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A Life Elsewhere (Bonus)

I read this book for the first time in 2011. I found it bland enough not to remember what it was about. Fast forward to 2020; I finished my 2020 TBR list and decided to pick a short set of books I had read in the past and always wanted to reread. This is not an opportunity that comes often so I grabbed it with both hands. I could only pick six books (as I did not want to have an unmet target by the end of the year). A Life Elsewhere was one of the random six reread picks.

A Life Elsewhere is a collection of seventeen eclectic short stories. The fundamental theme that runs across all seventeen of them is dislocation. Dislocation caused by migration as seen in Monday Morning – a story about a family that had moved from a war-torn to a safer country. However, life is dislocated at every turn for every member of the family. From the father who has to settle for way less in the form of a job where his dignity is attacked to his wife who feels sad at the growing emasculation of her husband by the new social order. In People You Don’t Know, a young man is sent abroad from London to stay with a relative after an unspecified scandal. There he gets employed to cleans the estate pool even as he struggles to fit in and hold down a permanent job while being unable to keep himself away from trouble. In Arithmetic and The Husband Of Your Wife’s Best Friend, the dislocations are mostly around mid-life crises and the regrets that that stage of life brings. In Something In The Water, a Nigerian man returns to his home country with his foreign wife who is coming to the country for the first time. He is distraught with how things have not changed but actually deteriorated while he was away. His wife on the other hand is intrigued by the different lifestyle she sees and is actually adventurous to the point of irritating her husband. In Gifted (which was my favourite story in the collection), a Nigerian housewife who is living with her diplomat husband in Japan is dislocated both in body and soul. The first source of her dislocation is the isolation she feels due to loneliness and being far from her siblings who are back in Nigeria. She is increasingly isolated in a land where she does not seem to fit in. Secondly, her dislocation is caused by a physically and verbally abusive husband. There is a rare of sunshine at the end when successfully runs for safety with her two kids one afternoon while her husband is away at work.

A Life Elsewhere is a decent collection set in diverse locations that paint vivid pictures of dislocated and lonely characters. There is a pessimism that pervades the stories but it is underpinned in reality and mundane every day living.

2.9/5

34. Cross Vision

A while back, I saw a viral tweet that was asking people for a verse of the bible that encapsulated the reason why they still believed as Christians, As is often the case, I did not engage with the tweet but scrolled through almost a hundred responses. Despite not responding, I was reminded of what my response would have been. Without a second thought, it would have been – Hebrews 1:1-3.

In recent years I have reinforced the foundation that the Christian faith is actually all about the redemptive work as depicted in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the totality of this, the true nature and essence of the Godhead is revealed fully. The rest of the story is a backdrop point to and emerging out of this core. Like C.S. Lewis famously put it and my anabaptist friends are quick to remind us, “It is Christ himself, not the bible, who is the true word of God”. I have long wrestled with the rest of the story that depicts God as obviously contrary to what is revealed in Jesus. If the whole bible is God-breathed and Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God, how do I reconcile the insane violence that I see in the old testament with the non-violent Jesus (who died a violent death on a cross)?

This has puzzled me for a long time and I was glad to finally read Cross Vision written by Greg Boyd who is one of my favourite theologians and also one person who is not scared of exploring such difficult and messy topics. In Cross Vision, Greg Boyd tackles an elephant in the room – the vivid and multiple depictions of violence in the old testament and attributed to God. The foundation of Cross Vision’s exploration is a comparison of the old testament’s portrait of God with what is revealed in Jesus’ life, death and ministry. This is a very critical and valid comparison based on Jesus’ response to Philip in John 14. A casual examination of these portraits shows that something is amiss. It is either God is not exactly as he reveals himself in Jesus Christ or that he is exactly as he revealed in Jesus but something else is happening in these old testament portraits. In typical cruciform theology, these portraits culminate in the cross. The culmination is accounted for by seeing how God accommodates the fallen views that humans in the old testament have of the Godhead. Accommodations to God’s marriage ideal, accommodation of a human king, accommodation of war and violence and accommodation of animal sacrifices. In all of these, the old testament people projected their belief unto Yahweh and God accommodated them not because they were ideal but because insofar as any law or activity that is ascribed to God involves a nature that is no Christ-like, it must to that degree be considered an accommodating, sin-mirroring portrait that indirectly testifies to the sin-bearing God revealed on the cross of Calvary. This is the crux of the convincing argument in Cross Vision. In making this argument, all violent portraits of God in the old testament are dissected and the result is most reassuring. The most challenging is Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of Isaac. For me, I was not fully convinced with the explanation of the drowning of Pharoah’s army in the Red Sea.

