Book Review: Exploring The Topsy-Turvy Nature Of Life As Illustrated In Jeremiah Oyebode’s “The Root”
Whether we care to admit it or not, no human lives in absolute isolation. Our lives connect at one point or the other, directly or indirectly, and sometimes the ripple effect of one individual’s actions can still be felt even after several decades have passed. The world is complex in nature, we each contribute to its complexity in more ways than one, and every now and then, we are reminded of the unpredictable nature of human existence, especially when said unpredictability doesn’t play out in the manner that we would have liked.
Jeremiah Oyebode, Nigerian writer and public speaker based in the United Kingdom, is aware of this reality, which largely influences the creative direction of his debut work of fiction, The Root. Published in early 2022, the book is a collection of eight short stories that are primarily set in urban contemporary Nigeria, with a few events unfolding in the diaspora.
A man of humble beginnings manages to make it out of the woods but sees his children tamper with his legacy in the title story (“The Root”), a woman is made to confront her libertine past in “Secrets”, the pressure to get married is the focal point of the narrative in “Ego”, and in “What Goes Around”, a man’s fortunes take a wild turn in a manner similar to the biblical Job.
“A Life’s Mystery” depicts the deep cracks that jealousy could cause in an otherwise blissful union, “Reward for Persistence” emphasises the need to never back down when it comes to individual quests, “I Want To Be Like You” celebrates dignity in labour, and a family is forced to reconsider their perspectives on HIV in “The Other Side’s Pain”, the book’s concluding story.
In less than 100 pages, Oyebode attempts to place these intriguing characters, their trajectories and their outcomes in one melting pot. In these pages, there is as much focus on the persons interacting in these timelines as there is on the stories themselves. There are a number of useful lessons to pick up on the way, too: don’t turn from the path set by your father if you don’t want to disrupt your family tree in generations to come, be cautious about the kind of lifestyle you adopt because you may come to regret it later, not everyone will board the same bus on the road to success, and be careful how you plunge the knife in the back of those who love you.
There are relevant themes espoused in this collection: jealousy, treachery, determination and childhood trauma are always worthy of discussion as germane societal issues. However, in crafting these stories, Oyebode could have spent a little more time fleshing out the back stories of these characters, as some of them appear a tad flat. With so much going on, it’s important to see the motivation behind the decisions made by some of these individuals.
In perusing these stories, one finds that there is so little by way of dialogue, but that’s not a negative thing: sometimes direct action is enough to see to the unfolding of a particular narrative. That being said, certain paragraphs could have used the keen eye of an editor. Some of the stories end too abruptly, and others seem rushed, like a sermon ending before the congregation is even able to get around the core message.
Is there a chance that Oyebode saw a lot of Nollywood movies while growing up? That could be the case, as the transitions and sequences in some of these stories bear a semblance to something you could have seen on Africa Magic Yoruba. But that’s not necessarily a knock on his narrative skill. If anything, it points at the relatability of his storytelling, and among other things, his flair for the didactic.
The Root is a book that has probably been written for a specific audience, and it will work for that audience. If written for kids to consume, then it is perfect, as there are a lot of moral lessons and guiding life principles to be drawn from this work of fiction. With extensive collaboration with renowned and internationally acclaimed editors in the future, Oyebode’s writing can be finetuned into something more pristine, something at par with writers like Igoni Barrett (Love Is Power, Or Something Like That) or the late S.M.O. Aka (Midday Darkness, My Father’s Car), known for their prosaic fluidity. His debut effort is a conversation-starter, so it would be interesting to see how his career develops, particularly with regard to his next body of work.