First published in 1979 by Heinemann Educational Books Ltd as part of the African Writers Series, Toads of War is a masterpiece! Eddie Iroh gets you glued to the pages until the end. There’s romance, there’s combative action, there’s surprise, there’s suspense, and there’s sweet revenge!
This novel centers around the recapture of the Biafran town of Owerri during the Nigerian Civil War and the love-relationships that are rife in this town even in the midst of war.
In the Price Control Directorate in Aba, a boss’s pride is hurt by an action taken in good faith, by his next-in-authority, Kalu Udim. He rants at Kalu and when it is too much for Kalu to bear, he also loses his cool. His boss accuses him of insubordination and, in a show of power, causes him to be conscripted and sent to the war front in utter disregard and opposition to the medical advice that Kalu being mildly epileptic, should never serve in a combative role. Kalu loses an arm during combat and his mother, on hearing of this predicament of her only son, dies from shock. Being an amputee, Kalu is discharged from the army and he becomes both unemployed and unemployable: penury and destitution stare him in the face. Out of hospital and the army, the 23-year old Kalu decides to seek out his ex-boss but he eludes discovery.
Meanwhile, despite the war, sex life and merry-making in this town is bustling and one of the nymphs, Kechi Ugboma, a coquettish ex-air hostess maintains sexual relationships with two influential men — Major Chitaka Ukatta and Chim Duke. The first day she sets eye on Kalu, a twinge of sympathy, owing to his being an amputee, is kindled in her heart and after a futile attempt she seeks out and starts an earnest, amorous relationship with him.
One day news comes through that the Biafran forces are at the point of capitulation. Despair sets in and the spiritual churches, which had proliferated during the war, become laden with worshipers. Ketchi invites Kalu to go with her to church. The church leader predicts blessings for Ketchi and reveals to Kalu that he is searching for somebody who has caused him pain and agony. He warns him not to seek vengeance for vengeance is for God, but to turn the other cheek to the person.
Kechi and Kalu make a date to go dancing one evening. Kalu gets ready and goes to meet Ketchi in her room at the Women’s Hostel. While in there, Chim also enters spruced up for the dance. Kalu and Chim recognize each other and the former defers to the latter. He goes back to his room and gets a gun. On their return to Ketchi’s room, Ketchi and Chim find a menacing Kalu already in there and waiting for them. The time to settle a score has arrived. Kalu recalls the words that his boss said to him, the manner in which he treated him, and the resulting death of his mother. Even the warning of the spiritual leader does not give him cold feet, and when Ketchi sees red, she tries to intervene, but is stopped in her tracks by a firm warning from Kalu. Before Chim can open the door and escape, Kalu unleashes shoots him dead.
During the war, not everybody suffers. Old commanding officers either stay behind or go on foreign missions and send junior soldiers to the war front to be killed or maimed, some grow rich and fat owing to ill-gotten wealth. Others, including the priests and relief workers, use their positions to sexually exploit women. These are the people described by the author as TOADS OF WAR. During the war, everything – food, drugs, etc., even the sanitary towel for women, and jobs — is scarce. But, as if to perpetuate man’s existence, sexual activity continues unabated and sexual promiscuity abounds; so is the incidence of gonorrhea. Ironically and understandably, coffin-making becomes a lucrative job.
After about a month of Kalu being on the death row, Biafra capitulates and thus ends the civil war.
The author coins such fine expressions as: “. . . he was belching when everyone else was yawning.”- p. 50; “. . . he exploded like a hand grenade.”- p. 50; “. . . eating with my eyes . . . “– p. 55; “I got up quickly like a pauper who had suddenly remembered that someone owed him money.” – p.60; “. . . sleep the sleep of the dead.” – p. 85; “. . . one pebble of morality would benefit the nation like a ripple in a pool.” – p. 85