By Yinka Olatunbosun
The Joy of Many Generations by Obafunke, Thinck Limited, Great Britain, 2012
Deciding an encapsulating title that underscores the theme of this phenomenal work can be tricky. The message in Obafunke’s first novel, The Joy of Many Generations is simple yet loaded, leaving the reader to make inferences and draw conclusions, however inconclusive they may be. It is a book of faith, hope, love, courage, resilience, truth and survival. Furnished with fluid details expressed in simple language and proper diction, this 34-chapter biographical masterpiece is a compelling read, a compulsive page-turner with a hovering feeling of suspense.
The protagonist in the story, Dara, is the author’s only son, a second child who lives with cerebral atrophy, and palsy, a condition where cerebral fluid that circulates between the spinal column and the brain cavity is trapped in the brain cavity. As a result, the brain fails to develop having been hindered by the dammed fluid. The consequences are grave. One major challenge of living with this medical condition is the lack of adequate capacity for intellectual development. Coupled with his epileptic fits, Dara’s predicament is rather pathetic. In spite of this, the author narrates from a balanced first person point of view, touching on the good and bad times of raising the child. Yet, the love Dara’s mother has for her son is contagious and is reflected in her description of events that tested the quality of her faith in God and those of her family.
The narrative prose allows the reader to empathise with Dara and his family. Dara makes up for what he lacks intellectually with his strength of character. He interacts freely with strangers without restraint. He is warm, sociable and prayerful. He picks up after everyone without complaining and attempts to perform chores beyond his mental capacity such as cooking, washing vehicles and other activities that persons of his age bracket engage in. The author chronicles the event leading up to date, revealing how Dara’s parents struggle to educate him regardless of his limitations. In his early life, he attended high-profile schools including Redeemer’s International School, Corona School, Greensprings School and Curatia, a special school for children with learning disabilities. Overtime, his mother becomes close to many of his teachers, who are drawn to his warmth and even stay in touch with the mother to monitor his progress long after leaving the school.
Dara has many learning challenges. He is extremely hyperactive, hugs strangers and kisses some on the cheeks. He mimics a lot of traits including those of his classmates at special school for children with learning disabilities and at a time, licks someone’s face after spending some time with the dogs in his house. On page 73, the author captures the learning status of her child who, now 19, is schooling in the United States of America.
“Dara had always shown a very keen interest in books and you would always find him holding a book, a bible and endlessly flipping through as if he could make out the words. It is hard to tell if this is a natural instinct or born out of watching everyone in the family always reading. For all his difficulties, he never once turned a book upside down. He just had a natural instinct around books. My heart would ache for him because it was apparent that he wanted so badly to read those words. And when he finally learnt to read words, he constantly pestered us to listen to him read, and then he would read the words he recognised and look to us to pronounce the ones he could not. Still, it was progress, modest as it was. Even now, Dara is almost always with a book in his hands, with his nose stuck in it, particularly when at home. And he has the infuriating habit of carting around no fewer than six books at a time, all of which he stuffs under his pillow when going to sleep at night. Talk about developing an obsession.”
The ill-timed seizures that Dara experiences periodically had once taken a dramatic turn when he was to leave for England to study. He had a full epileptic fit that morning and worse still, while on board the plane. His mother was completely terrified. Once, in an attempt to save Dara from hurting himself, his mother placed her hand in his mouth, causing a severe injury to her fingers that were trapped between Dara’s clenched teeth. Another tear-jerking tale is that of the day Dara’s parents decided to let him travel back to school alone, an attempt to teach him self-reliance. All seemed well until Dara’s mother received a call from the airline that her son has become hostile to some passengers on board, encroaching on other people’s space and refusing to co-operate with air hostesses.
Another interesting thing about the central character is that he seems to be very much aware of his limitations though he has no control over them. He prays about it and encourages everyone who sympathises with him. Even when deeply hurt by a friend’s ill-treatment, he still declares that the person as his friend. Dara’s memory is amazing, retaining words, phrases and music, regardless of how good or bad they may be. He has a lot of female friends mostly because women have played significant roles in his life at one point or another. The author wrote extensively on the relationship of every other member of the family with Dara. Oluwatofe, Dara’s sister is a respected figure in Dara’s mind. Still, he gets a good dose of pampering from his father, Abimbola as well.
Alex Emode, in the preface of the book, identified the thematic preoccupation that is born out of authorial intrusion.
“The author sees the hand of God in all her situations and she makes no pretensions for that. She is quick at recognising all the people she meets in the course of her experiences as God-sent and therefore the ideal persons for each of those situations she passed through. Only a man or woman whom God has helped to see the good in all things can be so disposed.”
The author revealed to pressmen at the book reading in Lagos recently that her reason for writing the book, namely to make sure she does not forget her experiences. She hopes that the book will inspire others who live with other challenges other than hers. The writing took four months, beginning in September 2011 and ending in December. It is expected that the non-profit book will resuscitate the dying reading culture of Nigerians and, perhaps if adapted into a screenplay, it will make Nollywood’s best movie yet.