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No Be From Hia by Natasha Omokhodion-Kalulu Banda

‘Integrity is the only thing in this world that will create second chances for you.’



It’s really easy to get lost in a book that spans across several countries and I am glad that I didn’t lose the flow in this text. From Lusaka, to Lagos and to London there is just enough family drama to keep one flipping the pages. No Be From Hia is Natasha Omokhodion-Kalulu Banda’s debut novel. The plot is filled with many exciting twists and turns. A family finds itself at the centre of many past secrets demanding that they make choices to make the present and future better for themselves. There are so many sacrifices offered for liberation which come with dark secrets and if we are being honest, are often swept under the carpet breaking up families. The Kombe family is not different, deep within Zambian politics and family scandals, this turned out to be a good read.

One of the most important themes tackled in this book is belonging. I think from the way it is used in the text, ‘No be from hia’ is loosely translated to ‘not from here’ and this title is fitting! While Maggie and Bupe are the main voices in the text, every character seems to be battling with belonging, waiting to finally feel at home and be at peace. For Maggie who is Nigerian-Zambian and grew up in London she struggles with fitting in back home in Zambia after she and her mother, Stella move back home. Yet somehow even years after she has settled in Zambia she yearns for her father and to know her Nigerian roots. The end of her parents marriage becomes the beginning of a confusing life. Stella herself, whom the reader learns that, she struggled between reconciling being African and growing up overseas struggles to place the new Stella in a country that bears taints in her past. Stella tries to make up for lost time but the truth is only what can change the future. For Bupe being Zambian-Jamaican and growing up in London she yearns for the love of her cousin Maggie and to know her Zambian people. Unfortunate events force her parents to send her to Zambia ‘to her people’ and the course of her life changes. She finally finds that relationship with Maggie. CJ and Kabaso also struggle (for various reasons) with being away from home and finding their places in a broken family. I think that Maggie and Bupe sharing their grandmother’s names also made them feel connected to her and United them.

Linked to belonging is the longing for something real that pacifies the characters’ fears. When placed in the spaces where the characters hope to see or actually see what being part of a family/country looks like, they realize that integration has some rough edges. When Maggie goes to Nigeria she is faced with a language barrier and glaring cultural differences that do not leave her in a better position. She is also confronted by painful truths about her father. She feels the same way that she does when she is in Zambia. She says, ‘It’s the way I always feel in Zambia- not being able to speak Bemba is so limiting. Always just able to get by, but never enough to feel something from the inside out and bring it to life with ancient African dialect. Having to water down emotions with English vowels is most frustrating.’ This is also true for Bupe who realizes once she is in Zambia that she is not Zambian enough and it is Maggie who walks the journey with her, making it bearable. Bupe considers herself a London girl and many years later when she returns, she is confronted by truths that hurt and free her. Bupe and Maggie learn to lean on each other, ‘Eventually Maggie and I discover that we work best together’ and it is this beautiful relationship that overcomes in the end as they do something for their country. Perhaps, that longing doesn’t always lead to the destinations we think it will, it looks different and comes with its own demands to serve a purpose.

There were parts that made me chuckle in this book like the scandalous Abisola and his jokes. I almost fell off my chair reading this, ‘Everyone in Lagos is an author, baby. Our neighbours’ neighbours, family, friends, strangers.They have all written something. If it is not about themselves, it is about their spouse.’ I enjoyed reading this book because it ties up neatly at the end. The storyline just finds itself in a space of resolution. Decisions are made that inspire hope and allow readers to dream of a time when all our dysfunctional families finally meet at the centre that holds. The book allows readers to dream. The chapters in this book were very short and this assisted with the pacing of the storyline. I also appreciated the use of flashback and Grandmother Margaret Bupe’s voice in the story puts things into perspective. I struggled with getting all the characters’ relationships right and I only managed to make sense of it halfway through the book. A family tree would have helped a lot and saved me some time (I really had to draw up my own!). There was some form of familiarity with the boarding school experience and some of the brands scattered in the book made me feel at home (Cobra floor wax, Eet-Sum-Mor biscuits, Singer sewing machine, pink Fizzer candy and Chibuku beer). Zambian history is scattered throughout the novel and that’s a bonus! I recommend this book that tackles important family dynamics and individual struggles in a relatable, honest and hopeful way.


Book Details

Title: No Be From Hia

Author: Natasha Omokhodion-Kalulu Banda

Genre: Fiction

Pages: 212

Publisher: Blackbird Books (2nd Edition 2020)

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