Season of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim – Unconcerned With The Western Gaze

Author: Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

Published: May 20th 2016 by Cassava Republic Press

DisclosureI received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Add book on Goodreads – Season of Crimson Blossoms

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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20 thoughts on “Season of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim – Unconcerned With The Western Gaze

  1. I love love the sound of this novel, Naz. And that excerpt is lovely!

    I’m glad to hear that Season of Crimson Blossoms has not been forced to succumb to the whole ‘make the novel palatable to white audiences’ syndrome that seems to occur when writers of color write for Western audiences. I think honest novels of this sort are very much needed to crush prejudices.

    Definitely adding it to my wishlist. 😀

    1. It was such a relief to see Ibrahim write with such authenticity and without concern for white audiences. I was able to enjoy this book much more because of this honest and authentic voice.
      It’s really good! I’m glad I brought it to your attention.

  2. Ooh I like the sound of this one. *adds to TBR* Ah, man, I love your blog – I love finding all these types of literature that the world seems to blindside because they can be so darn tricky to uncover by yourself. I went on an adventure through Goodreads the other day to find some more diverse books and gave myself a high five for finding some. I really should just thoroughly stalk your GR shelves, that would probably make life easier haha

    1. Thank you for your kind words! My blog exists precisely to bring attention to works of literature that may be overlooked. It’s so easy to miss out on great books simply because they don’t get enough coverage. It’s not the fault of the readers but of the publishing industry in general. So it’s very important that readers seek these kinds of books out themselves.

      It makes me so happy to see you looking for more diverse books. 😀 You’ve made my day. If you read and review any of them, don’t forget to add your link to the Read Diverse Books Year-Round post to possibly win a free book 😉

  3. I like the sound of this book being written with a home audience in mind 😊 A book merely set in another place, but with a white audience in mind is kind of “touristy”. I also don’t want to be pretentious and say that I want an “authentic” experience. Because in the end, the book has not been written for me, but for the people it speaks about. That is enough to convince me that this book is great 😊

    1. Perhaps I should be more careful about how and when I use the word “authentic.” I say that the voice and feel of this novel is authentic, but how would I know? Your’re so right, this book wasn’t written for me! But I’m placing my faith in the author to write his world the best way he knows. I hope I haven’t embarrassed myself. :/

      1. I never meant to criticize your pov, Naz. I’m sorry if that is how it came out! As you say, we can only trust that the writer has been true to the place and culture. Our unfamiliarity is both a disadvantage to completely understanding it as well as an opportunity to learn. I sincerely appreciate your actively seeking out such books and the effort you make to understand them.

  4. I would love to read this precisely *because* it is written without a western perspective. And, it’s wonderful to be getting recommendations for them from bloggers, because otherwise I wouldn’t know which ones to read! Great review!

      1. Good plan. I didn’t get into them in the first place. I like to think of my ‘reviews’ as just my thoughts on the book. Then people can decide for themselves if it sounds good to them.

  5. This is a great review. You made me think of whether I’ve read any literature so comfortably removed from western sensibilities – I don’t think I have. Any international fiction I’ve read has been pretty heavily influenced. I’ll have to check book out. As you so eloquently put, I’d like to “expand [my] cognitive and intellectual boundaries beyond [my] areas of comfort”!

    1. Most literature written in English is inextricably linked from western sensibilities. I think “The Vegetarian” would is also removed from the western gaze, but not nearly as much as Season of Crimson Blossoms.
      I do love the feeling of reading works that are quite foreign to me but are rendered real and tangible by the author’s words.

  6. Insightful review, once again, Naz. I’d not heard of this book, not surprisingly. It sounds fascinating. I love “open heart and open Google search!” Your thirst for knowledge is inspiring. Yay for more Nigerian voices!

  7. Their relationship immediately reminded me of the movie Harold and Maud, which is about a woman who is going to turn 80 who befriends/sleeps with a young man around 20. It was recommended to my class by a professor who taught gerontology. If you have Netflix, it’s also a really funny movie that explores relationships and ageism.

  8. That sounds so great, I don’t think I’ve read Nigerian Muslim lit so far which is a shame! I tend to read Nigerian when reading African lit, this year it’s Zimbabwean mostly somehow, so yay I’ll read this for the Reading Africa challenge. Also: Yes! Not pandering to Western audiences! Probably small publishers are a good way to find more of this.:)

    1. I didn’t realize I hadn’t read any books about Nigerian Muslims until I read this book! What a glaring omission on my part, given how many Muslims there are in the country.
      I have been lucky to have smaller publishers reach out to me because I wouldn’t have found their books anywhere else! Being a blogger has its perks. 😀

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