Book of the Year,
doesn't become a good read by sheer accident: A page-turner rises far above the banal, is painstakingly researched, crafted,
edited and produced. Needless to say, a great book is inexhaustible to the reader, no matter the number of pages.
Above all, it provokes cerebral discussions.
Like mustard seeds, many exciting new books were published in Nigeria this year.
From bookshops to book fairs, paperbacks and hard covers competed for spaces in Nigerian bookshelves and libraries, making
it somewhat difficult to select the best of the best produced by Nigerian authors in 2015. Yet some are more gripping than
others. If there are two books you must read this Christmas, these two offerings will make your season.
The first time Bukar Usman's A History of Biu arrived The Sun,
my desk momentarily turned to a Mecca for bibliophiles. At 693 pages, the size of the book hollers at you, daring yet
luring. Everybody wanted to have a read. Leafing through the pages, one is easily turned on by the quality of the production.
Reading through it, one is further arrested by its unique contents.
History is boring to many schoolboys in Nigeria. For
one, it is replete with dates and laborious to read. But a good History book does the opposite: it sweeps you off your feet.
The education authorities in Nigeria seem to have announced the date of the subject in contemporary Nigeria by removing
it from primary and post-primary school curriculum. Yet history tells us where we are coming from. Can anybody do without
the surface, the annals of Biu don't seem as attractive as, say, those of ancient Bini Kingdom or Oyo Empire or Kanem
Borno Empire you may have heard before. This is where A History of Biu, a book that took nine years to complete,
offers novel ideas for exploration.
Before now, skeletal historical documents on Biu Emirate in present-day Borno State were written by explorers,
colonial administrators, early missionaries and anthropologists, and their accounts were limited to the Biu society
as existed before independence with stereotypical presentations. A History of Biu, the third in the Biu
Emirates Studies Series, offers us more.
The author of this amazing book furnishes the reader with facts pertaining to distant and recent events
in the over four-century civilisation, its socio-political civilisation, inter-group relations, the stabilising cultural values,
traditional system of social organisation, traditional philosophy and wisdom, art, traditional medicine and ecology
of the people.
The marvel of this well researched book, released last quarter of 2015, is that the author, aside chronicling landmark
developments in the emirate, comparatively, makes references to near and distant dynasties, languages, cultures,
in Africa and the Middle East.
The book teems with hundreds of graphs, data, illustrations and pictures. Surprisingly, this book isn't
written by a university professor but a retired bureaucrat, who has taken to writing for solace. Scholarly, informative
and educative, the packaging of A History of Biu (published by Klamidas Communications, Abuja) score's another
bull's eye. For a book produced in Nigeria, it deserves a five-star rating. Its impact will be felt more in 2016. Usman
is the President, Nigerian Folklore Society.
At the Ake Arts and Book Festival that took place last month in Abeokuta, Nigeria,
one book everybody kept asking for was Chigozie Obioma's debut novel, The F i s h e r m e n , published
by Little, Brown and Company, USA. When limited copies eventually arrived at the festival just a day to the end of the 5-day
festival, not a single copy was left. Like Oliver Twist, many booklovers asked for more copies.
A bolt from the blues: that sums up Obioma's
arrival to the literary world in 2015. The 28-year old catapulted himself to global fame with the publication of The
Fishermen, in 2015, which earned him a Man Booker Prize nominee and the accolade of "the heir to Achebe"
by the New York Times. Besides, the book is on the shortlist for the Etisalat Prize for Literature in Africa, the
Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and the Edinburgh Festival First Book Award. It was also chosen as one of the American
Library Association's five best debuts of spring 2015.
According to the author, the novel aims to "build a portrait
of Nigeria at a very seminal moment in its history (the annulled presidential elections of 1993), and, by so doing, deconstruct
and illuminate the ideological potholes that still impede the nation's progress even today."
Set in Akure, Nigeria,
The Fishermen tells the story of unforgettable childhood by four brothers, Ikenna, Boja, Obembe and Benjamin, in
the 1990s. Their strict father having travelled to a distant city for work, the brothers take advantage of his absence
to avoid classes skip and go fishing rather. At the ominous, forbidden nearby Omi-Ala River, they encounter a dangerous
local madman, Abulu, who persuades the oldest of the boys that he is destined to be killed by one of his siblings. In the
absence of their father devastating influence of the madman noted in the area for accurate prophesies, the family
faces a destiny verging on tragedy.
The novel is rendered by two narrators -Ben the child and Ben the adult -with the older creating a more articulate
telling of the story in contrast to the younger voice, who only knows what he experiences or hears, as he recalls how the
Biafran War has scarred his parents. Stylistically, each chapter begins with a pithy phrase. The novel abounds with metaphors
and parables characteristic of the Achebean school. The setting is symptomatic of a continent brimming with contradictions
but with epic culture. A novelist, short story writer, poet, nonfiction writer, Obioma teaches creative writing at the University
of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA.
(Courtesy: The Sun newspaper, Dec. 19, 2015)