A 2014 Indie Book Award winner, Losing My Religion is the first novel written by the Nigerian author, Jide Familoni.
The principal protagonist is Olufẹmi (meaning “God loves me”) or Femi.
Fẹmi hails from Ido-Ekiti village, in the South Western region of Nigeria in Yorubaland. After successfully going through school, he enters the University of Lagos to study engineering. He then attends a nine-month mandatory national service program, following which he secures a job as an Assistant Lecturer in the College of Engineering of the University of Ilọrin. Five months later he gets accepted into the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada to pursue graduate studies.
Five months later, Femi returns to Nigeria order to marry his college sweetheart, Yetunde. They both move to Canada and settle there, while Femi completes his doctorate degree. Thereafter, the couple relocates to Memphis, Tennessee, USA, where Femi gets a job as an Assistant Professor.
Life in the United States comes with new challenges for the couple as they adjust to a new culture and society, far different than the traditional Yoruba culture they grew up in. In time, their marriage collapses. Femi falls in love with Megan, a white American. His jilted wife Yetunde hires a sniper, who gets on Fẹmi’s trail and on one occasion, attempts to assassinate him.
Meanwhile, Megan gets pregnant. Fẹmi is obliged to go see her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Stewart. Her father almost instantly likes both the relationship and Fẹmi, but her mother, stays indifferent. But when Megan gives birth to twins, her indifference evaporates. She actively takes part in organizing a big child ceremony that is held according to Yoruba tradition in their mansion. The officiating Minister is a Catholic Archbishop. By enlisting the ministerial services of an Archbishop the profile of the naming ceremony is raised in the eyes of Mrs. Stewart, who had hitherto opposed the idea of holding a pagan ceremony in her home. Her high-class-society friends attend and she gets the local Public Broadcasting TV Station to film the ceremony. The naming ceremony is replete with meaningful symbolism and at the end of it, the twins are named, Taiwo Yejide Oluwatoyin and Kẹhinde Yewande Oluwatosin. The name Taiwo, the first to be born, means, “taste the world”, Yejide means, “mother reawakened” and Oluwatoyin, means, “God is sufficient to be praised”. Kẹhinde is the second to be born and her name means “come last”, Yewande means, “mother came looking for me”, and Oluwatosin means, “God is sufficient to be worshiped”.
Throughout his stay in the USA, Fẹmi suffers several instances of racial bias from both the academia and the police. On December 6, 1998 after a bitter argument with the Provost over an issue of campus politics actuated by racial injustice, he resigns from his job after having climbed the rung and attained the position of chair in the department of Engineering. Megan has for long nursed the desire to be a sort of a redeemer for minorities. Her union with Fẹmi and their relocation to Nigeria provides the channel to make her dream come true. In addition and ironically, this move by a Caucasian rather helps Fẹmi to introduce his twin daughters and son to the traditions of his ancestors, particularly, since Relé, having lived in the USA almost all his youth, had become ashamed of identifying himself with Africa, and had even gone as far as adopting the name, “Ray”, in place of “Relé”.
The major themes in the novel are beautifully and appropriately strung together in lines of poetry by Wọle Ṣoyinka, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Ernest Hemmingway, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, by biblical sayings, Yoruba proverbs, Yoruba deities, and a Yoruba legend about the creation of the earth.
Yoruba consider proverbs to be “the horses that conversations ride; …” And this novel is indeed replete with many great proverbs.
“… if a calabash bowl falls facedown, we turn it right side up and retrieve it. If we cannot, we put a heel to it and smash it into smithereens. If we cannot peacefully remove the magic bangle from the witch doctor’s wrist, we simply sever his arm to recover the bangle!” (p. 7)
“If someone is plotting to roast or fry you, the least you can do is not lotion your body with cooking oil.” (p. 16)
“If a fire dies out, it leaves its ashes behind. If a banana plant dies it leaves its young saplings to grow into tomorrow’s fruit-bearing trees.” (p. 24)
“A war that has been threatened for 20 years does not kill a wise cripple.” (p. 53)
Even though a number of themes are covered in the novel, the title, Losing My Religion is apt in that it addresses one of the major themes which is the result of Fẹmi’s relocation to the Western hemisphere – the loss of the Yoruba culture to his offspring either born or raised in the West. In another sense, related to racial injustice, the title is apt, for racial inequality and injustice is not part of Yoruba culture.
Losing My Religion was first published in 2013 and covers 309 pages.