Do Not Say it is Nöt your Country by Nnamdi Oguike; Griots Lounge Publishing; 2019; 248pp
I have been reading Do Not Say it is Nöt your Country by Nnamdi Oguike. Published by my friends at Griots Lounge. I could read the book in one sitting but I can’t. I have been enjoying the masterful and non-judgemental way the author presents his characters and how real, concrete and human they are. The stories are beautiful, suspenseful and will encourage your own private epiphanies.
I am a lover of the short story genre. In fact, I encourage people to write collections of short stories. As much as I do not despise the novel (before someone lampoons me for being a poet who criticises the novel because he has not written one), I believe that the short story genre is relevant and engaging for this busy cosmopolitan times. You can read a story a day before you get to work and read another while stuck in traffic without being burdened by keeping tabs on multiple plots, especially when it is often the case that the author is showing over intelligence in the novel, instead of sustaining the reader with the story.
I used to tell Bura-Bari Nwilo (Author of the collection of Short Stories, A Tiny Place Called Happiness) that no Nigerian writer in this decade writes better short stories than @ChumaNwokolo. Teasing, introspective and coextensive narratives that bruise your conscience gently. I was wrong. @NnamdiOguike has made me wrong. And I’m sure that it is this kind of stories that deserve the 2019 Miles Morland Scholarship that he won.
I don’t want to be a spoiler by telling you the stories. Go and buy it from the publisher, @BibiUkonu or from my friends @RovingHeights Nigeria. What I can tell you is that these stories are awesome. They carry you along with a certain lightheartedness but when you are in the heart of the story, you realise the serious social, cultural and political themes, the social contradictions and the poetic metaphors that you have encountered. You read the story again and you say to yourself ‘This is a pleasant surgery’.
I know there is a quiet disdain for the short story genre, some say it is the amputated brother of the full novel. I feel that is stupid. Because it is closer to the oralist’s tales-by-moonlight than the novel, therefore it precedes the novel. It should be the father of the novel and be given its due respect. Given the rise of the novel in the early 17th century, a lot of people, funders, literary awards curators feel the novel should be more celebrated than other genres. It is their cup of tea. The danger of this kind of culture is that everyone wants to write a novel, and everyone wants to stretch that short story into a bloated, ugly, diabetic and cancerous novel. Blundering into over flogged themes, lacking experimental prowess, kicking around dead-on-arrival characters. Do not stretch your stories to the ‘point-of-no-return’, it may enslave the reader.
If I have the funds, I will launch an award or investiture for the short story genre and champion translations of short stories into indigenous African languages.
The cosmopolitan urgency also encourages flash fiction. The traction for flash fiction is the entrée between storytelling and concise metaphor. The brevity of flash fiction can be used on several online and social media platforms and blogs. I also see the boundless opportunity in publishing a book or anthology of flash fiction. In this world where mobility is both an asset and liability, the flash fiction genre could morph into a codex for ad copies as its boundless capacity to become prosaic-poetry in one space and avant-garde catchphrase in another has not yet been fully explored. Flash fiction is shorter short stories.
A good novel is a good novel. A good short story is a good short story, and a good poem is a good poem. Compare yourselves, not with one another. Sharpen your strengths and work on your weaknesses. Celebrate your gifts. To some the gift of verses, to others the gift of storytelling. Critique and criticise, it is good for the craft.
The short story genre, as compact as it is, gives the writer room for robust experimental trials. The novelist is often too conscious to keep his narrative flow but the short story writer is willing to bend the rules and shape new ‘what-ifs’. This is why I will lend a young reader or an upstart in literary and reading culture circles a book of short stories first. Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Whispering Trees is one book that is a formidable reference point to the experimental capacities of the short story genre. For speculative fiction, you can mention Nnedi Okoroafor but back in the homeland, be fair to mention Ayo Arigbabu’s Anthology of short stories, A Fistful of Tales, a book that inspired Mazi Fred Nwonwu to start a speculative fiction magazine, Omenena–it is perhaps because of history like this that we are not dead yet.
Let us not forget the contributions of Igoni Barret, Molara Wood, Toni Kan, Nze Sylva Ifedigbo and others to the short story genre. Some of these names have written novels as well. I choose to see their novel as a contribution to a separate genre rather than a transition to a more rigorous work of prose and a departure from short stories, as expressed in certain quarters. The dichotomy between measuring the writer’s growth irrespective of his or her choice of genre across timelines is tricky, either from the point of view of the genre-specific engagement or from the point of view of the writer’s deployment of his or her advancing oeuvre of knowledge. I choose the latter.
Do Not Say it is Nöt Your Country is a splendid book. A collection that further validates the power, presence and immutability of the short story genre in the country. These kinds of short stories do not bud often, they are conversation starters without collapsing into the rhetorical and are subtly poetic without losing its cosmopolitan texture. Do Not Say it is Nöt Your Country is also travel, where characters strive with mood swings that express whole histories of place without losing touch with present time.
There is a new era of storytellers. It starts with Nnamdi Oguike’s Do Not Say it is Nöt Your Country. Go and read it.
-Femi Morgan is a writer and culture curator. He is the author of 5 books of poetry including Renegade. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria.