The Whispering Trees: A Review

First Published by Sentinel Quarterly

Written by Alison Lock

We are lured into a world suffused with colour, heat, and energy.  The stories are reminiscent of folk tales and fables where some of the characters have the qualities of angels, witches and medicine men.  In contrast, they are set in a modern world that is both domestic and mystical.  Through these sensitively evoked characters the author gives us a glimpse of life in Nigeria portraying a country of both poverty and vibrancy.  The characters are well conceived and through their development they tell us much about the social and cultural life of the country. 

The story that lends its name to the title of the collection, ‘The Whispering Trees’, begins with a car crash that leaves Salim in hospital and his mother dead.  The rest of the story is about his struggle in coming terms with total blindness.  He is justifiably depressed and angry at the hand that he has been dealt but the reader’s sympathy is stretched when he becomes mean and spiteful to the people who love him most.  Although they try their best, in the end, even his long suffering girlfriend leaves him. His salvation comes in the form of the whispering trees.  He has learned a salient lesson when he says – ‘happiness lies, not in getting what you want, but in wanting what you have.

The stories have glimpses of humour and irony.  In ‘Baba Idi’s Enclave’, Baba Idi is not happy with his son taking the side of the chairman in the upcoming election.  Nevertheless, votes are cast and at first there seems to be a peaceful acceptance of the outcome, but Baba is not happy.  When he sees the motorcycle that his son has been given for his loyalty to the chairman and he pushes it over and sets light to the fuel tank. The terrible irony is that when the restless young men see the rising smoke they assume a riot has started and that only feeds their sense of unrest.

Mysticism runs through this collection but with an animist-realist quality.  There is a constant sense of the continuation of the natural world around them, despite all the actions and words of the characters.  Whether in the form of butterflies or trees – they play as important a role as do the characters. There is a sense of an indigenous spirituality to this collection – an ‘other –worldliness’, that, at times, alludes to re-incarnation.  In Twilight and Mist, the girl is followed by a butterfly.  Ohikwo hears the ghostly, echoing voice of his mother.  The girl confirms this by saying – ‘Your heart is telling you. You just don’t want to believe it.’

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim is an accomplished writer who has won the BBC African Performance Prize.

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