About the Author:
Achalugo Chioma Ezekobe studied Law at the University of Lagos. Her work cuts across photography, film/tv, stage, and have also appeared in magazines and websites one of which is Bella Naija. Achalugo also has a book on Okadabooks titled ‘Don’t Write On Me‘. Her stage play ‘Mr.Brother‘, was third runner up at the ANA 2018 Prize for Drama. She was also the 2nd runner up in the 2018 Quramo Prize for Unpublished Fiction for her entry ‘Boys on Jumping Trousers‘. Mmirinzo is her debut novel.
“every reality is superstitious” – Ben Okri
If you told this to Olivia before she came full circle into her being, she would have chalked it up as a hard try for primitivism. But, who can blame her, Lagosified from birth in a well-to-do family who had swapped Chi for Christ, as was the polished thing to do being educated and enlightened – an arbitrator at a big firm for that matter. How could she not have taken with a pinch of salt, her episodic blackouts, air talk, trances as not a consequence of a familiar, white-sounding psychosis/schizophrenia but rather as a cue towing her back to some ancestral metaphysical identity.
Truth is strange, myth is stranger, coming to accept myth as truth is a different cup of oddity altogether.
Mmirinzo chases the story of Olivia Okwesili, a broadly liked beautiful, smartalecky lawyer in her late twenties who suddenly has to co-navigate a dalliance with her putdown boss, Leonard; her chronic singlehood in the face of her younger sister getting married, (zero thanks to a culture that thinks the chronology of getting tied should follow birth order) and unsolicited calls to an unknown fate.
It is the way of humans to put up resistance, push at a pull door, call a spade a spoon, when the clear and cleared path forks into the wild unknown.
This we saw when Bernard’s silence about Olivia’s superpowers muddies the waters for his daughter’s process of sudden spells, nausea, dizziness and serial slumps at the sight of running water. This continues until he took the road less traveled, literally and figuratively, heading back to the village to answer Olivia’s call to self. A primordial pact had been made, and there was no nullifying it by medicine, prayer or exorcism. A call is a call – and that is that.
The Mmirinzos are an especial subtype of water-benders to whom a degree of control has trickled down from the creator in Igbo cosmology. When Olivia discovers that her homecoming process would be void of blood sacrifice, idol worship, or any scare tactic religion had installed against native spirituality, she stays back to complete initiation rites, damning the consequences -a possible missing out on her sister’s wedding and seeing through a long longed case of alternate dispute resolution- to hell. This new peeled reality had the riveting mix of strangeness and excitement as well as shock and guilt to further peg her down. There was more than meets the lie, hence, allowing spirituality make its case.
Achalugo’s writing is delightfully crisp and relatable as if a substrate for the spiritual heavy lifting the book sets out to do. The poetic interspersions of Afulenu, Olivia’s aunt and spiritual guardian, interjecting from a magical dimension lodges within the book a sub-story for the reader to gleefully follow. Considering the inability of the main story to throw staggering suprises in between the fast-paced storytelling, this alternate reality poses a saving grace.
Though the magical realism in the novel is not quite what I’ll call high-calorie, we are forced to begin an internal dialogue on the issue of mutual exclusivity of spiritualities native and foreign, we are invited to see beyond the whitewashed screen that brings traditional belief into hypocritical scrutiny.
There is a big win for the book despite its sprinkle of print errors, needless epilogue, and what seemed like unbelievable scenes.
A brilliant author and debut!
Reviewed by: Sherif Ogundele