A review by Morgan Oluwafemi
The Whispering Tress, a collection of 12 short stories by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, attracts you from the cover. The fictional work – published by Parresia Publishers, an emerging publishing firm in Nigeria – is put into the shelf with the aesthetic precision of international publishing touchstones. However, you might wonder what the writer has to offer that others you have read haven’t offered.
Right from the first story titled “Twilight and Mist”, Abubakar distinguishes his rendition from the pack; his stories start on a note of mysticism. Ohikwo, a thirty-two year old man, encounters a young maid who visits him with reminders and messages from his dead mother. Ohikwo’s heart is stirred with the correctness of experience of the young lady and therefore reluctantly decides to visit her at home. He finds her people and her grave.
The Whispering Tress brings magical realism closer home. You can relate with this kind of magical realism, compared with that in Ben Okri’s The Famished Road. It lends mystic powers to nature and the connected dots that fuse humankind to their environment. As much as most of the collection harpoons on commonplace tragedies such as electoral violence, thuggery and poverty, the writer weaves his tale in such a way that the reader is held spellbound by the reality of the consequences of the choices they make.
The Whispering Trees also reads like folklore; it seems to the reviewer that the author tries to find a balance between the ancient northern world where surrealism was the order of the day and the present northern religious climate where Islam has taken its foothold. Abubakar will keep you awestruck with the rich traditions of the north and the simplicity of human conflict. He will tell you subtly that human desires and ideals are always at loggerheads like disgruntled wives.
One story that draws one into questioning is “The Cat-eyed English Witch”, a story about a foreigner’s presence on African soil due to her marriage to a Nigerian. Here, the writer explores the fact that discrimination is not the reserve of the west. Although our family structures may seem undisturbed, we are one with the general relationship conflicts that are real in the world. The Cat-eyed English Witch is no witch at all, she is a foreigner confused about her place in the African world, although she falls in love with the landscape and the people, it does not take long before she was brandished ‘a witch’ by an unwarranted incident, heightened to the crescendo by our banal sense of superstition.
I do not agree with Joseph Omotayo, a reviewer, that the book has misogynistic tendencies. Instead, I feel that the author gives a certain sense of liberty to the women in the stories. The women are fully aware of their desires and the constraints of the phallocentric society. As much as they are not given much special roles in these stories, they present their ideals, their frustrations and their experience in very powerful ways. You find strong female characters, Barira and Zainab – sisters of the deceased in “Closure” – dealing psychological blows on Sadiyya; you find Farida getting away with her crime of murder in “Night Calls”; Zainab in the “Garbage Man” comes to an understanding that she married her husband for his status and is free to give her heart to another—the garbage man. The stories do not employ a caustic or satiric tone towards the actions or inactions of female characters.
My trouble with The Whispering Trees is the writer’s sense of journalese. Sometimes, the writer seems to pick up the many rumours, the commonplace injustice and the uncouth stories that have made the rounds. He would furthermore twist it into a daunting story. “The Whispering Trees”, the eponymous story, and “Night Calls” come to mind.
However, Abubakar is not the kind of writer that wants to challenge us with the complexity of tales and philosophy. With The Whispering Trees, his stories seem easy, real and take the reader to a climax of unexpected and deliberate results. The writer leaves the reader to assert his intelligence in finding out the embedded ideas from the simple stories that has been written. Abubakar Adam Ibrahim is a true storyteller.