad Sex in Fiction Award (look away now if you think you might be offended!):
Once upon a time a young man was savouring the pleasures of a new car. He was thinking that there were really occasions when a car seemed to drive itself as it were, seemed to respond to some remote stimulus independent of the driver. It had its moments of cursedness, of course, when it whined and snorted for no particular reason, then there were moments of heavenly smoothness when it floated on the crest of some intangible wave.
It was like when you have gone into a woman. Some of the time is taken up with clumsy flopping about; trying futilely to find the perfect position and rhythm. Then there are moments of complete synchronization of limbs which seem to come about without effort. There is then an access of energy and the two bodies seem to fuse into one through some mysterious alchemy of blood. Desire and the explosions of joy in tidal waves originating from impulses as mysterious as they are arbitrary. (p.1)
Okaaaay. A little over the top! Judicious editing would have helped this book along - unfortunately for the reader there are similar passages dotted about throughout the book although I suppose these serve to remind us that all Onuma is interested in (other than accruing wealth and status) are cars and women. The quotation above continues:
He would soon be home. Already familiar landmarks were flashing by: occasional clusters of giant trees, the scene of childhood escapades, wooden stores and brothels that stood where once, in his memory, had been wide lawns and friendly trees. Hard-boiled as the young man was, or thought he was, the prospect of the clearing in the forest he knew as home never failed to move him deeply. Involuntarily he broke into a song of praise to home.The song and the exhilaration of spirits and the effortless drive through the balmy twilight almost brought tears to his eyes. He waved to a number of naked children who were grubbing about by the wayside. He failed to notice their nakedness and squalor. He saw them only through the haze of his happiness. My people! My country! he thought. His sense of well-being seemed an augury of a happy return. (p.2)
Why not have left out the first sexed-up bit and simply opened with the second quotation? The latter quotation illustrates why the book is worth reading, capturing homecoming after years of living elsewhere perfectly.

So it is that Onuma, having made some money in the urban metropolis, returns to his home village after a fifteen year absence, to prove how well he has done to both the family and the extended community. Pride (as always) comes before a fall, however, and the story follows what happens as Onuma gets caught up in showing off rather than simply enjoying the pleasures of home. Nwankwo's descriptions of rural village life are grittily observed and make the book worth reading. Local politics rears its ugly head, as do issues related to family ties, and of course all of this is tied up with the fate of the golden jaguar...

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home