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When love conquers superstition in Tony Nwaka’s Shadows And Nothings

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In spite of how far we seem to have travelled from Africa’s ancient past, it always catch up with us, especially in the superstitious realm that tends to die hard.

And so, a blood oath between lovers, for instance, is regarded as being potent as invocation of Amadioha or Sango curse, with those who enter into it perennially looking over their shoulders, afraid that its long claws would sink into their flesh. Even parents’ misdemeanor or entanglement in the occult world is sometimes believed to have overbearing influence on the fortunes of their children. Africa’s continuing obsession with the supernatural, where, ridiculously, it is still believed that wealth can come from dealings with the occult, and so, unbelievable acts are daily perpetuated in the form of ritual killings, which has continues to put the continent on the back foot of civilisation.

Tony Nwaka’s Shadows and Nothings (Kraft Books Limited, Ibadan; 2019) explores such dark theme as how a father’s past unsavoury dealings can impact the destiny of his children negatively. It is an intriguing subject of supernatural dimension that tests the love of two young people and how sheer faith in the strength of love comes as strong arbiter in resolving an otherwise knotty problem. Nwaka discharges his writerly duty conscientiously in navigating a rather tricky issue of love untangling negative cultural belief.

And so, Julius has had his heart broken by his youthful love, Evelyn. They had met at university and were set to marry until reality happened and Evelyn left with another man to faraway Canada. Julius is left stunned. In order to get past his heartbreak, he dedicates his life to his work and refuses to get entangled again. But for how long? And then he attends the wedding of his friend and colleague’s sister and falls in love at first sight with Lauretta, a lady beautiful beyond any singing of it. But Lauretta is as elusive as an eelworm as Julius gets to find out. His is relentless anyway and chases her down. Although Luaretta is keen on having Julius, but she has her past love baggage to deal with and is not ready to bring Julius close for fear of the past.

Her father, a successful politician, isn’t the best of men in his past dealings with many. He stepped on toes to climb the ladder of success and these come to haunt him and his beloved daughter. Lauretta’s mother believes her husband’s bad past is the cause of her daughter’s ill luck with men. Three lovers broke up straight with Lauretta within seven days after getting intimate with her. Lauretta is scared of letting Julius come close; she fears a similar fate for him. She loves him, yet she cannot allow her weird life get in the way of her love for him. But how does she let Julius in on her travail and still hope to keep his love for her? More importantly, what happens if Julius discountenances her superstitious fears and loves her nevertheless? Would he also run away after seven days just like the others? Would something bad happen to her or Julius once they get intimate?

This dilemma is at the heart and climax of Nwaka’s fast paced, urban romance novel that explores Africa’s superstition and how love unravels it. Lauretta has everything going for her, except finding real love on account of a curse supposedly arising from her father’s evil past. But Julius acts as counterpoise to her fears, and offers contrary views. Perhaps, the love success that eventually evolves after a near fatality can be attributed to the openness that Lauretta’s mother’s pushes her daughter to adopt toward Julius. This is unlike what happened to her previous three lovers. Perhaps, it is in the unmasking of the supposed superstition that Lauretta finds redemption from the supposed evil dodging her love life and happiness. Having confessed her troubles to Julius, it would seem whatever power is responsible for her ordeal becomes exposed, unmasked and is shamed into powerlessness or with its powers grossly diminished and is unable to complete its job of also cancelling out Lauretta’s love and quest for happiness altogether.

Nwaka’s Shadows and Nothings succeeds in exploding a major myth that still pervades modern minds that still submit to ancient beliefs that rule their lives to ruin. For the author, loves conquers all, including dark superstitions that cripple the lives of otherwise lively people from getting the best out of life for fear that some powers lurking in the corner. For Nwaka such belief amounts to ‘shadows and nothings’ that prevents people from enjoying life to the full. In typical Nigerian-speak, Nwaka might have resisted the temptation to go religious, especially the Pentecostal, demon-exorcising route to help Lauretta overcome her plight. He rather allows the power of love to triumph instead, which is indeed the humanistic way to go.

However, Nwaka’s Shadows and Nothings could have benefitted from closer editorial scrutiny. There abound needless, clumsy constructions designed perhaps to impress that could have benefited from better alignments for clarity. But in spite of these, the narrative flows in seamless manner. The novel will be a delight of youngsters and adults alike.


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