1

Kunmi Omisore

"I want to show that things are never simple," Nigerian writer and satirist, Elnathan John told The Guardian UK. And that’s exactly what the author did in his debut novel, Born On A Tuesday.
I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect when I picked up the book recommended by the ’connoisseur’ behind the cash register. However, I was very familiar with Elnathan John’s work - political articles, angry tweets and everything in between - and so trusted in his ability to take me somewhere far from my own reality. You really know someone from following them on Twitter, you know?
The novel, published in January 2016, tells the story of a young man growing up in an increasingly fundamentalist, chaos-ridden and segregated northern Nigeria. Young Dantala (which literally translates to "born on a Tuesday"), whose age remains the object of a guessing game, struggles to find his place in the society, as he transitions from being a part-time political thug, to a devoted Muslim, second to the Sheikh.
On his journey of self-discovery, with little or no support from anyone he knows besides Allah, Dantala becomes Ahmad, a respected man in his mosque and community. He has no idea that it’s crumbling right beneath his feet, and it’s only a matter of time until the new world he has found is swept away by division.
"I was born in Kaduna, north-west Nigeria, in 1982. The place used to be v ... Read Full Review

“I want to show that things are never simple,” Nigerian writer and satirist, Elnathan John told The Guardian UK. And that’s exactly what the author did in his debut novel, Born On A Tuesday.
I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect when I picked up the book recommended by the ’connoisseur’ behind the cash register. However, I was very familiar with Elnathan John’s work – political articles, angry tweets and everything in between – and so trusted in his ability to take me somewhere far from my own reality. You really know someone from following them on Twitter, you know?
The novel, published in January 2016, tells the story of a young man growing up in an increasingly fundamentalist, chaos-ridden and segregated northern Nigeria. Young Dantala (which literally translates to “born on a Tuesday”), whose age remains the object of a guessing game, struggles to find his place in the society, as he transitions from being a part-time political thug, to a devoted Muslim, second to the Sheikh.
On his journey of self-discovery, with little or no support from anyone he knows besides Allah, Dantala becomes Ahmad, a respected man in his mosque and community. He has no idea that it’s crumbling right beneath his feet, and it’s only a matter of time until the new world he has found is swept away by division.
“I was born in Kaduna, north-west Nigeria, in 1982. The place used to be very cosmopolitan – people living anywhere and it did not matter who you were. Now, there is self-imposed apartheid. After the 1990s riots, the city split into Christian and Muslim. If you were the wrong religion for an area, you’d have to move house in fear for your life. Today, there is an uneasy calm. Because of segregation, people can gather in their districts and speak out against one another. I think a crisis is brewing. Sadly, the government is not looking into ways of integrating people,” John says in The Guardian.
What is so refreshing about this novel, based on a true story, is the fresh perspective it offers readers – readers who have never stepped a foot in Northern Nigeria; readers who are safely far away from the chaos in the North; readers who can only feel sympathy from the other side of the TV screen, where foreigners narrate to us the tragedies of another reality.
One of my dad’s favourite Chief Obafemi Awolowo quotes is, “Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression,” and it’s become one of mine as well. Born On A Tuesday shows how far removed we can be from one another’s realities, even within the same borders.
What also makes this book so special is it gives a face to the numbers – the heartbreaking numbers of people killed by Islamic extremism; the numbers of people who turn to fundamentalism and violence for lack of an (any) foreseeable alternative. They all come alive within the pages of this novel.
But it’s not all bad news. You can’t help but fall for Dantala-turned-Ahmad’s naive voice and outlook on life. Whilst some might not exactly call him ’lovable’, he does grow on you, as you delve deeper into his world within the four walls of the local mosque, and his quest to conquer the English language. You don’t know when you become so emotionally invested in his growth.
The author’s in-depth research into politics, Islam and extremism in northern Nigeria is very evident – and very impressive. This isn’t just someone writing a sad story about poor, unfortunate people living in ’The Boko Haram Zone’; Elnathan John demonstrates a deep understanding of both the bigger social and religious issues, and the more familiar, more personal, day-to-day struggles – all through this brilliant fictional character he’s created.

Share this!