Book Review: John, Elnathan “Born on a Tuesday” (ISBN: 9780802124821)
Wow! No escaping reality with this great book! Elnathan John has demonstrated his talent in story telling- a talent you become aware of, as soon as you find yourself empathizing with his protagonist, Dantala Ahmad. John opens the door to an uncomfortable conversation of North Nigeria.
This is a novel that introduces a human element to a world we (most Westerners) learn about through media depictions. From the moment, you read his dedication of the book, you know John is about tell you a silenced story.
‘For the boys who will never be known
And the girls who become numbers –
Stars without a name’
This novel, spanning a time period from 2003-2010, shows the diversity of Nigeria (yes! It has many tribes, many religions, many languages- shall I go on?). As obvious as this might appear to be, it is not- the general idea of Nigeria is that everyone is in the same tribe and follows the same religion and so forth. However, John lifts the cover off of Nigeria’s face, and reveals her beauty as well as her ugliness. He doesn’t dwell on each factor of the country, but merely plants a seed in our minds- Nigeria has cholera, is subject to flooding, Nigerians live with religious extremists, and corrupt politicians who enforce violence to push their own agenda; yet the country can be peaceful, Nigerians help each other in anyway they can and most importantly- they survive.
We see Nigeria through the eyes of a young child, an almajiri, Dantala Ahmed. His voice becomes our voice, we empathize with him and re- learn words through the use of the English Dictionary- words with deep meanings- OBSESS- PATRON- GIBBERISH- WHY. I can sense John struggling to hide his satirical style while reading through Dantala’s writings- I mean look at the choice of words Dantala is learning…can you hit the nail on the head any harder?
John opens the doors to discussing growing up in a world filled with violence, radicalization of religion, sex and drugs. He introduces controversial topics such as allowing women to vote, to learn to read and write- an ideology for equality of education and even goes as far as to hint at homosexuality, prostitution and adultry. This in itself poses a different view of Islamic Culture – as the media portrays it.
The book opens with Dantala and his friends finding an escape from politics and religious extremism through smoking of “wee- wee”. These children are paid by corrupt politicians to cause mayhem in the streets, killing and looting various neighbourhoods. Dantala witnesses his friend getting killed early on and it impacts his life greatly. It is within these extreme situations, that children must find their way into adulthood. Instead of showing you, John leaves it to his reader to imagine the impact this environment can have on a keen observing child.
We join Dantala, who leaves Bayan Layi and struggles to learn how to survive without the guidance from parents. He obtains food and shelter at a Mosque and seeks peace through the Scripture Readings/Rituals. His discipline and observant nature help him become the favoured almajiri. However, corruption follows him within the big walls of the Masjid. No matter how hard he tries to leave his old life behind, he cannot. Why? Because this IS the world (no use in sugar coating the truth). He is introduced to religious extremism rising through tensions between Shias and Sunnis. Feeling alienated from his own Shia brothers, this child latches onto the Sheikh- a fatherly role figure for him.
It is through the Sheikh’s encouragements, that Dantala unlearns his old ways of life, and embraces ideologies bigger than his childish head could possibly imagine on its own. He starts showing compassion to strangers- something his younger self hesitated to do. He begins making plans for his future, as he enters his adulthood. However, it is through reality of the situation, that we see Dantala relearning the way of life to survive.
Sitting in the comforts of our warm homes, full bellies and luxuries, we are quick to condemn other nations; we allow ourselves to be submerged in media stories, and we look for books to escape the cruel realities of our world. Elnathan John will force that same reality upon you; he will educate you while entertaining you through his words in Born on A Tuesday. So, GO! Get off your chair/couch/bed and get a copy to read now!