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Agbamu on how to beat life at its own game

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Title: Life Goes On: Bouncing Back to Life After Adversity
Author: Tony Agbamu
Publisher: Blue Partner
Reviewer: Musa Jibril

Tony Agbamu’s writing often strikes a chord with the reader. In his new book, Life Goes on Collation: Bouncing Back to Life after Adversity, he hits a good pitch and displays a blazing bravura that is a testament to his mastery of motivational writing. A man of letters, his quill tells you he is in his element when he writes about the human condition. This time, he finds a universal topic, the idea that ‘life goes on’ regardless of what happens to us, a concept that resonates with people of every race and religion, philosophy and proclivity.

For his Nigerian compatriots,―whose legendary resilience once earned them the accolade of earth’s happiest people,―Agbamu’s new book is an elixir.

In the opening chapter, he did not waste time on sweet-talking about life’s beauty, but of its brutality and why everyone has to prepare to deal with it. “Life isn’t always fair, but…no matter your fate, life must go on,” he writes.

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Life is full of upheavals. Agbamu weaves a fine tapestry of it with colourful examples, from the Great Depression to the COVID-19 Devastation.

To Nigerians, where ‘life goes on’ is a standard cliche of consolation thrown at those who suffer a major or minor setback. ―“People say it effortlessly like it’s supposed to be comforting,”―Agbamu exhorts the individual to take the phrase as a challenge to pick oneself up, push setbacks into the past, and forge ahead with vision and vigour.

In subsequent chapters, the author crystallises his theory of the inevitability of setback. The examples he dredges up are hard and hellish, like the haunting portraits of Nigerians who lost everything to xenophobic attacks in South Africa, returning from sojourn emptyhanded, with only their lives, and condemned to starting life all over or the pathetic case of a woman who lost her husband and a child in one day while vacationing in the UK.

Deftly, the points are made: it is not often easy to tell someone to leave his woes behind and continue with life; at the same time, life owes no one nothing and it is up to the individual to fight for his fate.

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Of course, there are different facets to the argument. Agbamu, x-rays all of it. Sometimes, the process of healing and overcoming a setback can be too much for the individual to handle. Sometimes, not even the diviners and healers of the mind―pastors, psychiatrists or psychologists―can be helpful. Sometimes the best thing for the individual to do is to give himself over to grief. Yes, he tells the reader: Grief has its place, and an individual can only move on with life after grief has been given its time. He has his readers’ attention as he dissects grief into five stages and simplifies adversity into the five forms in which it plagues humans, and his psychology of loss at a logical conclusion: Move on with life, no matter what.

To move on with life, the author tells what it takes. Moving on in life requires a support system. Family. The value of the family as a support system, as he explains, is often underestimated “untill you find yourself in situations like bereavement, loss of a job, sickness, divorce…”

He draws up vignettes of individuals who staged a comeback because their families pull them from the descent down the pit of despondency after they suffered a major setback. The efficacy of this support structure, he reminds the reader, has been eroded over the years with the rise of the culture of “constructive disengagement, isolation and individualism.” And with religious institutions usurping the role of the family in the life of the individual, contemporary society is wracked by the consequence of losing the benefit of the crucial role that family plays in the recovery and sustenance of life.

Religion in its way helps to anaesthetise our mind against the shock of losses. In his treatment of religion, its sociology and spirituality, the author open an aperture for his readers to glimpse how our faith―faith of all kinds―helps to deal with loss by providing a nirvana, where we seek solace whenever we are blitzed by the misfortunes of life that leave the human spirit broken.

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Whether we bounce back quickly or not after life´s tribulation, the answer is in our DNA. The point jumps out of the ninth chapter where he dissects how our character type―sanguine, choleric, charismatic or phlegmatic―has us pre-programmed towards life’s complexities, conflicts and calamities. Agbamu turns the chapter into a looking mirror that portrays the graceful and the ugly side of our character type and how we can re-programme ourselves to take life by surprise.

In the last, three chapters, 10, 11 and 12, Agbamu tenderly divines a path to recovery. His choice of words is soft and encouraging, like the kind of voice that gives hope in turbulent times. ¨When days are dark and friends are few, still, don´t give up,¨ he writes.
Adopting an avuncular tone, he admits there´s such thing as the vicissitude of life, and even outlines its many forms, then coaxes the individual to rise above them. ¨After a Tragedy,¨ he exhorts, ¨healing must be obtained, for life to go one. The first step in the course of healing is faith.¨

Agbamu writes fine prose. His writing fills your mind with lyrical mantras, that expand and echo in your memory. Here is one example: “The individual has to stay on his toes, he has to keep running, or else life will crush him. And even once he is crushed, life goes on.”

Life Goes On is a book that is timely―12 chapters, 254 pages―that couldn’t have been published at a better time. Coming in the wake of the Covid-19 whirlwind that swept across the world with epic havoc―loss of human lives and livelihood―the new book is the right therapy for a world dealing with different levels of depressions due to the devastations of a novel virus.

Life Goes On is not a philosophical treatise. It is not heavy on abstraction. The author uses empirical examples readers can all relate to, examples that illuminate, like that of one of the two survivors of the fatal 2005 Sosoliso plane, the student of Loyola Jesuit College, who despite suffering third-degree burn over 65 per cent of her body, held on to the thin thread of life and went on to graduate with First Class, in 2015, from the University of St Thomas, Texas and even made it to the final of America’s Got Talent two years later.

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There is no ambiguity about what Agbamu is saying. Fight for life. For him, there is no need to waste time wallowing in victimhood, no matter what befell you.

“Life is a long journey and the sad tales of life are many. Therefore, the need to cling to life is necessary,” he writes.

His overarching message: “It’s always too early to give up, therefore, never, ever, give up.”

The most earnest discourse I have read in years about how to make the most of our time on earth, Life Goes On is blunt and punchy; it is illuminating and soul-lifting, a book that takes the mundane and gives it a deeper philosophical meaning, a book that challenges everyone to beat life at its own game.

Lest the book is miscategorised as a treatise for those in misery, the author exercises the presence of mind to tell his readers “life goes on after the good stuff, too.”

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