Book review | Novel – Nostalgia

Book : Nostalgia
Author : Akintunde Oyajobi
Publisher : Delta Publications (Nigeria) Ltd
Reviewer : Aminu S Muhammad

The jealousy of a husband seething from sexual frustration sets off strings of actions and counter-actions that frame the story of a near-tragedy that Nostalgia is. 

Akintunde Oyajobi deploys fine language, tight plot and gripping suspense to tell this story of love, hurt, and tears brought upon the Tunde Giwa family by an act of indiscretion by Rebecca, which in turn fired up the vindictive part of Tunde, her husband.

Tunde, the protagonist of the novel needed to prove his manhood to Rebecca, his beautiful wife, the pleasure of which she habitually deprives him in the bedroom. This, he did with the irascibility of an entitled African husband by calling Rebecca a whore and sending her out of his house after a misunderstanding that bordered on suspected infidelity.

Embarrassed by her husband’s accusation and buoyed by a firm belief in her innocence, Rebecca left Tunde for her parent’s house to begin a new life but not without a threat to come back for Mabel, their eighteen-month-old daughter. However, the turmoil that her life has become remains unabated as in less than 24hrs after separating from her husband, she was elevated into widowhood when Tunde and Mabel are reported dead after a horrible car accident as Tunde drove from Jos to Kaduna where he plans to keep Mabel with his mother, away from the sight of Rebecca.  

Thereafter, we see the family separated for four years as Tunde, taken for dead after the accident, seeks healing for his fractured body and mind broken by betrayal. While in sequestration with his daughter under new identities, his injuries healed slowly but not his mind. Memories of Rebecca still stalk his life much to his chagrin.

Mourning the ‘loss’ of her husband and daughter, Rebecca’s status  as a young, beautiful widow exposed her to pressures from different quarters, not the least from her own mother. Here we encounter the stark sociology of the novel’s setting; Jos, in northern Nigeria. We see a society that regards women as less entitled than men, especially so for widowed or divorced women. While it is easy to guess the form of pressure Rebecca faces, demands for her to remarry, it is unfathomable that her status would also strip her of all dignity, when she also became a coveted object of sexual gratification by lewd men. There is also the nasty rumour finding favour on the lips and ears of people that she was an accursed woman who caused her husband and daughter to meet gruesome deaths!

Enter Samson, a young, brash man better qualified as a city rascal who also joins the auction to bid for Rebecca. He brags of being medalled for taming wild women when warned, “Rebecca is tough”. What toughness? The price for the body of a widow or divorced woman cannot cost more than six pence, Samson must have thought. He sets out with intricate plans to seduce Rebecca, enlisting the help of two women and one man; Janet, Rebecca’s close friend and colleague at work, Tinu a friend of Janet and Kola his friend with the same warped mind as his.   

Although Samson successfully lured Rebecca to Kola’s room, his rendezvous, his grand plot to get Rebecca to accept his proposition flops. Bitter at this failure, he decides to take her with force. This is the point where Rebecca proved that although she may be a woman without a husband, she owns her body and will fight to any level to protect it from any predator. She fights him off physically to a narrow escape. Samson’s ego was injured after this experience with Rebecca. He hatched a devious design with Kola to immobilise her car so she would get more vulnerable to his vile. However, in a classic case of retributive justice, they drove to their own death in an accident soon after emptying a gallon of water into the fuel tank of her car.

When Rebecca was leaving Tunde, she had vowed to come back for Mabel, her daughter. The news of the fatal accident involving her daughter and husband nipped this resolve in its bud. However, four years after, yet to remarry and still pining at the loss of her husband and daughter, fate smiled on her and brought Mabel to her in the guise of Mary whom we come to see as the bridge of rapprochement between the separated couple.

Haven accepted Tunde and Mabel as dead since four years before, Mary’s (Mabel’s) dramatic meeting and association with Rebecca, her schoolteacher blew the lid off Tunde’s hidden life and identity. Tunde had, with the support of his friends and colleagues at work, Daniel and Eddy, maintained a discreet social life, striving to erase any trace that would give away his identity to Rebecca or anyone close to her. She had betrayed their love and he wasn’t going to forgive her. He wanted her out of his and Mabel’s lives forever. However, he didn’t reckon with Mabel’s beautiful soul, she being a product of the love he shared with Rebecca before the storm. 

In an inexplicable pull of filial attraction, Mary, the pupil is drawn to Rebecca, the teacher in the adorable fashion of daughter and mother. When seen together, people are quick to recognise the remarkable physical resemblance between them even as Rebecca and Mary never knew of the bond they had.                

In a quirk of fate, Rebecca and Tunde are brought face to face again in Tunde’s new house. Mathew Davou, Rebecca’s former boss who was the cause of Tunde’s suspicion of Rebecca’s fidelity, is also brought into the loop by Mabel where he finally got the chance to explain to Tunde what truly transpired in the bedroom four years before when Tunde returned home to find Mathew stepping out of Rebecca’s bedroom. Listening was all Tunde had to do and Rebecca became absolved of any allegation of infidelity.     
Set in the Jos of the 80’s, Nostalgia is a beautifully woven story of marital conflicts against the background of a cosmopolitan and peaceful city, then unsullied by the senseless ethnic and sectarian violence that Jos is famed for today which would have made a story like this impossible to imagine now. One could see the many points of intercourse where characters of different ethnicities and religions communed together in expressing human good and foibles.

Originally published in 1988, this novel, aside its value as a work of fiction also comes handy as a historical text. In vivid imagery, it gives us a taste of the psychological and physical nature of the average Nigerian city three decades ago where you find the Peugeot 505 saloon as probably the trendiest car on Nigerian roads and no cell phones to distract drivers.