(This is what writing friends and feminist sisters are for: they save your blog from languishing and sinking into obscurity! Nana Darko Sekyiamah is a writer and a blogger. She co-founded the blog Adventures from the Bedroom of African Women which “provides a safe space where African women can openly discuss a variety of sex and sexuality issues with the intention of learning from each other, having pleasurable and safe sex and encouraging continuous sex education for adults“. ‘Adventures is a groun-breaking blog.)
“Yewande is the writer most likely to succeed” was what I thought after I spent ten days with Yewande Omotoso and eighteen other talented writers at the 2012 Farafina Trust workshop led by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. During the workshop we would regularly have to write short pieces, read them to the class and take whatever feedback we would get on the chin. The depth of Yewande’s writing, and the ways in which her characters came alive in all their complexities consistently blew me away. During the workshop, I learnt that Yewande had already published a book, sadly I wasn’t able to get my hands on a copy until a visit to South Africa earlier on this year
Bom Boy, the title of Yewande Omotoso’s debut novel is Pidgin English for baby boy. In many ways, the book is the story of two baby boys, Leke and his father Oscar, whom Leke never met. Yet the book is so much more than this.
Do you ever read a book and think, ‘Wow I have learnt a lot’. That’s how I felt after reading Bom Boy. The author deftly wove in stories of Yoruba mythology whilst moving the story from the perspective of a precocious young boy, to that of his imprisoned Father, all set against the backdrop of interracial adoption, interracial relationships, and the legacy of a family curse. This is what Oscar said to Leke in one of the letters he wrote to his baby son whilst in prison.
When you get born into a family curse nothing is frightening, I suppose its like being the child of an undertaker – dead bodies are commonplace.
The story is set in South Africa and spans ten years from 1992 to 2012. The author’s intimate knowledge of South African history, and its sometimes-complex relationship with (Nigerian) immigrants are evident throughout this book.
Oscar was surprised on arriving at the university to find that some of the people he shared a lab with had never heard of Moremi. Some of them didn’t even know where Nigeria was.
‘I thought you were coloured,’ one had said, confused by Oscar’s clay-brown skin and curly hair.
Part of what makes this book really rich is the multiple stories that enfold. Leke never meets his father, Oscar. Instead, we learn of Oscar’s life through the letters he writes to his son. A white couple, Marcus and Jane, adopts Leke. Leke stalks Tsotso but there is a happy ending.
Oscar and Elaine fall in love but theirs is a doomed relationship. Amongst all these stories, probably the character who touched me the most was Elaine, a white South African who had a baby (Leke) with Oscar, a mixed race man of Nigerian ancestry. Through Elaine, issues of class are thrown up in sharp relief. The relationship between Oscar and Elaine gets to the heart of racism and the challenges that couples of different races might have faced in the pre apartheid era when their relationship took place.
Elaine had overheard the gossip circulating amongst the staff about her.
‘He’s a black. He’s from Rwanda or somewhere’
‘Rwanda? Where’s that?
‘Were they married?’
Elaine had held her breath, Ursula and the girls hadn’t realised she was in the toilet. It seemed too late to clear her throat, she’d decided to just sit it out.
‘No. No marriage.’
‘I heard he was a client of hers.’
‘A client? You mean…?’
If you’re in South Africa Bom Boy is available from Exclusive Books, and internationally from Amazon.