Lara Daniels: The Officer’s Bride

The other day I read Lara Daniels’ romance novella, The Officer’s Bride. What do I think? I must confess that I am not a fan of romance literature. It is not my thing. I generally restrict myself to reading mainstream fiction, preferring for the romance to creep into my subconscious as part of a story, not as the story. Chalk that up to my warped upbringing; I was fed a steady diet of “serious literature”, groaning with heavy burdens. The writers of my generation were mostly male brooding gods of letters too pre-occupied with social issues to worry about  romance and sex.

So, what is The Officer’s Bride all about? The setting is Nigeria in the mid- to late-nineties. General Sani Abacha rules the nation with several iron fists, there is fear and lawlessness in the land as people are killed for flimsy reasons. Nafisah, the chief protagonist, lives in near penury with her family. Things are dire, her father is ailing, there is no money, she is illiterate and there doesn’t seem to be any other pastime other than living wretchedly and waiting to die.

Things soon heat up, Nafisah is abducted by Musa, a most despicable and murderous military officer who, enraged that her dad would not repay a debt, slaughters everyone except Nafisah, and takes off with her, ostensibly to make her his mistress. Things don’t go quite as he planned; Musa is implicated in a military coup and eliminated, and Nafisah somehow finds herself living with Officer Edward (Eddy), an officer, scholar and gentleman. The next five years is like a dream for Nafisah. Eddy home schools her and remarkably, she turns out to be a great student who has a voracious appetite for books and eventually a hunger for Eddy’s love. It takes five years of intrigue; much of it not helped by the fact that Eddy seems obsessed with getting rid of General Abacha – all in the interest of Nigeria. A starry-eyed idealist does not have much patience for the banality of love. How does all this end? Well, no spoilers for you, you’ll have to read the novella.

This is only the second African romance novella I have read and reviewed, the first being Kiru Taye’s His Treasure (Men of Valor). It is interesting, the styles and offerings are similar, and I had trouble differentiating between their works. Much of what I had to say about Kiru Taye’s novella (here) applies to Daniel’s novella. Romance writers like Lara Daniels and Kiru Taye work hard to customize contemporary notions of romance to suit notions of African culture and customs. I applaud Daniels for working hard to create a setting that many Nigerians can relate to. The novella is readable, thanks to Daniels’ accessible enthusiastic prose. I enjoyed peeking into a subculture, getting my feel of what Nigerians consider contemporary romance.

However, I found The Officer’s Bride only moderately entertaining because Daniels worked exceedingly hard to keep the story tame. The sex scenes are lame rip-offs of Western chick lit. It was improbable in several places. It is hard to believe that a Nigerian living in the nineties had never seen a television before. I had trouble imagining an educated middle-class Nigerian in the late nineties without a personal computer. Nafisah must be a quick study, getting an education and a cultural education in the space of five years. The dialogue was sometimes stilted. The novella reads like a contrived formulaic imposition of Western practices on contemporary Nigerian life. But then, many would argue that mimicry defines authentic Nigerian life today. Many of the conflicts are clearly contrived to tell a story and in a few cases the scenes are so hastily manufactured they are remarkable only in how improbable they are.  There are some editing issues, the plot is far from complex; many would call it inchoate and formulaic. It bears restating, the most substantive criticism I would level against this novella is that it is not very original; it is derivative of Western fare and notions of romance, etc. This is clearly not serious literature and it shows, however, this does not diminish the important contributions of writers like Daniels in pushing the frontiers of African literature in various directions. For one thing, they are exploring sensuality and sexuality from a female perspective, something that was missing in my youth. Without these writers, African literature would be even more defined by its narrowness of range.

