The good thing about randomizing my TBR list process ahead of every new year is that it gives every book on my shelf a fair chance of being chosen. I For Don Bow But I Too Dey Press Phone is a good example of that process. I had been down with malaria (which turned out to be COVID-19 days later) weeks back and felt too sick for the book I had begun days earlier (a book on the economic history of beers). I inserted a bookmarker into it, tossed it aside and looked intently at my TBR list picture for a more fun read. I settled for Hymar David’s memoir and I could not have made a better choice.
The first time I saw this small book was during one of my regular pre-COVID visit to the Terra Kulture bookshop. I was put off by the poor quality of print and ended up not buying it as in the absence of good sunlight, I struggled to read the blurb. Months later, I saw a tweet where the author was promoting it and decided to get it and after reading it now and all things considered, I am convinced that it was the right decision. The first thing that struck me about the book was how confident the author must be for his first published work to be his memoir. That must take balls of steel and a healthy dose of arrogance. The confidence is even more striking when you realise that the author has an interesting disability that he is unwilling to use as fodder for a pity-party narrative nor does he consider himself special on account of his disability.
I For Don Bow But I Too Dey Press Phone the light-hearted coming of age memoir of Hymar David. It is light-hearted in the writing style (an informal mix of pidgin, millennial shorthand and proper English) but certainly not light-hearted in the emotions it evokes or the underlying societal issues it shines its light on. Hymar David suddenly became deaf (and almost dumb too for a while) at the age of seven. His memoir is not a commentary on his disability but a compilation of amusing and thought-provoking anecdotes of an average Nigerian youth fro ma working-class family navigating the jungle that is Nigeria with the added constraint of a hearing disability. The dysfunctionality of the educational system; its inability to cater to the peculiarities of the students, the endless menace of cultism in Nigerian campuses and how the educational system kills rather than nurtures talents. It is not only the educational system that comes under the spotlight of I For Don Bow But I Too Dey Press Phone, the family dynamics that underpin the social fabric of the kinds of suburbs that Hymar David grew up in are also spotlighted, not forgetting the curious intersection between pentecostalism and poverty in a society like Nigeria. Countless anecdotes are used as settings and props for these searing interrogations; amusing, irreverent, often thought-provoking but always straight-shooting. Hymar David is always shooting from the hip – it does not matter if he is shooting himself, or shooting those who are relentlessly trying to get him to fit a stereotype of what they expect of a disabled person. He shoots all targets with the same fervour.
In my limited reading history, the secret of a good autobiography is the ability of the author to be introspective and not make a superhero of himself and add a dash of vulnerability to his introspection. I For Don Bow But I Too Dey Press Phone passes that test, maybe not in flying colours but it passes it none the less. Hymar David looks back into his growing up days and humanises himself enough to make his travails and joys relatable to the reader. Enough laughs to overlook the shoddy printing and very informal writing style. The entire book would have benefitted from the expertise of an experienced editor as the story is told in an uneven manner. Despite all of these, the reader is kept glued by the author’s very obvious storytelling talent. That much is obvious long he narrates his Farafina Creative Writing workshop experience. Hymar David is an excellent storyteller and I hope that his next offering is not self-published and is polished enough by better editing. This diamond deserves to shine brightly.