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The Noirer The letters

By Kole Omotoso
07 November 2021   |   3:01 am
Only a writer of Umberto Eco’s depth and spread of knowledge could generalise the size and direction of a country’s literature from its noir. He is said to have written

Only a writer of Umberto Eco’s depth and spread of knowledge could generalise the size and direction of a country’s literature from its noir. He is said to have written that, “noir literature is a mirror for the state of literature in any given country.”

Described as “a polymath of towering cleverness,” for relaxation he played renaissance music on the recorder and read dictionaries. He is rumoured to have spoken 56 languages. But today is not about Umberto Eco. It is about the noir series. Are they really truly a mirror of a country’s literature?

Lagos Noir edited by Chris Abani published in the Abashic Noir series Brooklyn, New York, USA, and Ballydehob, Co. Cork, Ireland, 2018; contains 13 short stories divided into three parts: Part l: COPS and ROBBERS What They Did That Night by Jude Debia, which takes place in Lagos Island part of Lagos; Heaven’s Gate by Chika Unigwe, which takes place in Ojoo part of Lagos; Showlogo by Nnedi Okoroafor, which takes place in Ajegunle, part of Lagos; Just Ignore and Try to Endure by A. Igoni Barret, which takes place in Egbeda part of Lagos.

Part ll: In A Family Way The Swimming Pool by Sarah Ladipo Mayinka, which takes place in Victoria Island part of Lagos; What Are You Going To Do? By Adebola Rayo, which takes place in the Onikan part of Lagos; For Baby, For Three by Onyinye Ihezukwu, which takes place in Yaba part of Lagos; Eden by Uche Okonkwo, which takes place in Obalende part of Lagos; Joy by Wale Lawal, which takes place in Surulere part of Lagos.

Part lll ARRIVALS and DEPARTURES Choir Boy by ‘Pemi Aguda, which takes place in the Berger part of Lagos; The Walking Stick by E.C. Osondu, which takes place in the Agege part of Lagos; Uncle Sam by Leye Adenle, which takes place at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport; and Killer Ape by Chris Abani, which takes place in the Ikoyi part of Lagos.

There are parts of this collection, which are not pleasing because they do not ‘mirror the literature of’ Nigeria. A very important aspect of the literature of Nigeria has to do with proverbs of our people and pre-colonial existence.

There are parts, which are sweet, not because they mirror the literature of the country but because they exaggerate it. Like the 419 story Uncle Sam by Leye Adenle introduces a third character who poses, as a sympathetic character while at the same time, he was part and parcel of the gang. Like the story by Sarah Ladipo Mayinka The Swimming Pool where feminism is overdone but good. Like the very first story where the concern of the main character is so selfish that he dies leaving his neighbours, he had no time for the burden of mourning him. There is also The Walking Stick by E.C. Osondu in which a merry officer of the Liberian army in exile in Agege loses his life because some thief thought according to rumour that the walking stick is made of diamond.

There are also places in the narrative style where the bizarre narrative style mirrors the literature of the country.

Just Ignore and Try to Endure by A. Igoni Barret deals with landladies and the pets of affluent Africans. Usually, their fellow citizens never take them seriously, as if all they are doing is imitating their western foreign colonisers or foreign neighbours.

Joy by Wale Lawal presents the terrible situation where the husband takes advantage of the house servant and everybody seems to approve of her, listing her various endowments. It is as if they cannot wait to see things change in that household.

The first NOIR title I read is HAITI NOIR. Because I was familiar with the History, Sociology and Geography of Haiti I was knocked out by its horror and scare that I was left with. Perhaps, my over-familiarity with Nigeria, nothing here scares me, horrifies me.

Sometime last year, my daughter lent me a copy of JOBURG NOIR edited by Niq Mhlongo. Immediately, I liked the cover of the book with its golden scorpion symbolising the gold of Johannesburg and the dangers that lurk in the corners and side streets of the city. But inside the introduction what I was let into was different: “A lot of memories we think we have forgotten sometimes return to us just reading a book. JOBURG NOIR is filled with a myriad of themes, tones and moments.” Memories, themes, tones and moments. Not one of these two books mentions mirrors of literature, as Umberto Eco would want us to believe. This means that each book is free to determine what its own particular NOIR is. Right now, I have seven other titles, I have to read. These are Addis Ababa Noir, Paris Noir, Rome Noir, Barcelona Noir, Nairobi Noir, Accra Noir and Los Angeles Noir. And when I have finished reading these I intend to read as many of the other about one hundred and 12 titles as I can lay my hands on.

I intend to do this because Lagos Noir does not mirror Nigerian Literature, as Umberto Eco would want us to believe nor simply to bring back memories. If anything, NOIR is about the peculiar nature of the things that happen in the third world, the developing world and the world of our completely different situation. Like when we noticed what was happening to democracy before we noticed that the same things were happening in the older democracies; or had happened in these older democracies before we joined democratic states. What didn’t Oliver Cromwell do that our coup d’etat generals did? It is in that little area where we refuse to use our rationality to deal with our problems that provides the NOIR in our narratives. Like when an elephants appear in the distance coming to eat of the leaves of our cocoa farm {tree of wealth} and we put our hands in the bush to pluck a mere cane to cane them away, we do express our noir-ness.

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