Book Reviews: Saraba Magazine’s “Transitions” Issue

 Transition (n): When something changes from one form or state, to another.

The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English.

 

“Stories shift like sand in a place where no records exist.”

Cathy Newman

 

“The only thing constant is change.” So goes the popular anecdote. However nowhere else has the oft quoted cliché proved more appropriate than for Saraba magazine’s “Transitions” issue. Of course it is easy to see while the editors have named this issue “Transitions”, it is the first edition of the magazine , since it was co-founded back in 2008 by Emmanuel Iduma who now serves as its editor, and Dami Ajayi who serves as one of four other senior editors, to go into print, and that shift of movement from the open, impersonal, space that the internet offers to what the editors describe as “something of beauty- a lingering touch, a returned gaze, a felt presence” is worthy of note. However, that, is not by any means, the only transition that has taken place. The magazine itself, (like its founders who have gone from being young student writers struggling to gain recognition for their work to being two of the most recognizable names in African writing), from its humble beginnings as a platform for Ajayi and Iduma to push their own work to the world, has gone on to become one of the most recognized literary magazines in the Africa in terms of publishing and promoting new writing from Africa about Africa and of Africa. That shift in status is also worthy of note. In essence, “Transitions”, more than being a thing of beauty, is a solid, tangible monument that has coalesced from the floating “intangible” online space. It is a milestone that not only gives a defining permanence to the Saraba Initiative, but acts as a link between the magazine’s past, its present and its future.

It goes without saying that memory forms a huge part of any transition, after all it is the Yoruba who say “when the youth falls, he looks forward, but when the elder falls he looks backwards to see what has caused his fall.” What this implies is that searching memory to try and change one’s course to forestall a dark future requires some introspection which in turn requires some experience bequeathed by age. There is no gainsaying in the fact that like the character Daniel Dewuaa in “Uche Okonkwo’s “What The Road Offers” we believe that “remembrances are bad because they make people angry.” And so we have as Emeka (Emeka Okereke of the Invisible Trans-African Organization) argues in the same piece “a penchant for forgetting, and this makes us prone to repeating our history.” Add to that a generation of African leaders who, according to John Ifebunadu, in the same piece “don’t like any history that is unpalatable to their government” and one realizes that there is a need for young African writers and thinkers to start challenging narratives and investigating memories on other for the future not to go down the same dark paths that the past went.

An observant reader who picks up a copy of “Transitions” will no doubt be captivated by the varied genres and perspectives in the work. There is a mix of fiction, essays, poetry and even an interview in the work. all of this  make it an extremely engaging read. The reader is immersed in a vivid world of color, imagination and perspective, a world where perspectives dovetail into and diverge from each other. It is the kind of perspectives that  one should expect from the contributions of some of the finest young writers of African origin. It is appropriate that Olajide Ayeni’s ”Exploring Lines and Electrocuted Architecture” is the first piece the reader sees. The objects depicted in the piece are silhouettes, an incomplete, half formed thing, neither full picture nor blank canvas, with potential to turn to either. The theme of Transitions doesn’t become more embodied than Ayeni has given to it. The two travel essays, “What the Road Offers” by Uche Okonkwo, and Collective Truths by Yinka Elujoba, published in collaboration with Invisible Borders Trans-African Organization also do well to challenge the notion of memory and the role it plays in transition and change. House 57 by Kola Tubosun and Temitayo Amogunla makes a good read, not in the least because much of the literature on the city of Ibadan tend to be from a bird’s eye view of the city and are more often than not, to be wrapped in the rose tinted spectacles of nostalgia. It is thus interesting to see Tubosun and Amogunla use House 57, the titular house of the piece, to reveal the city of Ibadan in a way that is seldom seen by enthusiasts of Ibadan literature. The running theme of the civil war which plays a more or less central role in the three essays is also worthy of note here. There is no gainsaying in the fact that the civil war changed Nigeria irrevocably and continues to affect the attitudes of the groups involved till the present. Therefore there can be no discussion of transition in Nigeria without recourse to the civil war, especially due to the fact that nearly five decades after said war, there has been no attempt to have a genuine nationwide conversation about the events of that war and its effects.

Even the creative pieces (the fiction pieces and the poetry) flow well with the others. The striking thing common to them, which is worth mentioning is the fact that all the short stories use either a stream of consciousness narration or an omniscient narrator. What this achieves is to give the reader a “front row” experience into the worlds that the characters inhabit and the events that shape them and change them. Gbenga Adesina’s poetry stands out here. His vivid imagery and his poetic use of language create a world of colour and life that the reader can immerse themselves in, making the reader feel like they live in the memories that Adesina creates.

As I noted in this review of Boluwatife’s The Cartographer of Memory, the subject of memory and transition is an important issue worthy of discourse in the Nigeria and Africa of today, where in the words of Cathy Newman: “stories shift like sand in a place where no records exist.” And it is only appropriate that what Iduma and Ajayi have done with “Transitions” should be summed up with one sentence, taken out of Yinka Elujoba’s Collective Truth “I am creating within myself, spaces for these ignored nuances and less discussed in-between, in my pursuit of a fuller, rounder narrative.”

 

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