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.