Short Monday: The Go-Slow by Nnedi Okorafor

We are three months into 2011 and I’m only now posting my first short story review of the year.  I have lots of time and reading to make up for where short stories are concerned.  Especially since I intend to read no less than 100 shorts this year.

I start my 2011 Short Mondays with The Go-Slow, a delightful story by Nnedi Okorafor.   This is the first time that I’ve read anything written by Okorafor.  Her novel, Who Fears Death, is on my African Fiction #1 reading list. She is a Nigerian-American writer of fantasy and speculative fiction.  I follow her on twitter and she tweets quite a bit about insects, especially spiders :).  Needless to say, I expected a creature or two to make an appearance in the story and I was not disappointed.

In the beginning of the story Nkem, a successful Nollywood (Nigerian film industry) actor is stuck in traffic (go-slow).  He’s just wrapped up a hectic day of filming and is on his way to booty call. I loved the opening sequence and description because Okorafor captures the look, feel and smell of a typical traffic jam in a West African city:

The go-slow was especially sluggish today and Nkem was smoldering with irritation. All he’d meant to do was drive from one part of Owerri to another, a matter of miles. Instead, for the last two hours, he’d been stuck behind a smoke-belching truck and beside a rusty van full of choir members from some fanatical church. He’d turned off his car an hour and half ago, despite the heat. If he didn’t die from inhaling the truck’s noxious fumes, he was going to go mad from the women’s high-pitched singing. Just then, the women started yet another verse of “Washed in the Blood of Christ.”

Worse than this is actually being stuck in the bus with the choir members!  As Nkem waits and broods in traffic, we get a sense of his general dissatisfaction with his life.  Soon enough, Nkem’s car is attacked by a white bull with milky eyes. Now, if you stay in traffic long enough (at least in Accra), you will eventually see odd and crazy things.  But it being Africa, one just shrugs or exclaims and moves on.  And again Okorafor reflects this in the reaction of onlookers.

Just when it appears that the bull will attack him, the creature shakes its head and retreats.  Turns out this is not the first time in Nkem’s life that milky-eyed creatures have tried to kill him.  When he tries an alternate route, he encounters emus and a bird-woman who will reveal to Nkem what he was always destined to be.  This is a story about destiny and fate.  I loved the twists and turns.  Certainly, its ending was quite unexpected.   Okorafor’s writing is very relaxed.  The fantasy elements are not forced but are well-blended into the story.  Nkem’s world is very believable.  In the end, I was glad that he had unearthed the mystery behind his sense of “unbelonging”.

Ogaadi’s voice sounded sharp and full. “You come back to me when I call you. Then we’ll get started.” She laughed. “Today is a good day. We’re both free! But beware of your spirit friends.”

Nkem knew.

The story is featured here, at Tor.com

Short Story Monday is hosted by The Book Mine Set

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8 comments

  1. Good luck reading so many short stories this year, sounds like a great goal! This story sounds really good, I might have to read it later today 🙂

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    • Thanks, Amy. I love short stories so achieving the goal should not a problem. This discipline however is a different story. Do pop over and read the story. It’s set in Lagos 🙂

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  2. Your review had me wanting very badly to read this story, so I went to the link you posted and read it. It was great. Thanks for this review and for introducing me to a new author 🙂

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  3. This reminds of Okri’s The Dream Vendor’s August where the president got stuck in a long queue and saw so many visions… I have heard about Okorafor, talked about her book but haven’t read her. I am not so much a fan of fantasy but I read anything.

    Was this a collection or a single short-story?

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    • It was published in an anthology called The Way of the Wizard . Oh, I need to read more of Okri’s works. This one that you’ve mentioned sounds interesting. But The Famished Road was a difficult book for me!

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