There is a potential market for this niche even as it struggles for market share with movies, and hard core porn, blogs and social media. Readers might be reluctant to pay for tame offerings when they can go to a blog like Ramblingsofadiva (follow her on Twitter @Reine_LaGlace) and feast on something delectable like this – for free. Many writers on the Internet and social media are writing some steamy – and pretty good stuff while at the same time making important observations about how we currently live our lives. I read the other day, a pretty ambitious story about e-relationships and it was very good – and, yes, free. So, Daniels and Taye have competition – and it is free. In my youth, things were much easier for writers. I have pleasant memories of my mother reading magazines like True Romance, Sadness and Joy, Drum, etc. I was a very voracious and curious reader as a young boy and I always read these rags because I wanted to know what was in them that lit a fire in my mother’s eyes. I can report that they were very engaging but there was hardly any explicit sex in them, certainly not fellatio, however they sold like hot cakes. I wonder where my mother’s magazines are. I’d like to read them again. I know, I am a cave man, I live in the past. Please pass the bowl of termites and ukwa. Belch.

And oh, follow Lara Daniels on Twitter @LDParables.

6 thoughts on “Lara Daniels: The Officer’s Bride”

  1. Heii! Pa Ikhide has finished me!

    I found your review of the Officer’s Bride interesting, surely it couldn’t have been that bad.

    “It is hard to believe that a Nigerian living in the nineties had never seen a television before. I had trouble imagining an educated middle-class Nigerian in the late nineties without a personal computer. Nafisah must be a quick study, getting an education and a cultural education in the space of five years.”

    Improbable but certainly feasible. There are afterall Nigerians who haven’t seen a television before presently and PCs really weren’t that popular in the late nineties not to mention that five years is certainly enough time to get an education if you put your mind to it.

    Thank you for the plug, even though I dare say, the story you chose was one of the less steamy ones. I should attribute that to age and times. 🙂

  2. Grateful for two things: You read, despite the fact that you’re no fan of romance lit, and two: for your honest feedback. As par passing the bowl of termites and ukwa….Hmmm…in ‘Amelika’…sorry you’re on your own there 🙂

  3. I find this review very interesting yet contradicting and confusing. I have read Lara Daniels’ Officer’s bride. I am not into novels as such, just as much as you are not into romance literature. But I went to school, got a good education and enjoy reading good books when I find one for pleasure and leisure. Since you clearly stated you are not into Romance literature, I can understand all your subtly negative comments about Lara Daniels and Kiru Taye’s work. These are 2 fine people who might not have majored in English, or literature, or even bagged a University degree that qualified them to write novels. But these people have not sat on their talents. They have built on it and they have made Africa proud.
    My concern is that you are one of those that did not experience the hardships and disservice Nigeria had to offer her citizens. I was a computer science student in one of the top universities in Nigeria in 1999. The computer in the department was limited that we were scheduled to debug our programs in the middle of the night. I had an old laptop given to me by my dad. He was a computer scientist himself. But no one else had that privilege in school. And I became popular because I had classmates that would come looking for me to use my laptop. Sometimes I had to show them how to put it on the first time. Not because they didn’t know how to, but because most of them had never seen one before. That did not get into my head but that was REALITY, the world in the late 90’s, which was the setting of Lara Daniel’s book.
    Another concern for me is that you got too used to your mother’s stories and you lost sync with the world. I fmight not know how to use or understand all the big grammar you used in your review of the Officer’s bride but i find your critic confusing and nothing close to constructive.
    And YES, I am a fan of Kiru Taye and Lara Daniels, and the likes of them.

  4. Foluyemi, your feedback is very encouraging and awesomely heartwarming. So glad to know you’re a fan and that you enjoyed reading my book. If it’s no trouble to you, could you kindly rate/review the book at the site where you got it? Thank you!!!

  5. How come you haven’t posted up an article, stating your stance on the recent controversies surrounding Achebe’s book “There was a country.” I won’t be surprised at your views on this situation, since in the past, you have fallen for the evil propaganda incepted by the tribalistic people of sahara reporters, which I happen to know personally. It is quite a shame that your articles which slander the likes of Philip Emeagwali and Chris Abani, are still lying garishly in their archives. Besides, how come you keep deleting my comments?

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