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A Spell of Good Things by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀

“…they knew this was all they could be sure of getting out of the politicians for another four years. So why not gorge on the rice and the oil they brought if that was the only so-called dividend of democracy within reach?” (pages 3-4)

I was excited to read Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀'s latest offering, A Spell of Good Things, and as soon as it was available, I got into it, but after reading the first Chapter, I left it to linger because it hadn’t gripped me enough to continue. Six months later, I tried again because I am one of those readers who loved Stay With Me and were taken by Adébáyọ̀;s writing from that moment. Divided into four parts, this story is centred on the lives of two families through the voices of Ẹniọlá and Wúràọlá. Adébáyọ̀‘s juxtaposition of these two families leads us into a story that illuminates the divides in Nigeria’s society in cultural expectations, economic decline, inequality, and plummeting political greed.

Sixteen-year-old Ẹniọlá’s family struggles with making ends meet, drowning in debt in a declining economy, and all he wants is to go to school. His father is unemployed and ashamed, while his mother searches for food and money to help them survive. His sister Bùsọ́lá, who goes to the same school as him, complains endlessly about their situation. Ẹniọlá’s mother prioritizes education, viewing it as the door to a good life for her children. Yet, her husband's retrenchment and unemployment juxtaposed with this lays bare the equal importance of access to opportunities to use that education. Pursuing education becomes Ẹniọlá’s primary goal; he does anything to return to Glorious Destiny Comprehensive Secondary School. One can sympathize with Ẹniọlá’s situation and his pain “Each term, his lips grew heavier and heavier whenever he wanted to discuss his school fees with his parents, and sometimes it would take days of thinking through when and how to speak before he could open his mouth to talk, only to—in many instances—shut it again for another hour or day.” (Page 99) sears through.

After what he considers his mother’s betrayal, Ẹniọlá tries to negotiate his place in the world, which seems never to give him a lasting break. He works at Aunty Caro’s shop, eventually becoming an apprentice through Yèyé’s generosity later on. Adébáyọ̀’s use of symbolism is impeccable. In Aunty Caro’s shop polar worlds intersect. Ẹniọlá meets Yèyé, who “had never been able to shake the sense that life was war, a series of battles with the occasional spell of good things.” (page 157) While the apprenticeship is good, the rewards from the tailoring skill are in the future. The education he aggressively desires is to be attained in the present. To raise his fees, his new friends introduce him to the world of Honourable Fẹ̀sọ̀jaiyé. Ẹniọlá’s introduction to the greedy and dirty world of politics gives the reader a close view of the dirt, betrayal, crime, and pain. A sixteen-year-old boy enters this world with dire consequences for any omission and unwanted action, with an empty stomach and a dream for education. Ẹniọlá finds out the hard way that politic's is no child's play.

Twenty-eight-year-old doctor Wúràọlá’s affluent family flourishes. At first, I found Wúràọlá to be a strong character, someone who knew what she wanted, chasing her dreams, seemingly in a good relationship, and a rebel at times. Still, as the plot thickens, it is Mọ́tárá, her younger sister, who turns out to be strong or somewhat rebellious enough to stand up for Wúràọlá. Mọ́tárá wants to act as a mirror Wúràọlá can look through and see the truth but “The thrust of Mọ́tárá’s messages—you’re lying to protect him, he is abusing you, you just don’t see it, don’t marry a wife beater—annoyed Wúràọlá. She was not some helpless victim who needed to be saved by Mọ́tárá of all people. She knew what she was doing.” (page 213) Besides trying to protect her sister, Mọ́tárá questions why she should live her life preparing for marriage, which is, according to everyone’s expectations and opinions, the final destination for any young woman. Wúràọlá has been a people pleaser all her life, seeking to be the pride of her family, her friends, and her professional mentors. Yèyé, her mother, and the aunties, her mother’s sisters, are all obsessed with marriage and ensuring the girls are marriageable. The conversation around young women's burden is familiar and remains the same.

Kúnlé’s abuse is overwhelming most of the time, and one wishes him away. He minimizes his abusive actions, which in turn also makes Wúràọlá minimize the abuse, ultimately leading to denial. Perhaps, she would have been better off with Kingsley. In Wúràọlá and Onso’s brief relationship, Adébáyọ̀ delves into the Yorùbá and Igbo tribal conflict and its residues which still exist in the Nigerian community. That fragile relationship with Nonso dies a natural death. Although their backgrounds are different, Wúràọlá reminds me of Uju in Tomorrow I Become A Woman by Aiwanose Odafen (you can read my review of the book here). It is frustrating that by the time the book wraps up, there are no consequences for Kúnlé’s actions, and no one holds him accountable, but this is the reality in a misogynist community.

A Spell of Good Things dragged out for me, but once it was good, it worked out well! Adébáyọ̀’s use of epigraphs (excerpts from the works of T.M Aluko, Sefi Atta, Chika Unigwe, Helon Habila, and Teju Cole) to introduce the parts to the book entice the reader and seem to extend into what is yet to come. I would have loved to see Eniolà and Wúràọlá’s stories play out differently and a more convincing development of the characters. The ending left me with many unanswered questions I now have to live with. If you are looking for a happy ending, this one might not be for you because...pain after pain and tragedy.


Book Details

Title: A Spell of Good Things

Genre: Fiction

Authors: Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀

Publisher: Canongate Books (2023)

Pages: 340

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