When their mother catches their father with another woman, twelve year-old Blessing and her fourteen-year-old brother, Ezikiel, are forced to leave their comfortable home in Lagos for a village in the Niger Delta, to live with their mother's family.
Without running water or electricity, Warri is at first a nightmare for Blessing. Her mother is gone all day and works suspiciously late into the night to pay the children's school fees. Her brother, once a promising student, seems to be falling increasingly under the influence of the local group of violent teenage boys calling themselves Freedom Fighters. Her grandfather, a kind if misguided man, is trying on Islam as his new religion of choice, and is even considering the possibility of bringing in a second wife.
But Blessing's grandmother, wise and practical, soon becomes a beloved mentor, teaching Blessing the ways of the midwife in rural Nigeria. Blessing is exposed to the horrors of genital mutilation and the devastation wrought on the environment by British and American oil companies. As Warri comes to feel like home, Blessing becomes increasingly aware of the threats to its safety, both from its unshakable but dangerous traditions and the relentless carelessness of the modern world. Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away is the witty and beautifully written story of one family's attempt to survive a new life they could never have imagined, struggling to find a deeper sense of identity along the way.
Tiny Sunbirds Far Away is equal parts plot and character - I never seemed to reach a good place to stop, so I read it in two days, staying up past my bedtime for "just one more page." What this book does best is put you inside the world of 12-year-old Blessing as that world is turned upside down - in a place where the whole social structure is in upheaval as well, so that personal events mirror society as a whole. The cultural upheaval that comes from the post-colonial presence of foreign oil companies is important to the story, but we see it strictly through its immediate effects on Blessing's life. Interpersonal politics are important here, not governmental policies. (Reviewed by Beverly Melven).
Confronting issues of race, class, and religion, this work ponders idealistic ignorance in a way that is reminiscent of Chinua Achebe's No Longer at Ease. Watson's story will appeal to readers of African and literary fiction.
[An] absorbing first novel, told through the eyes of the bright and observant Blessing...
[T]his breakthrough novel views the politics of contemporary Nigeria, portraying the clash between traditional and modern as it affects one extended family.
Starred Review. [An] impressive debut... Blessing is a wonderful narrator whose vivid impressions enliven Watson's sensual prose.
Giles Foden, author of The Last King of Scotland
An excellent novel. It takes the reader deep into the reality of ordinary life in Nigeria and is also funny, moving and politically alert.
Helon Habila, author of Oil on Water, winner of the Commonwealth Prize
Christie Watson's debut novel, set in the troubled Niger Delta, does what fiction does best, it captures place and characters so well that you feel you are also there. It is sincere, it is powerfully written, and it deserves to be read.
Chika Unigwe, author of On Black Sisters' Street
Watson has written an immensely absorbing novel. It is both heart wrenching and consoling.
Ike Anya, poet
A fascinating, poignant story that had me laughing in places and deeply moved in others.
Lesley Lokko, author of Sundowners, Saffron Skies, and Bitter Chocolate
Lyrical and beautifully drawn, a poignant coming-of-age tale, set in an Africa few readers will have experienced. A must-read.
Lola Shoneyin, author of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives
The gripping, triumphant tale of a girl who chooses life over loss, in a sweet but savage world where oil is bled from the earth.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Louise J Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away This was a great story and I was totally involved with the characters. Christie Watson, in her epilogue at the end of the story tells us that: “The Niger Delta, known as “the Big Heart” is home to proud people, with good reason. I would highly... Read More
Rated of 5
by Esther Bradley-DeTally Stunning View of Nigerian Life Though the eyes of Blessing, we see a young girl thrust into her mother's native village with her brother. It's a weave of dialogue, intimate characterization revealing the dust and struggle of life in the Niger, along with complex lives and... Read More
Blessing becomes her grandmother's apprentice midwife in Tiny Sunbirds Far Away, becoming part of a long and proud historical tradition in her family, and in the human family.
The word "midwife," is from Old English midwif, meaning "with woman", which frames the idea of midwifery - to be with a woman during the birthing process - along side her, rather than doing something to her, or delivering her baby for her.
Women have traditionally been midwives in virtually all human cultures, even those which frown on women being independent or having power of their own. It is only in the last few centuries, with the medicalization of childbirth, that men have given them any competition.
Here is a collection of novels and memoirs featuring midwives and midwifery.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie weaves together the lives of three characters swept up in the turbulence of a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafras impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in Nigeria in the 1960s, and the chilling violence that followed.
Writer hired for fourth Girl with the Dragon Tattoo book(Dec 18 2013) The Swedish publisher of the late Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, has hired David Lagercrantz write a fourth novel which is...