…perfect stories about imperfect people…
Religious fervour culminates in an exorcism for one unfortunate maid. A harrowing encounter on a train haunts Anuli. A mother abandons her child in search of personal freedom. A wife joins her husband, only to be met with news that threatens their relationship.
This richly imagined collage of interconnected stories follows Prosperous and Agu, and the motley community of Nigerian expats who gather at their apartment each week. Their reality is one of dashed hopes, twisted love and the pain of homesickness, even as they fight to make their way in this new world.
Better Never Than Late is a layered and affecting portrayal of the everyday absurdities and adversities of migrant life.
Publisher: Cassava Republic
Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)
How To Survive A Heat Wave made me cry, it made me cringe, it made me angry, it made me think about my feminity and the vulnerability I feel whenever a man walks behind me as I walk down my street at night after work.
After reading How To Survive A Heat Wave, I was expectant and couldn’t wait to read the entire collection and I must say, the stories did not disappoint. Short stories can leave you with anxiety and this book isn’t an exception. After reading the first story – The Transfiguration of Rapu – I found myself staring at the ceiling for a very long time, creating alternate endings.
Better Never Than Late navigates migration, loss, grief and pain all at once. It questions home, identity and self. Who were you before you left home. Who are you now? Who are you becoming? It’s not every time that you come across a collection of stories about black people in Belgium. There is depth in this book. Depth in the sentences. Depth in the characters. Depth in the plot. Depth in the way all ten stories are connected. Unpredictable Depth!
I like to think of Better Never Than Late as a feminist text. At first, it seemed as though the women were powerless and were willing to obey without questioning their husbands, but as the story unfolds, we see them becoming feisty, powerful and free. Like when Prosperous yells, “Fuck off!” to Agu and his friends. Like when Tine talked to Prosperous about Godwin. Like when Ego decided to take charge of her life and use her “brain”, leaving her family in Belgium.
The feminist perspective reminds me of the interview Chika granted the people at Punch Newspaper. She was asked how she combines her role as a mother, wife, author and lecturer. She gave the perfect reply;
The same way my husband combines his roles as a husband and father with his roles as a consultant engineer. The same way many people all over the world combine whatever multiple roles they play: making out time for what is important to them, outsourcing what they can so that they do not get overwhelmed. It also seems to me that (professional) women get asked this question (and varieties of it) more than men because the tendency is still there to think that a woman has certain roles in the home that suffer once she does work outside of the home.
It is also implied that those roles are more important to anything else she might (want to) do. Or perhaps that those roles are her ‘natural’ roles and so she never gets asked how she manages it all. Would you ask a stay-at-home mother with no help how she combines her roles of being a mother and wife on the one hand, with those of being a house cleaner, washer woman, cook on the other hand? Or would you ask a man how he combines his roles of being a father, a husband and whatever else he does?.
I read your recent interview with Prof. (Andy) Egwunyenga of Delta State University, and at no point was he asked how he combined his professional role with fatherhood, even though he volunteered that the day he became a father was the happiest day of his life and that his wife has a professional life too. We have to be aware of the biases that curate the questions we ask others. While questions might be motivated by innocent curiosity, questions themselves are not always innocent (i.e free of bias).
Will Chika write a novel exploring the lives of Prosperous and Agu further? We will never know! But I hope so! I have so many questions! I genuinely forgot I was reading and got immersed in a world that stunned me with its unpredictability.
In the words of E.C. Osondu, writer and winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing;
“These are perfect stories about imperfect people – strangers in strange lands. When a book this awesome gets into your hands – evangelize it, hand copies to friends, foes and even strangers.”
Which story pulled at your heartstrings? To answer this question, I will go with How To Survive A Heat Wave, The Transfiguration of Rapu and Becoming Prosperous. But what I really want to talk about is the Better Never Than Late story. I loved how it explored religion and the abominable things people do in the name of God!
If you enjoyed reading Better Never Than Late kindly drop a comment!
You can purchase a copy from KAWEBOOKS
Chika Unigwe @realchikaunigwe was born in Enugu, Enugu State, Nigeria. She has undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Nigeria and the KU Leuven, Belgium. She holds a PhD from the University of Leiden, Holland.
Unigwe is the author of four novels, including On Black Sisters Street and Night Dancer. On Black Sisters’ Street won the $100,000 Nigeria Prize for Literature in 2012. Her short stories and essays have appeared in various journals including The New York Times, The Guardian, Aeon, Wasafiri, Transition, Guernica, Agni and the Kenyon Review.
Her works have been translated into many languages including German, Polish, Hebrew, Italian, Hungarian, Spanish and Dutch. A recipient of several awards, she sat on the jury of the 2017 Man Booker International Award and is the director of Awele Creative Trust, an NGO she set up to encourage creative writing among young Nigerians.