thuke Ominiabohs has recently published the sequel to his novel ‘Odufa’, called ‘Aviara’ under his publishing house, Masobe Books. It has generated a fair amount of critical response, following a decent amount of anticipation ahead of publication. Trying to sidestep Masobe’s expertly orchestrated PR campaign in order to read the book with as much of a neutral lens as possible, was quite a task. My aversion to Anthony, the main character in ‘Odufa’, and the knowledge that he would, yet again, take centre-stage in ‘Aviara’ also contributed to me putting the reading of the book off for a while. When I did start reading the book however, I found myself glued to my armchair, unable – at times – to put it down…
When twenty-five-year-old Anthony Mukoro returns from the city, to his hometown Aviara, it is with news that shatters the hopes of his retired parents – he is dying. This startling revelation sends his family into a frantic search for answers. But the answers they seek will come at a cost.
To save his life, he must confront forgotten memories from a traumatic experience in his past and a darkness that swells and grows unnoticed within the town. Unknown to Anthony, this begins a journey that will lead him into a dark world of murder and a town’s history steep in blood and shadows.
Aviara explores the complex balance between science and spirituality, fate and ancestry, within the labyrinth of one man’s unravelling reality.
Aviara’ is a multi-layered and deeply-affectionate novel.
In this sequel to ‘Odufa’, Othuke Ominiabohs’ writing has aged quite well. Where some sentences in ‘Odufa’ were sometimes a bit too convoluted for my liking, the sentences and general writing in ‘Aviara’ is musical, melodic, and a lot more mature in general.
Alongside the development of the writing itself, Ominiabohs has also managed to let his main character – Anthony – who caused me much anger in ‘Odufa’, become more bearable. Anthony’s relationship with, and attitude towards women, in this case his teenage sweetheart Zara, remains questionable but overall more tolerable.
Othuke managed to instil some empathy, and at times even sympathy, in Anthony, as his increasingly desperate situation unfolds on the page. Aside from the main character, the other characters like Anthony’s parents, friends, and love interest, are the ones that probably touched me the most while reading the book. While Anthony and his deteriorating health take the main stage, the impact of serious illness on family members is tactfully and touchingly explored in the novel. Having recently had to watch one of my closest and dearest family members go through insufferable and almost unimaginable pain, it wasn’t hard for me to relate to Anthony’s family and friends, and the ways in which his suffering affected them. This reflection of parts of my own reality and Ominiabohs’ beautiful prose was probably my favourite part of the reading experience of ‘Aviara’.
While ‘Aviara’ is a work of fiction, it feels deeply personal. It reads like a personal account and reflection on life, sickness, and the meaning of it all. It contains many different layers and is likely to be understood, related to, and read in a myriad of ways by people.
In ‘Aviara’, Ominiabohs also offers a close, painful look at the consequences of poverty on health care access. The continued access to health care that Anthony has, stands in silent yet stark contrast with the fact that in Nigeria, only a fraction of the population is likely to have access to even just parts of the facilities and treatments that Anthony has access to, which puts this work of fiction in direct conversation with the current state of affairs within the Nigerian health care system, and adds context as well as an additional layer of meaning to Ominiabohs’ work.
The turmoil in Anthony’s body is also a reflection of the changes and increasing turmoil in Nigeria. While we, as readers, may have thought that Anthony’s and Nigeria’s state could not become much worse, the dénouement of the book shows us that we were wrong. And while this may be a cause for despair, the book, nevertheless, manages to maintain a hopeful tone – maybe a little resigned, but hopeful nonetheless.
Overall, this is a skilfully and carefully written novel, that asks many big questions, but that also does not miss out on minute details, both on medical and philosophical levels. ‘Aviara’ is touching, emotional, and socially pertinent.