Toil, Trouble and Triumph

Title: Ikemefuna

Author: Chinedu Aroh

Price: Not stated

No. of pages: 231

Publisher: Rhyce Kerex Publishers, Enugu

Reviewer: Benjamin Ossai, PhD

Distributor: Ugoakunna Books & Communications (08054461056)

The need for the contemporary African novel to be didactic has once more been rekindled by Chinedu Aroh in Ikemefuna. The work is not a case of art for art’s sake. Rather it responds to myriads of vices bedevilling mankind today. The novel therefore re-echoes Achebe’s view that if ‘things were perfect, there would be no need for writers to write their novels’.

The themes embellished in the narrative seem simple but saliently complex. The novel reinstates that good hearts triumph over all challenges, and that man’s sojourn on earth should not be seen as an end in itself.

The three-part novel begins with Ikemefuna’s courageous confrontation with his herculean travails, and his triumph. Part II recreates his grandfather Onyeije’s ‘primordial’ desire for a family liberated from the shackles of ignorance and lack; and how his son Ogadimma, out of self-volition, sacrifices himself towards the realization of the desire, an experience that gives tragic pleasure to readers. The last part, tagged ‘Epilogue’, is a happy resolution of the narrative.

For me, Ikemefuna’s triumph against all odds is an accomplishment of his grandfather and father’s aspirations. There lies the book’s element of spiritual materialization. Baba Adewole’s role in the novel should be seen as the earthly guide towards accomplishing the cycle.

The author might have deliberately created the story from the middle, and then the beginning before the resolution to give his readers moments to read again before they realize that the chronology of the story is superficially simple but covertly incisive.

Ikemefuna, the only son of his father Ogadimma, is left to cater for himself at his teen because his uncles, a lawyer and an engineer trained by his father, refuse to train him at a time his father became bedridden. Ikemefuna intuitively perceives the danger ahead of his continuing with his secondary education, and with the courage only he could muster — and to the chagrin of his helpless parents — chooses to navigate through the rugged paths his father did in search of survival.

The acceptance of his parents for him to embark on the journey to Ore, Ondo State, to become a farm hand is not that of joy but what Karl Jaspers aptly calls ‘the boundary situation’ – a state of questioning one’s fate. The work is a mature narrative because Ikemefuna does not hold any grudges against his parents for their inability to train him, and, amazingly, he seems not angry with his uncles, who did not reply to his letter seeking their assistance over his school fees. He simply picks his father’s farming tools as an empowerment tool, and hops into a bus headed for Ore, a case that even a money-monger policewoman sheds tears.

Ikemefuna begins life afresh at Ore, with harsh weather and mosquitoes against him. At a time, he rhetorically wonders why he faces such inexplicable challenge in life, being the youngest on the farm and paying the bills for his parents’ upkeep at home. Naturally, he loses his youthfulness and forcefully becomes a man.

Undaunted, he continues working, and with God on his side, Baba Adewole, the same man that employed his father Ogadimma, does not only employ him but also schools him in the art of life, the same which his father Ogadimma had an opportunity to learn but ‘misapplied’ his own. Adewole is the hand of God in the novel. Ikemefuna learnt a lot from him, and wisely utilizes every bit of the knowledge. Eventually Ikemefuna, through the wise troves of Baba, owns farms both in Ore and his maternal home, and also marries Funmi, another bundle of knowledge and a sign of national cohesion. Despite the ill-treatment meted to him, he seeks reconciliation with his uncles.

Book Two of the narrative is the anti-climax. Ogadimma’s hope that investing solely in humans is a way out of poverty and illiteracy is dashed when his half-siblings abandon him in the lurch. He is a victim because he does not survive it. He abandons his university education and sacrifices all he had to liberate his family. He succeeds but reaps nothing in the end, not even taking care of his only son. He dies miserably. His wife also dies miserably, leaving his only son Ikemefuna to fight the war alone — and on an away turf.

The novel is full of inexplicable betrayals, which are today common both in the political scenarios and general living of man. Ugochinyere, whose marriage was welcomed with pomp, is the architect of Ogadimma’s misfortune. She poisons the minds of his sons against Ogadimma despite his being the family’s benefactor. They also take away all that Ikemefuna would have inherited from his father, making him a wanderer, and he has to first settle at his maternal home before returning home after the truce.

The roles of traditional rulers in this novel are instructive. The two traditional rulers who spearheaded the peace that returned to the Onyeije family should be emulated. The spiritual radiation between them and Adewole is the bringer of tranquillity in the story.

Let’s view names and their connotations in the novel. Chinedu might not have chosen the names Onyeije, Ogadimma and Ikemefuna by a coincidence. Onyeije in Igbo is like an Ogbanje, who reincarnates to accomplish tasks, at times not in one earth life. Some fulfil their missions by influencing a third party. Ogadimma means ‘it shall be well’; it is like casting one’s destiny in the wind. In contrast, Ikemefuna means ‘my toil shall not be in vain’. Thus, he is an accomplishment of the dreams of his lineage. He is able to amend the present, and guarantee the family’s future. It might be the view of the author that life is a continuum, and that the law of karma plays out; and that when its cycle closes, normalcy returns.

The message is therefore that man should do their best and leave the world better than they met it – progressive evolution. Onyeije, Ogadimma’s father, started the positive dreams, sort of willing it; his son Ogadimma laid a good foundation for its realization, and Ikemefuna realized it. The aggregation is that mankind should work hard, eschew oppression and embrace love. Elders should emulate Pa Adewole, and the duo of Igwe Ochendo Urama and Igwe Ozioko Eze. They symbolize purity. The novel teaches perseverance, love, and self-discovery.

The views of these two literary giants vividly capture the message of this novel. The first is Dr Andrew Ame-Odindi Aba, former HOD, Department of English, Benue State University, Makurdi: ‘This is a mature narrative of a grandfather, father and son, whose dreams are serially aborted through three generations, resulting in their successive relocation to faraway Yoruba land. Chinedu’s adept storytelling aside, he also engages his readers in educative, motivational, and spiritual elements. From Pa Ogadimma’s misplaced training of his half-siblings, Ikemefuna (his own son) — true to his name — eventually breaks the family jinx, turning his own generation back from the apparently crossed destiny of his fathers.’

The second is Prof. Umelo Ojinma, former dean, Faculty of Arts, Nasarawa State University, Keffi: ‘The book, Ikemefuna, is difficult to put down once you open it. It is a journey of discovery on the virtues of hard work, perseverance, and integrity in this day and age when these are in very short supply. It not only teaches all the morals which are needed to successfully navigate and overcome difficult times but also shows that a good heart prevails over circumstances.’

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