SONS OF THE EAST Author: Ifeoma Chinwuba Publisher: Griots Lounge Publishing, Canada, 2023.
Review by Onoshe Nwabuikwu
Sons of the East is the story of brotherly love or the lack thereof. It’s also the story of greed and covetousness; the powerlessness of women and how patriarchy which is embedded in a culture can keep changing the goal posts and even dance to its own tune. At the centre of the story is the culture of the Igbos. The Igbos are one of Nigeria’s 3 major tribes in the South-Eastern region of the country. Although different aspects of the Igbo culture are on display in the book, the Igbo apprenticeship system and some practices associated with widowhood feature more prominently. Everything revolves around the Okonkwo family of Opaku. Agbisi Okonkwo who has since passed on was the patriarch while his wife Odoziaku now manages the family.
There are three sons or five sons depending on who you ask: Echezona (Zona), a.k.a Omeifeukwu; Jasper and Rapu are the three sons of the lateAgbisi and his wife Odoziaku. There’s also Jideofor and Jidenna who we’ll get to later. For now, Echezona, the first son who should hold the family together, is consumed by jealousy as he thinks his mother favours Jasper over her other two sons. On one hand Echezona, wants to enjoy the benefits and rights as the first son and have even the right of first refusal over family property. However, when it comes to their mother’s upkeep or acknowledging the entitlements of his stepbrothers Jideofor and Jidenma, Zona (as he’s called), prefers to let others do the heavy lifting. In fact, Zona is not sure whether he has forgiven his father Agbisi for having children by Akwaeke, the widow who chose Agbisi to remarry because tradition demanded she must marry one of her late husband’s family members.
Jasper, the middle son seems consigned to a life of always being the middleman, always taking the high road, always trying to be a good younger brother to Zona and a good older brother to Rapu. And as his luck would have it, even though he has little or no education he gets to marry the beautiful Amata who’s not only a university graduate but also comes from a wealthy family. A few more reasons for his two brothers to be envious. It doesn’t help that one year after marriage, Amata gives birth to twin boys. Meanwhile, Charity, Zona’s wife has four daughters and counting. For her troubles, Zona sends her packing while he goes searching for anyone who can bear him the golden son to carry on the family name.
As for Rapu, Agbisi and Odoziaku’s third son, there’s not much to be said except that he’s as envious of Jasper just like Zona. He also has a misplaced sense of entitlement. However, the one thing all three sons have in common is that they are traders which is also an Igbo thing. But almost nothing else. I imagine when the Bible said how pleasant is it for brothers to live in unity, it didn’t have the Okonkwo brothers in mind. Anyhow, as a wise friend always points out, the reason brothers (siblings in general) dwelling in unity is a big deal is because it’s not a given that they will live in peace. We can’t take it for granted. In real life, the four sons of Nigeria’s late legal luminary, F.R.A Williams, have been embroiled in legal war fare over their father’s estate since his death in 2005. These are four boys from the same mother and father. But I digress.
Back to Sons of the East, the author Ifeoma Chinwuba paints a vivid picture of Igbo culture, the apprenticeship system, and the market culture. Anyone who has ever been to a market in any major city or town in Nigeria would be transported to the theatrics, ingenuity, creativity of the typical Igbo trader in the market. Speaking of which, the Igbo apprenticeship system is getting a lot of attention at the moment with films like Afamefuna: An Nwa Boi Story (directed by Kayode Kassum, 2023). Personally, I believe that telling stories of our culture and practices like the Igbo apprenticeship system is one way Nigeria can make a grand entrance into international awards like the Oscars, etc. Speaking of which, Sons of the East will make a great film. The book itself reads almost like the screen play for a movie.
Another thing that Sons of the East does well uncannily is to run commentary on various issues which affect the Igbos using the book’s characters in their conversations. Issues like Nigeria’s secessionist movement, the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), the over saturation of roadblocks/checkpoints on South-Eastern highways, abandoned property, the refusal of the Nigerian state to grant the Igbos full entry into political leadership since the end of the civil war, or as someone asked in the book (p. 125): “Has the civil war really ended?” Even the ubiquitous Edo sex workers get a mention. This is just to name a few of the issues. The challenge here is not to sound too much like a newspaper Op-Ed. Again, even though Sons of the East is a work of fiction, keeping too true to actual events can make the reader question their veracity if they are not in sync with the real-life timeline. Something else to also watch out for are minor errors. For example, the imagery: “He tore off a piece of a carrot and popped it in his mouth” (p.197) doesn’t quite sound appropriate.
Still, it must be said, in all, Sons of the East is a great and unputdownable read.
- Onoshe Nwabuikwu is a Ph.D. candidate, Feminist and Gender Studies, University of Ottawa.