Strength and perseverance in An Abundance of Scorpions
These are the words that kept running through in my mind as I read the 27 chapters of An Abundance of Scorpions by Hadiza Isma El-Rufai.
An Abundance of Scorpions is a heart-rending and riveting story of a woman in her quest for love, peace and happiness.
It is a cry for freedom, an expression of agony yet a voice of hope as we experience the travails of a Muslim woman in her journey of life.
We are taken into her world; we feel her pain, share her joys and celebrate her triumphs. We cry with her, we smile with her, and we feel the anguish when her heart is broken. Her story is intense. And El-Rufai tells it very well.
The book opens with an intimate scene, setting the tone for the book. Yes, intimate. One would wonder why we are thrust into such an intimate encounter between a man and his wife within the first few pages of the book.
Looking deeper, this is an indication of how personal the story is. The relationship between man and wife; their needs and desires; the closeness of family; those private and personal issues that plague our everyday life such as childlessness and the concerns that arise from it, especially in our part of the world.
But this book is not about intimacy; it is about strength.
We read about the protagonist of the book, a strong Muslim woman, Tambaya Matawalle, who goes through several personal tragedies yet is still able to pull herself together.
The author tells a story of strength of character; a woman whose world is upturned by personal tragedy yet has the resolve to be responsible for herself and her happiness.
This is significant as it sends a clear message to women, especially Nigerian women, that it is possible to achieve their personal goals, seek empowerment and make valuable contribution to their families and into the lives of others even as our culture and religion expects that women allow men to be responsible for their well-being. Women can take charge of their lives if and when given the opportunity.
This is a recurring theme that runs throughout the book.
Tambaya personifies the resilience of the Nigerian woman; strong-willed, determined, compassionate. A woman of substance in her own right. Indeed, the main characters in the book are women with varied levels of education, age and socio-economic dynamics but they all have strong ideals and sense of self.
This is an interesting, thought-provoking book that brings the potentials of women to the fore in different spheres of life.
From the characters and locations in the book, there is a deep feeling of northern Nigeria. Very descriptive and detailed, El-Rufai paints a vivid picture of cities like Kano and Abuja and towns like Gadam, which give the reader insight into the cultural setting of northern Nigeria through its environment, weather, architecture and also through its social and economic activities. Even the description of food is so detailed that you could almost taste kunu, masa and roasted ram meat. We truly love our food.
As we delve further into the book, we find a subtle underlying theme of unity in diversity – that uniqueness which binds our beautiful country, Nigeria, together.
We find characters from different ethnic groups, speaking different languages, living and working in different locations across the country, yet they all come together as a united people.
They come from different parts of the country and have different religious beliefs and yet they inter-marry and overcome their cultural disparity; everyone living in peace and harmony, their differences in culture, lifestyle and religion notwithstanding.
More importantly, we see that Christianity and Islam, the two main religions of the country, are able to co-exist peacefully. This is who we are, a diverse nation united in our quest for peace and unity.
In the book, El-Rufai takes us back in time to Nigeria in the late 20th century.
We are reminded of communication before the mobile phone and the internet as she takes us back to the days of posted letters and telephone boxes, telephones with sporadic dial tones, and the nostalgic days of the Volkswagen beetle and the Peugeot cars that cruised our roads.
You reminisce and tell yourself, those were the days.
On the other hand, we are also reminded of the high-handedness of some uniformed personnel and certain persons in authority who caused great discomfort and wrought fear and dread amongst the citizenry.
It was a reminder that Nigeria as a nation has been through some harrowing times. Although some of the scenes sounded gruesome and dreadful, there was peaceful resolution in the end.
Reading carefully, there is also a lesson to be learnt in this book: no matter what you do, one day you will have your comeuppance. As we say in Nigeria – everyday for the thief, one day for the owner!
An Abundance of Scorpions is not a story that stings. There’s the delicate humour, which is so interwoven in the book that it gives life to the characters and their personality.
In almost every chapter you find those typical Nigerian moments that make you want to smile, laugh and cry all at once. These are the amusing gestures and witty comments that are made especially when we speak our peculiar Nigerian-English.
And then there’s Esther, Tambaya’s boisterous best friend with the almost exasperating antics that are typical of a confident Nigerian woman eager to voice her own opinions and prove a point.
This is when we realise that we all have a friend – or an aunt, a sister or a mother – just like her somewhere. And some of us actually are like her. That’s what makes you smile as you read.
In An Abundance of Scorpions El-Rufai tells a gripping story that touches the heart. It is a story that fills you with empathy for a woman in pain yet makes you sigh with relief as she heals and grows. That is the heart of the story; the depth within. Strength.
An Abundance of Scorpions is a beauty to read, and El-Rufai is indeed a talented writer.
•Anene is a book editor and literary consultant