Sarah House by Ifeanyi Ajegbo has sat on my bookshelf for two years. I’d purchased it at the Garden City Literary Festival in Port Harcourt in 2014 majorly because it was cheap, and also because it was set in Port Harcourt; and all things about my city fascinate me. I always arrange the books I have not read on a particular section of my bookshelf, and it had been there awhile; until I picked it up last week and was blown away.
Ifeanyi Ajegbo is a star. The book flowed so smoothly and seamlessly that it was nearly shocking to me that it’d been penned by someone I had never heard of. Sarah House takes us through the world of sex trafficking, prostitution, violence and girls whose lives were divested from them while they still lived. We follow Nita as she narrates how she was taken away from her tranquil hometown by a man she loved, a man who lured her to Port Harcourt with the promise of a better life and happily-ever-after. And all she found was pain and despair. She was sold into sex trade and her life together with the lives of the other women she met took on a perpetual state of disrepair.
Ifeanyi explored a very dark and complex subject with such bravery and precision that is commendable. Chika Unigwe is another person who took on this subject of sex trade and prostitution in On Black Sisters’ Street, and just like Chika, Ifeanyi ensured that the human element of the story was what we focused on, not just the sex trade itself. He made us focus on the lives that were broken in a way that made repair impossible. His powerful storytelling tugged at my heart strings and a few times I nearly reached for a box of tissues; he took me right to the plot with very powerful characters that moved across the pages.
Ifeanyi’s power of description is so vivid that I felt myself flinch once or twice when he described a character. His writing is almost poetic, using the flowiest phrases to paint a picture in the reader’s mind. His descriptions of Fatty, Slim and Madam amongst others are so strong that if you looked around your life, you would see one or two people who you’d think the characters were modeled after. Of Madam, he wrote:
“Elegantly dressed in a silky, almost see-through gown that seemed to reveal and yet hide everything underneath it, she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Tall and statuesque, she seemed to glide rather than walk over the floor tiles…”
Ifeanyi clearly did his research well before delving into this dark world, and his plot did not disappoint mostly. He is a storyteller and he did not allow the fact that he was writing about an important cause overshadow the fact that he was indeed telling a story.
However he came up short in some places; the end seemed rushed, especially the business with Nita and Chief, which I found way too convenient. I also found it nearly laughable that a room in which human organs were harvested for black market trade would be left unlocked for anyone to walk in, especially seeing as very powerful people were involved. I did not also like the fact that Nita told the whole story herself; I wished the writer broke the book into parts with Madam, Stella and even Fatty taking time to tell their stories and how they came to be part of that world. I found Stella’s 360-turn quite silly; how did she go from being the iron fist of Sarah House to gossiping with and winking at the girls? Plus I wish her death would have been dwelt upon, even if it were just a tiny bit.
This was a very good read and I hope Ifeanyi Ajegbo will write again. Seeing as he lives in Port Harcourt with me, I hope I can track him down for a cup of coffee or a cold beer; whichever he likes.
I am handing Sarah House a four star rating! Everybody should go buy this book and read it. I highly recommend it.
Written by Franklyne Ikediasor