Let me start off on a tangent (I’ll come back to the topic of discussion. I promise!). Often times, while watching TV game shows like Jeopardy and Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, I find myself correctly answering question after question (I really love trivia). Family members around me at the time would say something like ”Why don’t you audition for the show?” For a brief moment, I’d actually entertain the idea… Until the American Literature questions start rolling in. If the questions on world geography or sports make me feel like a genius, the lit. questions make me feel like a total dunce!
Even though I eventually shelved the idea of getting on any of these shows, it wasn’t until recently that I realized why I’m so bad at American literature. You know those crucial years of middle school and high school (junior and senior secondary) where the teachers start getting you to read books, well, I did go through that and actually enjoyed a lot of the books I got to read. The thing is, I went to school in Nigeria so instead of getting familiar with the works of Ernest Hemingway, Harper Lee, Mark Twain or Emily Dickinson, I was hanging out in the literary minds of Chinua Achebe, Elechi Amadi, Olajire Olanlokun and Ola Omiyale as well as a guy named Eddie Iroh.
Eddie is a respected Nigerian Author and Broadcaster (he once was the head of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria) and as part of Ezibota’s “Contributor Showcase” (sorry we couldn’t find a better name for it), this month is set aside for book reviews and my contribution will be based on Mr. Iroh’s “Without A Silver Spoon”.
The book is about a young boy named Ure Chokwe who as the title of the book suggests was born into an extremely poor family. Despite not having much money, Ure’s father made sure that his children were raised right and that he instilled a sense of honesty and truthfulness in them. On his part, Ure was determined to go to school and get an education so he could eventually be in a position to help his family. His family’s financial situation however put this dream in serious peril.
As fate would have it, luck shined on young Ure. Mr. Steve, a teacher at his school, took a liking to him. He offered to pay his school fees in return for Ure serving as his houseboy. He and his family were obviously thrilled (actually, his dad was against it at first but then came on board) especially since it was helping him get closer to his dreams.
He moved in with Mr. Steve and started helping with all the house chores. Sweeping, washing and cooking. Mr. Steve particularly loved Jollof Rice and promptly taught Ure how to cook it. Did you put a spoon in this food before it was done?”, once exclaimed Mr. Steve upon one of Ure’s jollof rice attempts- The rice was burned and half cooked in parts!
[Now that’s Jollof rice 101]
Things were going well for Ure until two funny things (not in a good way) happened to him. First, there was a misunderstanding with Mr. Steve where he misplaced some money and thought Ure stole it. He promptly sent him back to his parents. Right after this happened, someone in Ure’s class had their money stolen. Already, Ure was a suspect because he hardly left the classroom during break. In a bid to “catch the thief”, the class, at the prompting of class troublemaker Erugo Iyama decided to do the “broomstick” test. A broomstick (not the ones American witches ride on; it’s the one in the picture below) is broken in half and then the rough end is stuck into your chin. It needs to stay there for a total count of 10. Anything less then you must be the thief.
Just imagine Ure’s luck…the broomstick dropped at the count of 7! He was the only one in class that this happened to so it’s safe to say that he got himself in a whole lot of trouble.
If you were thinking….of course the book has a happy ending. Mr. Steve found his missing money and through some good detective work, was able to catch the real thief. None other than Erugo Iyama. He was caught trying to use the money to buy akara (bean cake).
The book ended with Ure finishing primary school and looking forward to what lay ahead. His journey actually continues in a sequel to this book titled “Banana Leaves” and let me just say that in this sequel, Mr. Iroh plays with our emotions by serving up a story that is a total departure from the feel good narrative of its predecessor.
In conclusion, I’d say there are 2 major takeaways from “Without A Silver Spoon” . First is to recognize that often times when we are disadvantaged, we may have to work twice as hard as others to get the same things. Ure went to class with his peers but then after school, he had to go and work as a houseboy just to earn the opportunity to be at school in the first place. Second is the message of Honesty which is very relevant today especially in Nigeria where the story is set. I’m sure many Nigerians, if they got to read the book today, would probably wonder-”if only our leaders can learn from Ure’s father”!