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Ben Igwe. Against the Odds.

Ben Igwe. Against the Odds. New Rochelle, New York. African Heritage. 2009. 311 pages. $19.95. ISBN 978-0-9790858-3-3

Ben Igwe's Against the Odds has joined the growing body of Afro-diasporic fiction in which relationships are built around characters descended from old African American families and new African immigrants, thus giving rise to exciting new interpersonal conditions, and, sometimes, ambivalent and problematic situations.

In this novel, Jamike Nnorom from the southeastern Nigerian village of Alaudo, after a brilliant academic career at Regius State College in rural Pennsylvania, falls in love with and marries Linda Johnson, a college girl from Pittsburgh, in preference to the village belle, Chioma, chosen for him by his widowed mother from a nearby town in Nigeria. Predictably, all hell is let loose. Subsequently, the crisis is contained but not before some of those involved have been emotionally bruised.

This simple plot description masks a tremendous wealth of socio-cultural detail that has gone into the making of this complex novel. Nor does it adequately reflect Igwe's adroit control of the narrative structure and subtle exploration of the many characters that people the novel, characters strong in their individualities and bringing with them enriching personal and often idiosyncratic qualities.

For example, a major focus of the novel is the growth and development of the central character. Starting life with so many handicaps, Jamike matures into a strong, dependable and almost exemplary hero. He evolves from an ignorant village boy raised by his widowed mother under conditions of grinding poverty. Naturally, he has a lot of catching up to do. Also, coming from a primarily traditional-patriarchal background he has to undergo considerable adjustments in attitudes and orientations to fit into a postmodern, progressive world.

But the core thematic concern of the novel remains its exploration of the prickly relationship that sometimes arises between the so-called old and new African "diasporas" in America. The main character's open-minded relationship with Africans and African Americans alike proves that good, viable relationships between Africans and their brothers and sisters of the Diaspora in America are not only possible but a major imperative. The novel provides a mature and convincing treatment of this theme. With appropriate attitudes, the chief character succeeds where others are stymied in negativity, and this makes Against the Odds a successful "bridge-building" novel.

Emmanuel Obiechina

Harvard University
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Author:Obiechina, Emmanuel
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2010
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