The novel Taduno’s Song, a strong debut by Nigerian writer Odafe Atogun, centers around memory loss of a strange nature. After the famous and politically outspoken singer Taduno returns from exile in order to continue his fight against a military dictatorship and to save his girlfriend Lela from imprisonment, he discovers that the nation he left behind no longer holds any memory of him. While his former friends and enemies remain aware that a popular singer vehemently decried the government before fleeing for his life, and that the regime is looking high and low for this singer, no one is able to identify the stranger who appears among them one day, claiming to be Taduno. Even the name itself means nothing to them anymore.
This loss of memory, in Atogun’s careful crafting, represents more of a collective inner loss, a dramatic shift in the very character of Nigeria. As Lela writes in a letter that mysteriously makes its way to Taduno while still in exile:
“In time to come, should you yield to the pull of your roots, you may be returning home to unpleasant surprises Since you left, very strange things have been happening in Nigeria, and Lagos particularly has changed in a way I cannot describe in words. I must confess, I don’t know exactly what is going on – nobody knows; all I can say is that things are changing drastically here, and the city of Lagos is not the same as we used to know it.”
This paragraph of the letter extends beyond itself, seeming to speak out to exiles the world over and particularly those from the African continent. Something strange is happening, Lela claims. Something not quite identifiable but deeply felt by everyone. It is perhaps even possible to interpret these words as those of the author himself – who still lives in Lagos – to his compatriots who have migrated around the globe.
This week was largely devoted to brushing up on my Senegalese history. I’m revising an article – crossing my t’s and dotting my i’s (as well as changing most of my which’s to that’s…good lord did I not go to middle school?) and I realized that while the literary premises were sound, the paper was really lacking context. (And by “I realized” I mean “my adviser – the fiercest editor I’ve ever met – suggested that I needed to put all the literary pish-posh into some kind of cohesive historical framework”…) So I went about kicking myself for the thousandth time since I began working on my ‘dissertation project’ proper for having wasted my intellectual youth coming up with clever ideas instead of cracking open a dang history book, and then I hit the library.
You’ve probably read Christopher L. Miller’s The French Atlantic Triangle, yes? (No, you are NOT a francophone African/Caribbean literature scholar, you say? You stumbled onto this blog because you heard there’d be cake? There is cake too. There is definitely cake.)
The book is taking me all summer to read. But not in the bad way. In the way that it is getting my full and undivided attention while I’m reading, and I’m only giving it a few hours a week because there are more pressing books at hand. Books I can skim. Books that get about half my brain while the other half is thinking about what to do with the fresh basil and eggplant in my fridge. Books that stand untouched on my desk until I have done the laundry, cleaned the bathroom, organized my closet, found all my missing jewelry, made a pie, rearranged my pictures, and checked email eight times because I don’t want to read them but I know that I have to. (*cough* Heidegger *cough cough*…) Books that I simply have to get through so that I can read other books about them. (It’s a charmed life or something…)