Title: Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away
Author: Christie Watson
Genre: fiction (Nigeria, oil companies, family dynamics)
Length: 431 pages
Source: public library
Challenges/Resolutions: an extra for my Published in 2011 Resolution
Summary (from Goodreads):
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.
My Thoughts: It is hard for me to put my thumb on what exactly it was about this book that made me like it. I’m not sure that I’m particularly glad I read it, but that doesn’t change the fact that I liked it. But I know that I have never been to Nigeria. I have been to Sierra Leone, however, in nonfiction, so there were some similarities.
Issues that are brought up in the book are: war, poverty, the span between big city and native village, and genital mutilation. The war is hard to describe. It’s not exactly war as defined by militarism decades ago. But it involved the government, private security forces of the oil companies, native groups, and then misled/misinformed young male teenagers.
Perhaps it is all of these different things that made me like the book so much. It’s very different from a lot of the books I tend to read. Yes, I like dystopian novels (not that that’s my favorite genre), but those are fake horrific worlds. A more realistic world that has real problems and real horrors is SOO different.
Aside from these things, there are a few other things I liked. Particularly, I thought it was interesting how Blessing’s father is portrayed throughout the novel. In the very beginning, he’s described as a wonderful family man. But after Mama, Blessing, and Ezekiel leave and go to Warri, the real man starts to be seen. I think it is as Blessing meets more different people, especially men, she remembers something she repressed, like Father beating Mama or cutting her with a broken bottle, etc. In the end, Father is presented as selfish–he’s not the family man he appeared at the get go.
I also really liked Ezekiel’s transformation, however tragic it ended up being. Coming from Lagos, he was a “sickly” young man, with allergies and asthma. Moving to Warri, a very rural and poverty-stricken place is hard for him. But he had his school and dreams of becoming a doctor. Then he got in the middle of a shooting and missed a lot of school, after missing it already for health reasons. So he gave up on his dreams of doctoring. And he became desperate to find something to believe in, which led to his involvement in a militant group. He became a man. But even so, he kept slipping back into a child when tough times came, and his childish revenge ended badly for himself.