Imminent River. In this novel written by Anaele Ihuoma, I wasn’t sure what to expect. From the title of the book, I imagined a story set on the banks of a great river, or perhaps a story about ‘living waters’ flowing through imaginary hills or cascading down an imaginary terrain; a story that ebbed its way through dangerous and treacherous waters. With mermaids. Or big fish. Then I realised I was letting my imagination swim away with me. So I settled down to read.
As I read the first chapter, I smiled and fastened my imaginary seatbelt. I realised this book was about to take me on a journey flowing through time… on a course with ceaseless tides, both high and low, strewn with endless currents of scheming and mind-bending intrigue. I was enthralled. And I had 45 chapters and 316 pages of pure magic ahead of me.
Imminent River by Anaele Ihuoma was about to change the course of time.
Written in three parts, Imminent River takes us back in time to Africa in the early 19th Century. The book is set in the hinterlands of western Africa and opens with the detailed description of a traditional rural African community in which the protagonist, Daa-Mbiiway lives, giving us insight into what life was like during this period. She lives in a location thought to be in the environs of Ogidi, Onitsha and Asaba, located in the south-eastern part of Nigeria, to be precise.
Meticulously researched and written in fine detail, we encounter Daa-Mbiiway, the strong and resilient traditional healer who sets the pace for the book. A gentle middle-aged woman, her life is an embodiment of the African spirit, of harmony with nature, of perseverance and determination, typical of the indigenous African traditional healer that she was. More importantly, she had developed a medicinal formula for longevity which only she could pass on to a chosen one.
At first, one would think Daa-Mbiiway is the only protagonist in this captivating book – and indeed she is, in a manner of sorts, as she features throughout the main thrust of the story. However, just as we are captivated by her life and calling, the plot takes a twist and we are almost thrown into another story within the story.
It is the early 19th Century; Daa-Mbiiway is attacked by slavers whilst walking through the forest and disappears. Now the real intrigue begins. And this is what makes Imminent River fascinating. Fact, fiction and fantasy interwoven to create a story that reads so real.
As we read the first part of the book, we are taken aback as the author gives lucid details of encounters with dreaded slave traders as they terrify people in their villages; the petrifying slave raids on communities, and the anguish of those captured and sold into slavery, and their journey into captivity across the great waters of the Atlantic Ocean into a strange, new and frightening world. It is a gruesome tale. The horrific details are heart-wrenching, but they are also clear facts. These were the horrors our ancestors experienced. This was their terror. Man’s inhumanity to man. It makes us pause, think and decide that this must never happen again, as we strive to make our world a better place, where we can all live in peace and unity.
But where is Daa-Mbiiway? And what has become of the longevity formula she developed? Did the longevity formula even exist? The plot thickens.
Enter Jesse and Opuddah, Daa-Mbiiway’s principal apprentices. Enter also Daa-Mbiiway’s two sons Chimenam and Dioti-Ojioho, brothers in arms but enemies at heart, both in search of the longevity formula. Despite their scheming and devious plans, they were getting nowhere near the formula, which we later learn, is encoded in Nsibidi text. Why was it so important to them? And what was the significance of the mystical river given to Chimenam, by his father?
So we set sail into Part Two.
Imminent River is not just a story about mystical fantasy and conspiracies. There’s the delicate blend of the beauty and splendour of rich African culture that features throughout the book, channelling its course and irrigating the story with the freshness and ambience of Africa.
We meander through traditional African society showcasing cultural festivals with captivating dances, music and masquerades: traditional African society in all its grandeur. And it is beautiful. We experience the highlights of everyday activities such as farming, hunting and trade, and are enchanted by ceremonies, customs and traditions especially those pertaining to marriage, child-birth and the naming of a new-born child. Our rich African culture and heritage portrayed in such glowing words. And in some places, poetry.
Even the fantasy felt real as I was transfixed with the adventures of Wopara, Ezemba’s father and his incredible journey into the rain forest.
This is our Africa in all its glory. Proud.
In Imminent River, I was transported into the midst of the community and I felt as if I was part of their lives. I felt their joy and pain, and even blushed reading the love story between the village beauty Agbonma and the handsome Ezemba, Daa-Mbiiway’s great-grandson.
As we read on, we see the unity in families and how communities shared a common goal: to be your brother’s keeper. The burden or concerns of a family are shared, as family and friends always come to help, no matter the situation. And when a child is born, everyone rejoices; when there is death, everyone mourns. This is our life as Africans, and Anaele Ihuoma writes it well.
Imminent River is a story that flows from the heart. As we delve deeper into the book, we find a very delicate underlying theme of kinship, fellowship and friendship; the bedrock for living together in peace and unity, no matter the creed, colour or circumstance. This is the strength from togetherness that creates a support system; it is a concept of brotherly love. We see it in the bond between Daa-Mbiiway and her adopted daughter Edidion; we see it in the love story between Agbonma and Ezemba, and in the relationship between Ezemba and his childhood friend and business partner, Jindu. Even the people captured and sold into slavery are able to stand strong together. The message is clear: No matter whom we are or where we are, we can overcome all odds with love, trust and understanding.
Interestingly, Imminent River also has little pockets of humour delicately deposited around some rather amusing characters in the book, bringing out their personalities with often comical effects. The scene with the bungling policeman, who lost his job for his apparent idiocy, and his hen-pecking wife, will leave you in stitches. And there’s the baby called ‘Swivel’ simply because she was placed in a swivel chair after she was kidnapped; I’m still trying to wrap my head around that. The scenes with Pa Oleka? Hilarious!
On the other hand, one thing that stands out in the book is the large number of characters. Traversing from the early 19th Century into the 20th Century, it is almost tasking to keep track of everyone, who they are and who they are related to. There seems to be so much happening, with so many people, almost all the time. However, as the book unfolds, the characters become clearer and as the narrative develops, we see their importance and the roles they play in bringing the story together, like tributaries feeding a larger watercourse.
As we go into the third part of Imminent River, the story cascades in the 20th Century. Ezemba continues the quest to find his great-grandmother’s longevity formula with new twists and turns, and a new adversary on his tail: High Chief Ojionu, a distant cousin. This is where the story climaxes and an impending stream of devious conspiracies and disloyalties unfurl. Now I am at the edge of my seat, spellbound. My heart is pounding furiously and I can only imagine how the story ends.
I wasn’t prepared for what came next. Ezemba, with all his wit and strength, is thrown off guard by High Chief Ojionu. How could this happen? And what has become of the longevity formula? Yet there is respite, as an impending river of gushing living waters springs into existence – eventually everything falls into place.
Just as a river flows and ebbs with its high tides and low tides, so does life with its trials and triumphs, and this is the current that pulsates in Imminent River. For Daa-Mbiiway, Ezemba and his wife Agbonma, and the incredible African-Americans, descendants of their West African ancestors sold into slavery centuries ago, the end certainly justifies the means.
In Imminent River, Anaele Ihuoma tells a brilliant story of perseverance and endurance, of determination and resilience that leads to a victory against all odds. Often laced with lavish poetry, it is a riveting story that climaxes in one main theme: it’s never over until it’s done.
Imminent River is a delightful read as authentic Africa meets fantasy, fact and fiction to create an unforgettable tale.
– Osu is a book and lierary consultant