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Book of the Year, 2015
by Henry Akubuiro 

A book 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.


Non-Fiction Category

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 it?

On 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.


Fiction Category

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)

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