TITLE: BORN ON A TUESDAY
AUTHOR: ELNATHAN JOHN
PUBLISHER: BLACK CAT/GROVE
PUBLICATION DATE: JANUARY 4, 2016
NO OF PAGES: 263
Read “Bayan Layi” in the Caine Prize compilation of finalist short stories of 2013 and you’ll notice it continues in Born on a Tuesday, Elnathan John’s insightful debut novel mostly set in Sokoto in Northern Nigeria. It is a well-written story that immerses us in the Muslim culture of that region. The story’s eponymous protagonist is Dantala who comes of age against the backdrop of the rhythms of Muslim life and the political and religious conflicts that are brewing in his nation. As the book opens, Dantala, whose name translates as Born on a Tuesday, is living on the streets with a gang that has been recruited by the Small Party to cause trouble during an election. But when things get horribly out of control, Dantala flees leaving his best friend behind, eventually finding sanctuary under the supervision of a friendly sheikh at a mosque in another city.With his quick aptitude and modest nature, Dantala becomes the sheikh’s favored apprentice. In addition to his indoctrination to Islam, Dentala– or Ahmed, as he is later named –also finds friendship, explores sex and finds romance. As the conflicts between different interpretations of Islam grow, Dantala (known in Nigeria as an almajir) must decide what he believes and where he will stand. He begins to contemplate his future. Written from a first person perspective, this story feels like an eyewitness account of the unraveling of a society as is descends into anarchy and violence. We get little understanding of the larger forces at play, for the simple reason that the narrator doesn’t have any such understanding. Instead, we share his experiences from his limited viewpoint, with his visceral fear and confusion. This book is well paced and transports the readers to its distant setting, dropping them into an experience that is likely foreign to many, if not most. This is not a feel-good story, but it is a powerful account of what life is like for these people in this place. John skillfully employs Dantala’s probing voice to pose crucial questions and explore collisions between religious fundamentalism and violence, modernity and tradition, rhetoric and action. In reading Born on a Tuesday, though, you’ll find yourself laughing out loud multiple times. This book will stick with you long after you have finished it. It reminds one a lot of AhmadouKourouma’sAllah is Not Obliged in its tone and themes. Alongside Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Season of Crimson Blossoms and Chika Unigwe’sNight Dancer, Elnathan’sBorn on a Tuesday was recently announced in the Nigeria Prize for Literature 2016 shortlist.