Author: Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
Published: May 20th 2016 by Cassava Republic Press
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Over the last year, I have discovered and read several talented Nigerian writers. It all started with Chimamanda Adichie, who is one of my favorite writers of contemporary literature. I fell in love with her voice and what she had to say about Nigeria and its people and their experiences. She sparked my interest in Nigerian literature and I was hungry for more, so I branched out and read Chinelo Okparanta, Nnedi Okorafor, Chris Abani, and now Abubakar Adam Ibrahim. Each of these authors taught me lessons and truths that I couldn’t have found in western stories, and for that I am thankful.
Ibrahim’s Season of Crimson Blossoms is unapologetically non-western and shines as an authentic work of postcolonial Nigerian fiction. As I was reading it, I often thought to myself how different in tone and language it was from almost anything else I’ve read, even compared to other Nigerian writers.
This novel proved to be a refreshing and needed addition to my reading history because it’s a story centered around Nigerian Muslims. About half of the Nigerian population is Muslim, so I was a bit surprised that I hadn’t read any work that told the stories of such an important group of people. Season of Crimson Blossoms does a brilliant job telling a story that is both beautifully written and powerfully deconstructs stereotypes held by outsiders.
The language truly is one of my favorite aspects of this novel. Before I knew where the story was taking me, I was captivated by the language. The story opens thus:
Hajiya Binta Zubairu was finally born at fifty-five when a dark-lipped rogue with short, spiky hair, like a field of minuscule anthills, scaled her fence and landed, boots and all, in the puddle that was her heart.
Binta and Reza, the “rogue,” are the stars of the novel. Binta has been a widow for 10 years and has only been with one man all her life. Reza is a gang leader and weed dealer, certainly not the most reputable of characters. They live in northern Nigeria, which is ultra conservative and makes their illicit affair all the more dangerous and scandalous. They both have deeply troubled pasts and meet entirely by chance, after which their lives change irrevocably.
Initially, their affair made me uncomfortable, not because of the age difference, but because Reza reminds Binta of her dead son, whom she was not allowed to show any affection for due to her culture’s tradition, and Binta reminded Reza of his mother who abandoned him as a boy. They remind each other of people in their lives who were absent and thus had their natural feelings and affections suppressed. However, once I got over my initial knee-jerk discomfort at the implications of their relationship, I was able to enjoy the development of that relationship and the inevitable climax of their discovery.
Another aspect of the novel I enjoyed was how unconcerned Ibrahim was with the western gaze. It makes a lot of sense because Season of Crimson Blossoms was initially written for and published in Nigeria in 2015 and was only recently published by Cassava Republic Press for European and western audiences. The entire novel reads in an authentic voice that would have been lost or distorted if written from a different lens. This voice is most apparent in the language Ibrahim uses, because there are several phrases and sentences scattered throughout the novel written in the characters’ native Hausa, sometimes several in every page. As a person who doesn’t speak Hausa and is unfamiliar with all aspects of Islam, I do admit that the foreign expressions slowed my reading quite a bit at times. But this is not a fault of the story, it is a failing on my part.
I appreciate the fact that a Nigerian Muslim would have a much easier time reading through the story because much of it would be intimately familiar to their experience. When I read a novel that uses Spanish phrases and sentences heavily, I feel a stronger connection to it and appreciate it more than non-Spanish speakers would. It’s precisely because I’m bilingual and understand that the world’s stories don’t have to cater to my western sensibilities, that I am able to enjoy a story such as Season of Crimson Blossoms.
Some readers may be turned off by how non-western the story and overall tone of this novel is. But they would be doing themselves a disservice by rejecting a story simply because it is foreign to their experience. I encourage westerners specifically to shift away from ethnocentrism because viewing the world through a familiar lens may hinder personal growth. We should all strive to expand our cognitive and intellectual boundaries beyond our areas of comfort. As readers, one easy way to do this is to pick up a book such as Season of Crimson Blossoms and read it with open minds and perhaps an open Google search. If you put in the effort, you will more than likely be rewarded with personal or intellectual enrichment.
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