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.
Father was a loud man. His voice entered a room before he did. From my bedroom window I could hear him sitting in the wide gardens, or walking to the car parking area filled with Mercedes, or standing by the security guards office, or the gate in front.
The gate had different signs stuck on it every week:
Hawkers Only Permitted if Called by Residents
No Barbecues in the Gardens
No Overnight Guests: Remember, Friends Can Be Armed Robbers Too
And once, until Mama saw the sign and had Father remove it, after he had laughed so loudly that the walls shook:
No Sexual Activity or Defecating in the Gardens.
We lived on Allen Avenue in Ikeja, on the fourth floor of a gated apartment block called Better Life Executive Homes. I loved watching the street from my window, the traders outside walking up and down the avenue, with brightly coloured buckets and baskets and ...
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).
Full Review (955 words).
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.
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