While I was halfway through Chimeka Garricks’ debut novel – Tomorrow Died Yesterday, the 25th anniversary of the execution of Kenule Saro-Wiwa (and eight others) by the Nigerian state was marked.
It is almost impossible to immerse yourself into this well-written book and not feel the memory and legacy of Ken Saro-Wiwa The feeling is unshakeable whether you are reading it during the week when the anniversary of his killing is marked or at any other random time of the year. It is said that art imitates life and this fictional work of art rightly mimics the reality of how little the Nigerian state values the lives of its citizens, reminder that revibrates in the current #ENDSARS climate. The state always finds willing tools to use in devaluing the lives of its people. In Tomorrow Died Yesterday, Chief Ikuru, Tumo and Wali were willing tools which the State used in varying manners to devalue the lives of its people. It is the same thing we see today, where persons in power and those adjacent to power are used to stifle, censure and dehumanize citizens.
A very interesting thing about Tomorrow Died Yesterday is that it is not a political novel. It is an excellent work of fiction that defies any such easy broad categorization. It is simply a fictional tale set in Port Harcourt with multi-dimensional intersections told via the writing of a gifted storyteller about 4 major protagonists who grew up in Asiama on the outskirts of Port Harcourt city. Politics is a product of the crude oil that lubricated the dysfunctionality of the Nigerian state. It is not the fault of the inhabitants and indigenes of Port Harcourt and its environs that nature has blessed their land with oil and the Nigerian state and its tools have chosen to dehumanize them in the process of extracting the liquid gold. Besides the political and legal drama contained therein, Tomorrow Died Yesterday is an exploration that examines friendship, loyalty, romance and forgiveness. It is a multi-dimensional story that follows the lives of four childhood friends; Kaniye, Doye, Amaebi and Tubo. Four friends born into different circumstances, handed different chances by fate and reacting differently to the hand that fate dealt with each of them but in all of these their stories remained interlinked from childhood till the end.
The author expertly weaves the narrative from the present (2003-2004) to the past (starting from 1970) and everything in between. The story swings between the time periods without losing its flow. you see character traits in the present and wonder why the protagonists made such decisions and what orchestrated the paths they took. Then the narration goes back into their childhood and you realise that the seeds were sown in childhood and bore fruit in the present. Kaniye’s restaurant business, his toxic relationship with Sir James his father, fraught with unforgiveness are all rooted in Kaniye’s childhood experiences. Experiences that he did not choose but were chosen for him by fate. You analyse the present through the lens of the past and begin to wonder if Doye would have been the militant and kidnapper he became if he had gotten that oil firm job he was rightly qualified for but passed on for a Yoruba applicant for nepotic reasons and how much of Doye was shaped by the gruesome circumstances surrounding the death of Soboye, his elder brother? Tomorrow died yesterday because the fruits of today and tomorrow are in the seeds that were planted yesterday.
While the romance plot between Deola and Kaniye is excellently narrated as I enjoyed the uncertainty that hung over their feelings for each other till almost the end, I found some of the other romantic narratives a bit too formulaic. I cringed at the narrative about Tubo and Belema his teenage love interest. Describing a teenager as a nymph simply because she has large attractive breasts and is objectified by men and boys is a bit problematic and stereotypical. This was my only quip about this very well written book that brings Port Harcourt to live on the pages like no other work of fiction has ever done. Tomorrow Died Yesterday is an excellent work of fiction that portrays an excellent reflection of Port Harcourt city and the penitent issues of the Niger Delta region while intersecting these issues with everyday issues of love, loyalty and friendship. I bought this book eight years ago and finally got around to reading it for the first time three years ago. The moment I finished it then I promised myself to come back to it again in future. I finally got the chance this year after I finished my 2020 TBR list and gladly picked it out as part of my random Encore picks. Chimeka Garricks set a very high bar for his subsequent works with this debut. On account of this offering, I am inclined to believe that it is a bar he will meet or even surpass. Whichever way, the reader would be richer for his subsequent offerings.