Publisher: Other Press
Pub date: 10 May 2011
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
I’m not a big fan of a child narrators in stories but I am a fan of stories set in Africa. So even though I started reading Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away with some reservations, the voice of the narrator rang so true and the story was so beautiful that I’m really glad I chose to read this book.
Blessing and her brother Ezikiel are living are comfortable life in Lagos with their glamorous mother and larger-than-life father. But when their mother catches their father with another woman, they have to move to their grandparents’ village in the Niger Delta. The move is a big change for them – moving from luxury to a place where there is no running water or electricity. But more important than creature comforts, a band of young rebels is terrorizing the villages.
This is a story with a lot of depth and heartache and I got to love almost every one of the characters.
Blessing and her family have all the creature comforts and everything they want in Lagos. Moving to her grandparents’ house in Warri in the Niger Delta comes as a shock. The toilet is a hole in the ground and they can’t afford the palm oil for Ezekiel (who is racked by asthma and allergies). Blessing is wide-eyed and terrified even of her grandparents while Ezikiel is only concerned with being able to go to school and becoming a doctor. In time, these dreams and fears change more than they could ever have imagined.
Niger delta is home to petroleum companies, but the people of the area don’t get to see any of the advantages of it. They have to live with the polluted river, no running water, days without electricity and very few options to earn a living.
Blessing is a wonderful young girl and seeing things through her innocent eyes and watching her grow up into a mature woman was a great journey to take. Her voice drew me in from the first sentence and kept me involved throughout. She is very attached to her parents and her family and there is such intelligence and strength about her. She is completely loyal to her mother and her love for her brother is so complete and overwhelming.
My favourite character, naturally, is Blessing’s grandmother. I say naturally, because I’m sure once you read the book, you’ll agree. She provides so much support and grounding for her grandchildren. She also teaches Blessing her trade and shares her wisdom, helping Blessing accept who she is and where she belongs.
The story also celebrates the Warri tradition of story-telling. Knowledge and wisdom is passed on from generation to generation through the stories that the women tell their children.
Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away is a beautifully nuanced story peopled with wonderful characters. The author Christie Watson also deals with many of the humanitarian issues that the Niger Delta deals with and does it with grace and depth. We see Blessing and other characters rise above the struggle and hang onto their dignity while doing so.
I haven’t done justice to the many ways in this story resonated with me. What I can say however is, “Read it!” I will definitely going back to relive my journey with Blessing and the sunbirds.
Highly recommended for anyone who likes powerful stories about wonderful people. Don’t miss Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away.
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