Sunday, May 29, 2011

Jude Dibia Unbridled

Unbridled (2007) is the Nigerian writer Jude Dibia's second novel. His first novel Walking With Shadows (2005;I have not read it) garnered attention as perhaps the first Nigerian novel to have an openly gay male protagonist. Dibia has since built up a reputation as one of a new generation of African novelists who write about traditionally "taboo" topics. He told an interviewer that he wanted to tell stories that "people are not bold enough to tell."

Unbridled won the 2007 Ken Saro-Wiwa Award and I probably noticed it on a list of contemporary Nigerian novels somewhere. On the back cover of my Jacana Media edition (it was originally published by Blacksands Books) it mentions that Dibia writes about gay relationships, so when I started reading this novel about an ill-used and long-suffering young Nigerian woman I anticipated a coming-out story, but no, this time the protagonist is not gay. She is an incest victim who is passed off to uncaring relatives and escapes to England only to find that her internet suitor, a white Englishman, is also abusive. She must reach down deep and find the resources to achieve autonomy.

Another surprise, for me, came about halfway through the book when I was checking to see how many pages it had and noticed in the "about the author" note that Dibia is male. I had assumed, reading the first half, that the author was a woman. Ngozi/Erika is entirely convincing, and the unflinching insight into how a certain amount of violence and exploitation is, apparently, essential to male nature is conveyed in language that is recognizable as the bitter tone of ill-used women.

Dibia writes about people, how they behave around each other and the conversations that they have. He can depict friendship and malice with equal deftness. He is not, at this point in his writing career, a writer of any great elegance or beauty, but his story is absorbing and the pace does not flag. An impressive accomplishment from a young Nigerian writer of great promise.

Other examples of books by the new generation of Nigerian writers that have been the subjects of posts on this blog are Chris Abanis' Graceland (2005), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus (2003), which deals with very similar issues as Unbridled, and El-Nukoya's Nine Lives (2007).

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