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Summary and book reviews of Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson

Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away

by Christie Watson

Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away
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  • Paperback:
    May 2011, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Beverly Melven

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About this Book

Book Summary

Set in the Niger Delta, 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.

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.

One

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 guard’s office, or the gate in front.

The gate had different signs stuck on it every week:

No Hawkers
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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Discussion Questions

  1. Ezikiel and Blessing share a special sibling bond. How did it change when they moved from Lagos to Warri? Do you think there was anything that Blessing could have done to save Ezikiel?


  2. Blessing tells her story in her own distinct voice. How would you characterize her style as a narrator? Discuss Blessing's development from an unsure, shy girl to a confident young woman. How does each character in the novel encourage - or stifle - Blessing's maturation?


  3. Watson originally tried writing Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away from the perspective of Dan, the white oil worker. How would Dan's perspective have changed the book? What insights might his narration have brought to the novel? What limitations might Watson have faced?


  4. ...

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    Costa Book Awards
    2011

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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 Members Only (497 words).

Media Reviews

Library Journal

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.

Kirkus Reviews

[An] absorbing first novel, told through the eyes of the bright and observant Blessing...

Booklist

[T]his breakthrough novel views the politics of contemporary Nigeria, portraying the clash between traditional and modern as it affects one extended family.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [An] impressive debut... Blessing is a wonderful narrator whose vivid impressions enliven Watson's sensual prose.

Author Blurb 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.

Author Blurb 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.

Author Blurb Chika Unigwe, author of On Black Sisters' Street
Watson has written an immensely absorbing novel. It is both heart wrenching and consoling.

Author Blurb Ike Anya, poet
A fascinating, poignant story that had me laughing in places and deeply moved in others.

Author Blurb 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.

Author Blurb 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.

Reader Reviews

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

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

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Beyond the Book

Books about Midwives and Midwifery

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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