The literary world has witnessed various generational changes, from ideological leanings, such as Marxism, Realism, Romanticism to Modernism, Post-Modernism, Structuralism, Post-structuralism and Deconstruction, to mention just a few trends. Writers keep reinventing themselves. The prolific Nigerian writer, Michael Afenfia, is no exception.
Afenfia is the author of five novels that have made indelible imprints in writing. His robust adaptation of his works to suit the dynamism of contemporary realism, carves a niche of select readership for him, as one to reckon with.
From his debut eleven years ago, When the Moon Caught Fire (2010) – a novel on the thematic preoccupation of slavery, to his sophomore offering, A Street Called Lonely (2011), to his third leap of faith, Don’t Die on Wednesday (2014), which dwells on the uncommon theme of football; to his penultimate piece and block buster, The Mechanics of Yenagoa (2020), whose comic twists and turns give it away as a recreational masterpiece that triggers laughter in the hearts seeking solace in literature, Afenfia has kept champing at the bits.
“Writing is inborn. I started writing in secondary school, and it stayed with me,” he tells The Sun Literary Review in an e-chat from Canada. In his formative years, he enjoyed reading Buchi Emecheta and Chinua Achebe.
Afenfia has that rare touch of ingenuity in his novels. The stories are woven in ways that endear them to readers, not just in structure and form but in themes and titles, too. Adopting themes and styles that are not so common give Afenfia’s literary pieces the needed push to compel readership without compulsion.
He says of his trajectory: “Considering I’m a late bloomer when it comes to publishing, I would say I haven’t done too badly, and I am happy with my journey so far. I can do more for sure, but now there’s no pressure of proving myself or being accepted.
“More than my own personal growth as a writer, I am happy that I have been able to inspire and influence younger and newer writers to publish and be seen in the writing community. And for me, that is even more important,” he says.
His first book, When the Moon Caught Fire, recollects the vicissitudes of slavery to mankind, especially Africans.
A Street Called Lonely is a romantic thriller with vestiges of crime fiction in the style of Hadley Chase and Sydney Sheldon’s international masterpieces. Don’t Die on Wednesday, is a narrative on the intrigues of a professional soccer player. One thing is crystal clear in Afenfia: he delves into themes only a few good men can dare.
How else do we explain a modern narrative that recollects the slave routes and agonies while most writers are preoccupied with new forms of post-colonial realities, including sex-trades, human trafficking, forced labour, and so on, as encapsulated in his first book?
A reviewer writes on his third novel: “Don’t Die on Wednesday is a story of the game of life; when life suddenly becomes laced with danger and fear and no one knows how the game will end.” Clearly, these novel ideas lay bare the ingenuity of Afenfia as a polymath of repute.
His masterpiece, The Mechanics of Yenagoa, stemmed from a spontaneous weekly series on social media, where the notorious escapades of Ebinimi, the Yenagoa mechanic, are narrated with jest and panache that kept readers pulsated and longing for more every week. Its wide acclaim led to its adaptation from an online weekly series to a full-fledged published novel by Masobe Books in 2020. The positive and captivating reviews by fans of the novel have propelled a possible adaptation to cinema or television.
The Mechanics of Yenagoa takes us on a vivid journey to the small but thriving city of Yenagoa where mechanic Ebinimi is either the ineptest of individuals or the most guileless “guy-man” to ever walk the streets of the notorious south-south of Nigeria.”
Going by the success of his earlier works, Afenfia has garnered a cult-like readership of fans looking forward to gleaning from his oeuvre. Not just for the comic relief of his works, but also for the varied kaleidoscope of themes, titles and twists he brings on board. His literal use of language; the simplicity and fluidity of his flawless prose coupled with the dexterity with which the narratives unfold, all add up to situate Afenfia in a world of his own.
Recently, the writer moved to Canada where he has made some amazing discoveries: “The guilds and literary associations and groups here also try their utmost to see that the rights of writers are protected and writers get adequate compensation for their work and contributions to society.
“I also know that writers here enjoy more respect. People are not necessarily moved by money and material things so that it is only people with wealth in that sense who are respected and revered.
“Canadians would respect you for your talent and what you bring to the table by way of intellectual discussion and contribution. Arts and artists are respected and given their place in the community, and that is important. Seriously, can we contemplate a world without artists and creatives? I would say no.”
Though Afenfia’s themes are rare and enclosed, the loose forms of expression that people can relate with in his novels open a vista of opportunities for a new crop of readers and writers in this contemporary digital age.
Little wonder then that Afenfia’s fifth novel, Rain May Never Know (2021), set for official release later this December, is already causing a stir and frenzy among fans. What does it entail? What thematic preoccupation would it explore? Love, laughter, life, insecurities, insensitivity or the dynamics of politics or other socio-literary realities yet untold? What form shall it take? Suspense, thriller, comedy or romance? Whichever it is, Afenfia comes with closed baggage waiting with wild fancies for readers seeking relief and respite from the very burden of life itself.