Cross Vision is a very valuable tool for believers who are willing to confront the knotty issue of violent portrayal in the old testament without compromising the God that is revealed in Jesus Christ. Greg Boud has confronted this thorny issue and come out of it with the cross further burnished. I can’t recommend this highly enough.

4/5

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33. Soldiers of Fortune

The odd thing about randomly picking out TBR lists is that you often pick books that you ordinarily would not choose. Why Soldiers of Fortune falls into that category is that while I  loathe reading books about Nigeria, one is often curious to understand the working of a system that is utterly this dysfunctional. Any apprehension I felt before reading it was quickly dispelled within the first few pages of the book.

Max Siollun is a Nigerian historian who has made a deserved name for himself as a thorough chronicler of the Nigerian polity. In this volume, he turns his scholarly and research lights on one of the most despicable periods in a perpetually abysmal political history of the Nigerian state – 1983 to 1993. Three critical junctures of the nation’s history are thoroughly explored; the Buhari military coup in 1983, Babangida’s coup in 1985 and the infamous June 12, 1993 elections.

In very lucid prose and with detailed research, Soldiers of Fortune traces the genesis of the Buhari coup, how it was planned, executed and its cluelessness with the instrument of power. In analysing the present, Max Soillun explores the seeds that were sown in the past of previous coups. It also examines how both 1983 and 1985 coups robbed the military of its collective professionalism. The 1985 coup particularly set the nation back as not only did the military become less professional but the entire polity became debased with the culture of settlement. State funds became a tool for compromising every opposition that stood in the way of Babangida’s aimless rigmarole branded as a transition to democratic rule.

While there have been few personal memoirs by principal actors covering the period under review, objectivity and attention to details is what stands Soldiers of Fortune out. The book holds a mirror to the Nigerian polity and the revelation is depressing. Some of the distrust that the populace currently experience is an aftereffect of the dashed hopes and futile transitional journeys that the military governments of this period embarked.

For me, the biggest revelation I got out of Soldiers of Fortune is how it demystified Babangida. Often portrayed as this political genius, the book lays bare the fact that he was a schemer who was adept at using state resources to compromise almost everyone to his side as he embarked on an endless transition programme that was just designed to massage his ego while delivering little or nothing of value to the polity. He used state funds to compromise soldiers in a bit to address his security phobia for counter coups. One is shocked at how Babangida got away with all that he got away with and for so long – there was nothing statemanly about his leadership. He valued his fraternal relationships with his fellow coup plotters over the good of the nation and had a morbid fear (and indebtedness) for Abacha led him to be indecisive in the face of the June 12 crisis.

Above all else, Soldiers of Fortune is a piece of well-researched history that reminds us of the evil and pointlessness of military rule. It also highlights that none of these principal actors can whitewash their pasts. The evidence is well documented.

3.8/5

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Encore

Every now and again, one reads a book and either before you get to the last page or on the last page you tell yourself that you will want to read it again in future. The problem is that if you have a relatively large count of unread books like I do that constitutes a TBR list which gets larger with every passing day, that future might never come. Then came 2020!

