Book: The Teacher, The Pianist and The Seamstress
Author: Ogenna Ojukwu
With his debut novel, Ogenna Ojukwu leads the reader through the complicated life of Onyeka; teacher and vice-principal hopeful, foster mother to her nephew and maid and a woman of broken things as personified by the room of haunting memories hidden away in her home.
Onyeka is a brilliant teacher at the college who with Anieto and Chidiebere lives in the teacher’s quarters with some of the other members of the staff including Mr Faramade, her nemesis and rival for the vice-president position, surrounded by the neighborhood urchins known as the Moronfolu children and guarded by Musa, the one-handed northerner with a turbulent history with bad luck.
After the disappearance of her husband, Arum in the middle of working out their childless and troubled marriage, Onyeka takes in Anieto, son of her sister Kesandu who moved and now works in the UK as a healthcare provider, and who bears the scars of witnessing his father’s death and begins to heal gently with Onyeka’s love, Chidiebere’s friendship and later his puppy, Wendy. She also takes in Chidiebere, the typical distant relative from the village brought to be a maid in the city but whom Onyeka treats like a daughter. While her madam and foster pans out dreams of a university education for Chidiebere, she finds succor in a sewing machine and Michael, a widower customer at the tailor shop.
The book alternates between the early 2000s and 90s, in the backdrop of a failed democracy and an oppressive military governments where vocal opinions of dissenting views towards the government leads to disappearances and letter bombs. John Banville in The Sea says ‘The past beats inside me like a second heart’ and it is clear as the events of the novel begin to unfold how Onyeka is haunted by the ghost and memories of Arum and how she has filled her otherwise lackluster life with raising Anieto and Chidiebere; her children whom do not fully belong to her. After the death of Chidiebere’s father in a drunken brawl back at the village and the events that follow, including Kesandu’s request that Anieto come join her in the UK, Onyeka’s fear and pain of loneliness come glaring into perspective.
A couple of the chapters drag on a bit too long and are saddled with a few tenses and POV errors. There are characters which could have done with more attention and growth, including the main ones that could have but in all, this is a pretty decent debut. Ojukwu is a writer to be on the lookout for.