Chimeka Garricks is an author that is probably most known for his stunning debut novel Tomorrow Died Yesterday. He has now joined the ranks of short-story writers with his first short-story collection A Broken People’s Playlist, which was published by Masobe Books in 2020. Inspired by music and reflective of reality, A Broken People’s Playlist is a collection that was the end result of Chimeka’s efforts to overcome the writer’s block that was keeping him from completing his second novel. In a turn of events that is quite remarkably reflective of the Nigerian reality, something beautiful has come from a situation that many would refer to as ugly. As such, rare cases like these, give us the opportunity to thank the much dreaded writer’s block, because just as is the case with diamonds, the pressure it put on the writer has only brought out his brilliance in the form of this engrossing and evocative collection of short-stories.
A Broken People’s Playlist is a collection of short stories with underlying themes so beautifully woven that each story flows into the other seamlessly. From its poignant beginning in ‘Lost Stars’ a story about love and its fleeting, transient nature to the gritty, raw musical prose encapsulated in ‘In The City’, a tale of survival set in the alleyways of the waterside. A Broken People’s Playlist is a mosaic of stories about living, loving and hurting through very familiar sounds, in very familiar ways and finding healing in the most unlikely places.
The stories are also part-homage and part-love letter to Port Harcourt (the city which most of them are set in). The prose is distinctive as it is concise and unapologetically Nigerian. And because the collection is infused with the magic of evocative storytelling, everyone is promised a story, a character, to move or haunt them.
A Broken People’s Playlist is one of those short story collections whose memory you just can’t seem to be able to shake.
While reading the stories in A Broken People’s Playlist, I felt the themes of redemption and forgiveness recur through the chapters. As can be expected, some characters managed to be redeemed of their flaws, while others, tragically, did not make the cut. As some characters had to experience profound yet thoroughly relatable heartache and tragedies, I crumbled, cried, and suffered with them. Chimeka Garricks’ evocative, yet no-frills prose, aimed straight for my heart, while I gripped the edges of the book, wiping away tears – either of laughter or of sorrow.
Most of the stories in A Broken People’s Playlist could stand on their own and be developed into novellas or even novels. The characters were so rich in facets and I was often left panting to know more about them. In my opinion, a successful collection of short-stories has a healthy mix of stories that feel complete and ‘finished’ without needing to add more information, and others that feel like they should be turned into longer formats because the characters or the plot aroused the reader’s curiosity that much. A Broken People’s Playlist struck this balance perfectly.
In terms of themes, characters, and plot, some of the stories are mundane and highlight the everyday lives and struggles of everyday people, others are tragic and extraordinary, but all of them are poignant and memorable. A Broken People’s Playlist depicts almost the whole of life, the enormity and absurdity of human existence, and the tragedy and beauty of humanity.
My favourite stories were ‘Lost Stars’, ‘I’d Die Without You’, and ‘You Suppose Know’, both because of the gorgeously evocative language used and because of the heart-wrenching stories. They had me crying in sorrow, saw me hold my better half a little tighter that night, and reminded me to appreciate life in all its entirety and beauty.
The overall style is successfully contemporary, the language is accessible and engaging, the stories are realistic and unapologetically Nigerian, with a distinctly global flair to them. Nigerians, as a people, and Port Harcourt, as a city, vividly take pride of place.
While universally relatable, A Broken People’s Playlist is also quietly Nigerian, but unmistakably so. A must-read collection for anyone who appreciates great storytelling, beautifully crafted characters, and sartorially musical prose.