My modest random picks for 2020 TBR list were meant to last all year but as the global uncertainty lasted longer and lockdowns became the new normal, I found myself finishing the whole chosen pile by the beginning of October. While feeling triumphant, I contemplated picking out a new list of TBR list to tackle till the end of the year. The immediate concern was that I did not dilute the yearly experience of picking out a TBR list. It is an exhilarating experience, where I feel like a talent scout who is deciding the fate of young talented footballers in an elite football academy. The academy players are carefully recruited but the decision of who gets promoted that year is randomly done. I have enjoyed doing just that to the books on my shelf and I did not want to break that highly anticipated ritual by doing it twice in a year just because COVID-19 had altered life as we know it. Some things are sacrosanct!

I decided to to take the unique opportunity that the current uncertainties have offered me and reread a few books that I had always wanted to read again. As usual, there was an element of randomness as there are way more books in this class that I am able to accommodate. I grabbed the first 6 books in that category that came to my mind at that moment, took a picture of them and I am sticking to them. Minutes later, I remembered a few more deserving rereads but alas it was too late! The beauty of the randomness is that it yields no favourites and minimizes overthinking. Here are the chosen six:

 

A Life Elsewhere

This was a strange choice but the strangeness is what I like. I read this book in 2008, I have no remembrance of what the book is about. It is one of those books I always promised myself I would reread if only for the nostalgia of the period when I first read it. Now I have a chance to reread this collection of short stories.

 

The Confidence Game: The Psychology of the Con and Why We Fall for It Every Time

This is one of the very best books I read in 2018. I usually pick out a Behavioural Economics/Psychology book or two every year and two years back I picked this book and loved it. I often said that it was missing one con man (Emmanuel Nwude) from being the perfect lineup. I am glad I get to read it again. You can never learn enough about why we fall for scams.

 

Tomorrow Died Yesterday

Anyone who knows a bit about me knows that I love the works of Chimeka Garricks. I still remember buying a copy of his excellent debut eight years ago from a bookshop in the Silverbird Galleria in Victoria Island during an uneventful lunch break. I randomly picked it up six years later to read it for the first time and I never stopped kicking myself for waiting so long to savour such a treat. Now I get to read it again and make notes of my observation on my favourite work of fiction set in my home city of Port Harcourt. I can’t wait!

 

Bad Science

The major reason why I filed this one in my mind as a “To be reread” while still mid-way through it earlier this year was because of the times we leave in. The politics around the science of the pandemic have made the information contained in this book even more pressing and relevant. I am glad that I get to reread it in this current clime.

 

Touch My Blood: The Early Years

This is another one where the nostalgic longing is probably stronger than the content of the book. I first read this autobiography of Fred Khumalo almost eighteen years ago. I have always wanted to reread it (writing this now, I actually think I have reread it once and always wanted to do so a second time). It is very well written and the author uses his childhood and early adulthood as a backdrop to explore the history of the violence in the KZN province of South Africa during the last decade of apartheid. Third time lucky!

 

Surprised by Hope

Having randomly chosen this book, I intentionally picked it to be read around the Easter season for obvious reasons. Of all Christian themes, resurrection is rightly my most cherished and few people explore its theme as well as N.T. Wright. I kept telling myself that I need to return to this at some point. Now I have a chance to enjoy an encore and I am all for it.

 

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30. WTF

Two years ago, while the Brexit debacle was still in full swing I sought a bough that went beyond the headlines and the outrage of the progressive left who were bewildered at the audacity of Brexiters. Goodhart’s Road To Somewhere was my pick.

28. Talking To My Daughter About The Economy

Yanis Varoufakis is notorious for being the Greek finance minister who eyeballed the EU during the austerity measures negotiation when Greece defaulted on its loan repayment plans. He refused to blink, the EU stood firm and just about when Greece was going to tumble over, the Greek government blinked and agreed to EU terms while Yanis Varoufakis resigned in disagreement and rode his bike into the sunset.