Image Credit: kachiozumba
I read Kachi Ozumba’s The Shadow of a Smile while lounging around the beach during my New Year vacation. While it’s not exactly a beach read, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this snapshot of modern day Nigeria and the problems that plague the place. However, this is going to be a short review since I don't have the book with me anymore, so I won't have passages to quote. A summary first –
Zuba is a bright young student with aspirations of becoming a famous scientist. But his life changes when he is imprisoned for a crime he has not committed. What’s worse, he is stuck in a country rife with corruption.
Sounds very simplistic right? Although Ozumba takes us through Nigerian society, prisons, courtrooms and politics he tells a compelling story in a tight frame that focuses just on one incident, which becomes the means to bring out multifarious issues within the Nigerian society. Corruption which includes rampant bribery and red tape is of course at the forefront. Zuba, being a peaceful and non-violent person who even has a portrait of Gandhi in his room, tries to stay on the right path but his life in prison threatens to turn sour every time he avers and he is forced to pay.
Just like all prisons, being incarcerated in Nigeria is not exactly a pleasant proposition. Ozumba beautifully captures the different emotions that Zuba goes through – anger, puzzlement, helplessness and most of all the squeamishness of being in prison full of insects and dirt and unwashed human beings.
Ozumba’s novel in fact, reminds me of my own country India. Here, corruption is so intrinsic that it has become the soul of the nation. It has slowed progress and I feel we are going to be stuck in such a rut for a long time to come. That’s the feeling I got with Nigeria as well. Zuba finally has to do something daringly different to evade the authorities if he has to get out.
This is the part, which did not impress me. Towards the end, Ozumba seemed to be in a hurry to wrap up his story. Things get dissipated all too quickly and after all the build up and the problems that Zuba faces, it seemed a bit too easy.
However, the novel is definitely a very interesting read. Interwoven with such major themes are threads of family life and relationships. Zuba’s rough relationship with his father and the friendship between Zuba and Ike prominently bring up the background of this novel. Written with a wry sense of humor and some vividly descriptive passages that bring the scene alive, The Shadow of a Smile remains engaging till the end.
Verdict: Engaging read