Olivia Barrett

Leave My Bones in Saskatoon

Author: Michael Akenfia Publisher: Griots Lounge Publishing Canada 2023

Book Review by Olivia Barrett, Editorial Associate

Saturday 27 January 2024

At first, I didn’t know what to expect from Michael Afenfia’s Leave My Bones in Saskatoon. I assumed it was a story of grief, a story centred around what it means to lose the people closest to you. While the story began that way, Afenfia’s book did so much more than just focus on the grief.

Leave my Bones in Saskatoon tells the story of Owoicho and Ochanya Adakole, a father and daughter, who learn to cope with the death of their four family members and navigating starting over. As they are left to figure out what it means to be a family of two instead six, Owoicho and Ochanya are also faced with the dilemma of remaining in their homeland of Nigeria, staying close to the graves of their loved ones, or following through on the dreams of the late Ene, wife and mother, of moving to Canada for the promise of a better life.

Afenfia carefully weaves together the perspectives of Owoicho and Ochanya as they embark on their journey of grief separately throughout Book One with Ochanya in Makurdi with her maternal grandparents, desperately wanting to be back with her father, and with Owoicho wrestling with the decision of moving back in their empty home in Abuja.

While weaving together their stories, Afenfia offers the character’s different perspectives on the same information. For example, in the chapters leading up to a pivotal event, Afenfia describes Owoicho’s approach to contacting his family, namely that he “wasn’t into tracking people.” He later has Ene repeat the same line, emphasizing Owoicho’s habits and approaches. Repeated characterizations like this help Afenfia define the different characters.

These also aid in understanding the character’s experiences of grief. By witnessing and empathizing with their grief throughout the first half of the book, Afenfia transports readers into the shoes of Owoicho and Ochanya, hoping they can salvage their relationship, but unsure of where to start. Afenfia’s short chapters give readers windows into each character’s journey of coping with the loss and trying to move forward. His decision to use shorter chapters to give snippets into the lives and experiences of the characters instead of a play-by-play still gave the story a complete feel as there were little to no gaps or unanswered questions.

As Book Two begins and Owoicho and Ochanya settle into their new lives, readers brace for the shock and uncertainty they will encounter. Afenfia does not hesitate to illustrate the harsh realities of being an immigrant in a western country. From small linguistic differences to barriers in finding work that matches their educational background, Owoicho encounters it all shortly after their arrival. Afenfia’s accurate portrayal of the hardships immigrants face feels especially moving in this book as the future of the characters feels very uncertain. His writing discreetly mixes in the culture shocks and troubles immigrants face as the mirage of a rosy, picture-perfect life begins to fade, such as Owoicho’s thoughts concerning taking a job as a security guard.

In addition to accurately portraying some of the struggles immigrants face, Afenfia seamlessly inserts unexpected revelations, especially in the final chapters. As the book winds down, Owoicho is faced with a dilemma similar to earlier in their story. Through this dilemma, readers see Owoicho become the father he wanted to be for Ochanya after their tragic loss.

Despite the characters’ well-deserved ending, the culmination of Leave My Bones in Saskatoon felt confusing. In the final two chapters, the lack of a clear timeline made it difficult to understand how the characters’ ended up where they were.

However, this did not taint the experience of reading this emotion-filled story as we see the heartwarming transformation of Owoicho and Ochanya’s relationship after an immeasurable loss.