Odega Shawa strikes again!
Sometimes, you come upon a book that is written with one express intention: to shock. That is precisely what Odega Shawa has hit us with. From the title to the acknowledgments, to the way the story weaves and races its way from the nooks and crannies of Ajegunle to the cellblocks of Ikoyi prison, and from the battlefields and dreamscapes of her fantasy world to the tortured mind of a psychopath killer with (almost) enough money to make his crimes or the evidence thereof, vanish permanently.
In Hello, Vagina, We are given glimpses of Kelechi’s life as the story unfolds, and almost as we think the trouble has reached its peak, another blow rocks the life of the teenage girl and drives her further into the quicksand that is life in a third world country. The book walks a fine line between fact and fiction, between what is true and what is not, between faith and superstition. The consistent tone through the book is one of empathy: you feel for the girl, and the setbacks she goes through as the book progresses, and somewhere along the line, you will most likely find that the small spark of irritation you feel for the way life treats her has become a roaring inferno. But there are also other emotions.
There is pain, as you read and vicariously experience the indignities and suffering visited on the girls within the school system that is supposed to raise them and give them a chance at a better tomorrow, but instead ends up subjecting them to the most degrading and dehumanizing experiences possible, and by no less a personage than the vice-principal, who, to all intents and purposes should be a pillar of uprightness and moral rectitude. One can not help but wonder how many of our daughters and younger sisters are being failed by the very people that they put their trust in, or who are supposed to take care of them and give them a better future. Whether it is the pastor in the church, the teacher in the school, or the doting politician who claims to be a father figure, the truth is that our girls, daughters and sisters, nieces and friends, are being failed and betrayed in the most shameful ways, by those who should do better. Art imitates life, they say, and Odega has done a fine job of showing us our diseased and disgusting underbelly that we dare not show the world. He has shown us that we need to speak up and bury the nasty culture of shaming the victim while letting the lecherous betrayer go free.
There is anger, as you follow the trajectory of Tunji Lawal, aka Teejay the Don Dada, the secondary antagonist (join me in assuming that the primary antagonist is life itself), as he grows from struggling writer to accomplished Nollywood writer, actor, director and super-producer to political titan, and the connections he has and the way he uses them to squash any and all opposition is both horrifying and fascinating, an eerie reminder that to be poor in Nigeria is to be downtrodden, to be so inconsequential that your own family and friends will deny you and wash themselves of even the faintest bit of your memory, provided that it will earn them something, or prevent them getting squashed like bedbugs as well. You dare not be useless in life and be useless in death as well. They would rather be rid of you.
With this book, Odega is perhaps aiming to shock us into an awareness of all the things we need to do to ensure a better society for our daughters, nieces, and the little girls who look to us for hope, for love, and for us to not be monsters. Whether he succeeds in shocking us into a response is something you can answer for yourself…
When you are done reading HERE.
Get started already! Read Hello, Vagina.