Literature is the lens through which life is examined. What is expressed or what is not is left to the discretion of the writer. Many writers tend to dodge the portrayal of certain issues. Yet, a few face these issues headlong. These few writers deserve to be commended; one of them is Jude Dibia. With his debut novel, Walking with Shadows, which treats the controversial issue of homosexuality, Dibia proved his mettle. His second novel, Unbridled, did not fall short of expectations. Certainly, his third novel, Blackbird published in 2011 by Jalaa Writers’ Collective, stands out amongst a thousand stars.
In Blackbird, the rule of opposite reigns. Maya and her husband, Omoniyi, and their ailing son represent the have-nots while Nduesoh and her philandering British husband, Edward, represent the haves. Their society has a capitalist predilection. Yet, the poor do not rest on their oars, as they do all they can to emerge as petit-bourgeois. Nduesoh, who is obsessed with her ugliness, succeeds in gaining the attention of Edward, a rich white man, who becomes her husband. However, she is only respected as Mrs Wood, not as an African. On the other hand, Maya, the beautiful one, gets married to Omoniyi, a poor Yoruba man with prospects (that life kills). Maya is literarily the crayfish bent by her hapless condition. However, in spite of their class, colour and race, they all meet on the plane of love, lust, self-protection, revenge, jealousy and betrayal.
Believe it or not, every human being has the innate ability to go to the limits in protecting what is rightfully (or even wrongfully) theirs. They could go to the cliff of vengeance or jump into the waters of betrayal. In most cases, they end up being guilty of the very thing which they do not want others to be culpable of. For instance, in the process of ensuring that their respective spouses do not get a carnal knowledge of each other, Nduesoh and Omoniyi themselves share the forbidden fruit.
Blackbird also reveals the verity that after independence, the worst lie we, Africans, told ourselves is that we have broken free from the embers of colonialism. Apparently, not only our land was colonised, our minds were also colonised. Jude Dibia’s Blackbird depicts how many Nigerians still cower at the sight of a white man.
Does the novel really need an epilogue? NO. The novel was good to end at the point where Omoniyi comes out of prison. The epilogue where one discovers that Maya is not dead confers an unneeded “and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after” feel on the novel. The manner of Maya’s re-appearance makes one think of magic, not miracles. It may have been better if the life or death of Maya remains mysterious like that of Kainene in Chimanada Ngozi Adichie’s Half of A Yellow Sun.
On the whole, Blackbird is a book worth reading. The paperback quality is excellent. The narration is superlative. The editing is good. Above all, the title is justified. Black is our colour as Africans. (Black)birds are “… resilient. You cut down their trees, clear forests even, and yet they will still fly; … what is more amazing is, they keep singing” (p 322).