Tiny Sunbirds Far Away: A Review
In “Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away,” first-time novelist Christie Watson lays bare the poverty stricken lives of traditional Nigerian villagers through the perspective of a young girl named Blessing.
By Eva Wojcik
“Eh! The politicians are controlled by the oil companies! This war would not be happening if the oil companies did not pay for the military regime. The oil companies pay direct to the Kill and Go police and the army. They do not even hide it. The blood is on their hands.”
In the novel, the female child Blessing’s known universe in Ikeja is destroyed when her father leaves the family for another woman. Operating in survival mode, their mother moves Blessing and her brother Ezikiel to her parents’ home near Warri over the objections of Ezikiel: “Warri is not safe. And those villages outside are even worse! I googled Warri at the Internet café. Oil bunkering, hostage taking, illness, guns, and poverty. What about my asthma? They burn poisonous chemicals straight into the air! It’s not a safe place to live.” Safe or not, Timi sees no other choice but to return to her childhood home where she and her children will experience everything Ezikiel fears.
In the United States, perhaps the First Nation’s women could best relate to these bundled issues of violence against women, the exploitation of natural resources by outside developers, poor education, long term poverty and political dis-empowerment. Amnesty International’s reports such as “Maze of Injustice” concerning violence against Alaskan, Native American, African and Mexican women read like textbooks for terror via rape, torture and murder. Take note that indigenous people in America are nearly invisible in the mainstream media in much the same way that traditional Nigerians and their ongoing conflict with oil companies are invisible to the people most responsible for the exploitation of their country’s oil reserves. Yes, Watson’s novel is about the various forms of destruction wrought by oil companies in Nigeria. Oil seeps through all the layers of “Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away” from the pollution of the river making it unfit to drink to the violence undertaken to silence entire villages that dare to oppose the destruction of the environment they rely upon for food, clothing and shelter. The toxic fruits of oil development lurk in the background and move to the foreground of the novel with the kidnapping of Dan on the day of his wedding to Blessing’s mother Timi. The Western Oil Company is a character in its own right. Ironically this oil tree of much evil fruit is also the means of bringing Timi and Dan together.
Without the buffer of Blessing’s evolving perspective this setting would present an ongoing tragedy almost too dark to bear reading. Women and children suffer the consequences of the ethical and physical corruptions of their husbands, fathers and sons wrought by an amoral foreign investment invasion. The culture war between traditional and western values permeates every aspect of Nigerian life. While Blessing connects with traditional Nigerian culture via her Grandmother’s gift of midwifery, her brother Ezikiel is gradually decimated by the Western-oriented school system. It is staffed by sadistic people who shower their charges with hate on a daily basis. The comparison of western to traditional Nigeria culture is highlighted with the foods prepared for the wedding feast and how the guests of each culture behave. Everyone in the world does not enjoy pizza, hamburgers and chicken American style. Many prefer pepper soup and pounded yams.
In many ways, Watson’s book is an indictment of globalization while celebrating diversity. “Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away” takes a stand for the viability of traditional Nigerian culture with every choice Blessing makes. This is a painfully good read that bravely opens a door to life without electricity and running water on demand in a land rich with oil. It discusses the lethal consequences of female genital mutilation without flinching. It also presents the ability of love, tolerance and acceptance to enrich everyone’s lives — except those who set the Western Oil Company’s operating agendas. Part of the book’s power comes from Watson’s presentation of Blessing’s awakening to the realities of her world in a manner that draws us into her experiences via her engaging gentle voice. Through the curiosity and openness of a child we observe life from birth to death and we learn what matters most to us by what our responses reveal about ourselves. How do we react to the naked truth when it dances right before our eyes? Do we turn away? Take action? Consider how to create positive change? How do we confront the far reaching, long term environmental consequences of our dependence upon the oil industry? The issues of the people of the Niger Delta are now shared by the people of the Gulf of Mexico as they contend with the devastation of their lives via the BP oil disaster. The truth of western oil is seeping into American lives with a vengeance. Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise?
For more information about Nigerian oil issues visit the following sites:
Short URL: http://www.lefteyeonbooks.com/?p=1975