By Okechukwu Uwaezuoke
The Diary of a Dormitory War
( The Gender Contrast) by Obafemi Olatunde Chidera, Crucified Way, Agbara, 2012
Anecdotes of a youth’s boarding school experience rouse one’s imagination. It whirrs into action and begins to conjure not only images but also the fruity voice of its young narrator. The Diary of a Dormitory War (The Gender Contrast) by Obafemi Olatunde Chidera – actually, Obafemi is his surname – does this to the reader.
Curious, he is gripped by this rare privilege of scouring into a youth’s private thoughts. As often happens with first person narratives, it seems hard to differentiate the 15-year-old author from Anthony Bentley, the central character of his novel. Is the novel autobiographical? The reader can only guess.
Anthony’s weird reaction to his visiting grandmother seems rather far-fetched in a society that reveres the elderly. Yet, the reader awaits his punishment, which comes with his eventual banishment to a boarding school. Even at his tender age, he is already overburdened by a laughable territorial instinct. To his grandmother’s, “This is my daughter’s house and you cannot pursue me”, he retorts, “...This is my father’s house, and also my house and I am telling you to leave before I take action.”
The author feels the need to explain his lead character’s remarks with the following words: “I had made a point, being a boy I had power over anything my father owned because I was to inherit it – that was the tradition of my people.”
Even from these opening pages, the poor editing of the novel strikes the reader. But, impressed by the profundity of the author’s thoughts given the fact that he is a mere 15-year-old, the reader is no less enthralled and reads on.
It gets more interesting when the mutinous Anthony becomes a boarder. Boarding school life soon loses its terror for him on this first day. True, he would henceforth no longer savour those privileges he used to enjoy as a day-student. But, surely, a new chapter in the book of his life’s experiences has been turned.
The author initiates the reader into Anthony’s new environment, not just into its settings but also the language of its dramatis personae. In a style that is reminiscent of Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, Chidera does not hesitate to quote his characters in their original languages of expression – be it Igbo, Pidgin English or high school slang.
Anthony’s anecdotes are really not just about “a dormitory war” as the book’s title leads us to believe. They are also about his gradual initiation into adolescence. From his first day in the dormitory, he identifies role models who become templates for his aspirations. “‘If Christopher can stay here and succeed then you can and seriously have no choice, you must,’ the voice kept on echoing. ‘And seriously you must,’ into my head.” (page 41).
Besides Christopher, there is Senior Nelson whose engaging personality fascinates him. Initially, drawn into the “dormitory war” against the female boarders, he soon begins to review the propriety of the male students’ actions. Could they not have made their point in a non-violent way? The reader wonders how a teenage male could possibly let himself be easily bullied by his female seniors. In a boarding school, seniority matters.
After the female students’ reprisal, the storyline suddenly begins to sag. It does not easily pick up even when the recalcitrant boys begin to plot a counter-reprisal. Perhaps, it is because Anthony chooses this time to distance himself from the latest plot. A kind of ferment brews within him. The restiveness of the idealistic youth – intent on storming the heavens – becomes evident here.
Credit must be given to the author for his ability to initiate the readers into this unique world of young people, which strangely remains a Mystery Land to adults. He easily empathises with the melancholic temperament of his lead character because he is about his own age.
Even when Anthony treads the path of honour and shuns all peer pressure, he refrains from sermonising. Yet, he is not immune to the approving nods his role model Christopher gets from adults. Sadly – and understandably – envy soon overwhelms him. He even begins to avoid Christopher.
He gets the opportunity to assert his individuality and independence when he tells the truth about the origins of the “dormitory war” to the consternation of his colleagues and to the astonishment of the school’s authorities, whose intervention ended the gender feud.
The sketchy illustrations punctuating the stages of the juvenile gender war are obviously intended to lighten up the mood of the novel. But it somewhat obtrudes into the narrative, letting the reader know what to expect.
All in all, The Diary of a Dormitory War makes an interesting read. But the enjoyment of its narrative of a high school dormitory life is sadly blighted by avoidable typos. For instance, the word “lose” is repeatedly confused for “loose” in several pages of the book. In page 85, “pool of water” is spelt as “pull of water”. Then, there is the confusing use of quotation marks, among others. Subsequent editions of this enthralling narrative should be able to redress all of that.
In this young aspiring author, the reader sees great potentials. He might yet – who knows? – clinch a prestigious literary prize.