A couple of months ago, I blogged about a friend and writer, Immanuel James, who has a new book coming out titled ‘Under Bridge’. (Read HERE). The book tells the story of a family torn apart by divorce, one which leaves a young boy, Victor Ekwueme with the only option of parenting himself and his siblings, and eventually journeying to Lagos in search of a better life. This is a story that addresses the issues of culture, language, love and life. And while the e-copies have been available since April, the traditional copies are finally out.
The author, Immanuel James, took some time to answer some questions about his book. It makes for an enlightening reading. Check on it below.
1: Was the main character in anyway the architect of his own future or were there just circumstances that betrayed him or set him up to ‘become’? Is he complicit at all or was he just a victim of circumstance?
Ans.: This was the major dilemma that haunted the writing of this book. I’m a determinist, so there was this temptation to construct Victor Ekwueme’s triumph – or if you like, the story’s twists and denouement – as products of fate. But that would destroy the existentialist perspective that was a little implied in the story: the impression that man is entirely responsible for his life, and can therefore wrest success and a robust future from negative socio-cultural forces on account of personal efforts, irrespective of limitations.
Now, if Victor’s triumph was a matter of destiny, then the motivational thrust of the book would be destroyed; if it was a result of his sheer energy and intellectual adroitness, the role of fate in human endeavours would have been compromised.
So I found a middle ground. We do not really know the content of our destinies. The best we can do, in the real world, is to produce positive thoughts and actions, wishing for the silent enablement of Fate. Opportunities for success are, many times, presented by Fate. Yet we have to prepare ourselves for the demands of such opportunities. If we are unprepared, the prospects will come in vain; if we are prepared and the chances do not come, we will have at least been successful at utilizing our human potential, notwithstanding the result – and that utilization is, in itself, success on a different level.
I got him prepared for the demands of his destiny. So he collaborated with circumstances to forge his path. One needs the synergy of work and Fate to pull through in life.
Ans.: The story begins with Victor’s parents’ divorce. But divorce is a societal problem and not essentially a ‘Nigerian’ one. The divorce sets off a chain of troubles for him, each trouble leading to another, until he reaches a point of extreme frustration. After seeking solutions in vain, in many of the systems open to him, from extended family to religion, to fraudulent employment bureaux, he finds meaning in the most unlikely of places – under a pedestrian bridge in Lagos! Yet that eureka moment under the bridge merely arms him for even greater challenges. But that is his defining moment, the point at which he is able to locate himself in the world.
These relate to the Nigerian youth – or child – in many ways. Divorce has become too rampant around here and no one really knows the extent of the damage it does to the children caught in-between. Unlike in developed societies where divorced parents cannot easily escape their responsibilities to their wards, divorced couples here mainly need moral sanctions to perform such duties. There are laws, but there is no enabling environment for those laws to be very useful. A father can abandon his children and in many cases, there’s not much that can be done to punish him, especially as we do not really have a viable credit system to ascertain his income and ensure that he takes care of his children. It is worse when such parents are poor, and decide to abandon their kids. I have seen so many of such cases among the Nigerian poor. I had to tell their story.
Also, there are hardly any social facilities put in place by the government to take care of the youth. We don’t have education loans for young people who want to go to school; we don’t have funds for young entrepreneurs; we don’t even have properly equipped schools for those in school for optimal training. We see that in the main character as in some others, who have only themselves or friends to support them through their dreams. The young, poor Nigerian is a political orphan, is his own mini government, creating his own support systems all the way up.
And the good news is, Nigerian youth are full of boundless energy. We have that can-do spirit that is entirely our own. The book illustrates that.
Then there is also the issue of youth apathy to governance, one that is borne out of patriotic anger. Over political enthusiasm, we have chosen Premier League and show-biz passion; over women empowerment, we have chosen gossip magazines and fashion. Of course there is a politically active minority, but we need the numbers. If we can have these passions diverted, in equal measure, to political gate-keeping, we won’t be having botched Occupy Nigeria movements. We will be able to hold forth resistance against government ineptitude without getting easily tired; and the government official who once said the Arab Spring cannot happen in Nigeria would not have had the nerve to say that. These are all in the book.
There are so many other ways in which the book relates to our youth.
3: There can’t be any arguing that culture is a very life force of both the individual and the society, so what are your thoughts on how much culture needs to bend over backwards for the individual? And vice versa.
Ans.: This question is central to the story, in that the main character’s antagonist is not a human character, but certain societal norms and conventions, socio-cultural forces, etc. He is anti-convention. He questions religious creeds, superstitions, social tastes, etc., almost to the point of blind idealism.
The point is to engineer a balance between culture and human dynamism. We must accord ourselves the mental space to interrogate conventions. There is nothing that should be legislated out of human curiosity and questioning. That is the only way to humanize culture. For, if culture is unyielding, it becomes a lifeless social burden lacking mobility. Yet the individual must not completely jettison culture out of a reckless liberalism. And to question it is not to disrespect it, but to ascertain its relevance to current life.
We see this ambivalence in Victor Ekwueme, when he examines religious culture. He employs rationalism to vet both theism and atheism, and concludes that both are worldviews having a degree of logical merit in their own rights. Atheism is a young culture – in terms of global topicality; theism is an old, prevailing culture. He preaches inclusiveness, asserting that both worldviews demonstrate a thirst for the Ultimate Truth – and that the search for that Truth is a primary affliction upon the human mind. His doctrine, straddling Fallibilism and Universalism, attempts to unite two preeminent divergent cultures – attempts to grind coarse, conflicting quests for meaning into a smooth paste of inclusive philosophy. He believes the world is capable of order and love if men can be less arrogant in their appropriation of that Ultimate Truth; that we are all innocently seeking that Truth and none should lay exclusive claims to its discovery, since a tinge of reasonable doubt punctures absolute validity in all worldviews.
4: Nigeria is a country that honours the family unit. Where are we, as a country, on that weighing scale and what, in your opinion, is the trend? And how is that translating directly to social and economic terms?
Ans.: I don’t really know where we are on that scale, to be honest, because the indices are mixed. In one breadth – given the growing issue of divorce/marriage problems, youth unrest, among other social vices – it appears we have lost a huge chunk of our family values that should produce sound character in our youth. For, in the final analysis, issues like terrorism, armed robbery, etc., to a large extent, can be traced to dysfunctional family situations.
In another breadth, families have remained strong support institutions to family members chasing after different goals in life, especially as the government is not doing enough to create safety valves to help people. Nigeria is still a communal society, and that is very good.
But we can do better. We can balance work with children upbringing, with marital obligations and create a better society. We should understand that if we can take proper care of our families, we will have laid the foundation for a more peaceful nation.
Immanuel James’ Under Bridge is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other e-stores around the world, just a Google search away. It is also available at Terra Kulture, Plot 1376, Tiamiyu Savage Street, V.I., Lagos; and at Litcaf, E-Centre, Commercial Avenue, Yaba, Lagos. Readers in the East are sure to get it at Godswill Bookshop, Unizik Bus Stand Tempsite, Awka, Anambra State, or call or text Nonso on 08064218546; 08173590134. It can also be delivered to interested buyers anywhere in Nigeria – call or text TJ on 07033436212; 07088289075. It will be in Uniport by Friday.