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Literary Openings, Gadgets and News in Nigeria | Duketundesblog: Book review: Smithereens of Death written by Olubunmi Familoni

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Book review: Smithereens of Death written by Olubunmi Familoni

Reviewed by: Ifeoluwa Nihinlola

smithereens of death
The book cover
If I were to judge Olubunmi Familoni’s ‘Smithereens of Death’ by its cover, I would say it is a collection of stories about a man researching death and I would have been, at once, right and wrong.
Death is indeed the major theme in almost all twenty-five stories in Familoni’s debut collection, but what makes this book different from the crime section of national dailies is the author’s writing. To borrow the words of Henry Hitchens, Familoni understands the secret life of words.
The stories in ‘Smithereens of Death’ bear some semblance to Lydia Davis’s stories, in that they are mostly microfiction filled with absurdities and slices of life without a resolution. Unlike Davis, however, Familoni’s style is not entirely minimalist. His work brims with witticisms, and he paints his characters in ways that make us recognize them fully even in the limit of the words chosen. Also, the stories are filled with fluid dialogue served just right. When a character says to another “Here, wash the French out of your mouth…” I struggle to think up a better retort.

Most of the stories in this collection are set in Lagos, Nigeria, and readers who have experienced Lagos firsthand can identify many of the characters in the book: Bus preachers, street urchins, commercial sex workers, professors in bar parlors, etc. The characters have their stories well-written by Familoni.

There are moments when I feel ‘Smithereens of Death’ could have benefited from another edit, but this does not reduce its allure. As a matter of fact, WriteHouse Collective, deserves praise for publishing the book. It is a small victory for presses like WriteHouse to produce books that cannot be readily dismissed by over-zealous critics.

Collectors of beautiful sentences will have fun highlighting many in this book. One of my favourites is: “The risen man, stalled in his designs by the sudden appearance of this other man, stayed frozen on his feet, his plans congealed in that black space between thought and action.”
The temptation to read all 124 pages in one sitting is strong, but the stories are best read slowly, like taking tiny sips of the finest tea, coffee, or whatever you fancy. Thankfully, all the stories are equally rewarding.

Bunmi Familoni’s brilliance is one of the best-kept secrets in Nigerian literary circles. Anyone can write about death—the dour metro section of newspapers is evidence of this; anyone can go for the absurd as a way to excite readers, but very few can do it with the panache that Olubunmi brings to the table. This is why I would have been wrong if I judged the book by its cover: it is much more than just a collection of deaths, there’s life in those pages.

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