March 2023: Dazzling by Chikodili Emelumadu – NIGERIA

1st March 2023

Dazzling by Chikodili Emelumadu, novel set in Nigeria.

Novel set in NIGERIA

Dazzling is a novel that is as kaleidoscopically beautiful as its cover and as magical as the story it weaves. Its rich language and original voices set it apart and make it a pleasure to read.

The book is set in modern-day Nigeria and features the stories of two pre-teen girls, whose family situations and emotions are giving them a rough ride through life. Each girl has lost her father, though in different circumstances. They want stability and to live a normal life again. Instead, they encounter ancestral spirits and traditional magic, completely derailing everything that they understand to be true. It is a coming-of-age novel but with the caveat that there are some truly gruesome and moving episodes that might not suit younger readers.

The two stories run in parallel at first, each with clearly defined voices and circumstances. First we learn about Ozoemena Neokeke. She has relocated with her well-to-do family to Nigeria from the UK. She moves to a private secondary school after father mysteriously disappears. She wants to know where he is and hopes he will return. She struggles with her grief, while trying to conform to her strict new school.

There’s a change of perspective, as we learn about Treasure. Her father has died, and she too is overwhelmed with grief. Relatives have taken all the family’s belongings. Her mother deals with the tragedy by sleeping, leaving Treasure to beg for money and food. In these tragic circumstances, it seems that anything she gets is stolen from her.

Both Treasure and Ozoemena see ghosts. Treasure is grateful to a man in the market who gives her food and she’s scared by a nun with gunshot hole in her head who wants directions to go home. She realises they must be ghosts because their feet don’t touch the ground. Such is her desire to get her father back that she naively agrees to a bargain that endangers her and other girls around her.

Meanwhile, a disbelieving Ozoemena learns that it’s her destiny to inherit the powers of a supernatural leopard. She must quickly learn how to deal with this dreadful gift, before others are harmed.

The girls learn that they must keep their encounters with the spirit world secret. They fear the powers of their dead ancestors and particularly the Bone Woman. The fact that the spirits don’t keep their promises is both funny and terrifying. We learn that it’s not unusual for children to disappear in this society, due to kidnappings. But neither girl knows how to deal with the magical challenges while trying to carry on a normal life.

The author cleverly changes the style of each chapter to differentiate the two girls’ stories: Ozoemena’s is told in the third person, with a smattering of Igbo and dialect vocabulary, whereas Treasure’s account is told in her own voice, which is mainly pidgin. This richness of language is among the real pleasures of the book. I did check some of the Igbo words: you could easily skim past them if you couldn’t be bothered but it was fascinating to discover what the characters were eating or wearing.

The book reveals fascinating insights into Nigerian society, with its rules and conventions. It pitches religion against traditional beliefs and magic; the values that the families live by are tested and the whole story is set against the ever-present background threat of war.

Although I suspected that the girls’ stories would come together at some point, I had no idea how until – slowly slowly – they were woven into the same fabric and a very satisfying (and moving) finale.

Sue for the TripFiction Team

Catch the author on Twitter @chemelumadu

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