Elnathan John’s novel ‘Born on a Tuesday’, a Nigerian Bildungsroman, recently won the 2019 ‘LES AFRIQUES’ prize and has been well received and critically acclaimed.
Told through the irresistible voice of a young boy, Dantala, Born on a Tuesday is a masterful and haunting coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of extremist politics and religion in Northern Nigeria. Dantala is a naive but bright Quranic student, who falls in with a gang of street boys, surviving on a regime of petty crime and violence. After being paid to set fire to the local headquarters of an opposition party, Dantala is forced to run for his life. Still reeling from the trauma of events, he stumbles into a Salafi mosque where he quickly becomes the favoured apprentice of the Sheikh and finds stability and friendship. From his place of refuge, Dantala confronts the hurdles of adolescence, first love and the splintering of family life – as his mother becomes increasingly unstable in the wake of a family tragedy and his brothers join a rival religious sect. But as political and religious tensions mount, he is torn between loyalty to his benefactor, Sheikh Jamal, and adherence to the Sheikh’s charismatic advisor, Malam Abdul-Nur.When bloodshed erupts around him, Dantala is tested to his limits. In this raw, authentic and deceptively simple novel, Elnathan John explores boyhood in the wake of extremism and fundamentalism. Born on a Tuesday delves behind the scenes of the media’s portrayal of Boko Haram bringing us a powerful and intensely personal picture of life in Northern Nigeria today.
Elnathan John’s debut novel is the Northern Nigerian narrative that we’ve been looking for. We see the North of Nigeria from the perspective of the protagonist Dantala and we are able to scratch the surface of the often-pervasive and stereotyped narrative surrounding Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north. Without pretence, John takes us on a journey through a region and a community to which most of us would probably not have access to in real life, but a region and a people that are being talked about more than they’re heard talking about themselves.
John pulls no punches and depicts the North of Nigeria from a critical yet non-stereotypical viewpoint. He examines the impact of religion on the local population and unceremoniously exposes the inner workings of corruption, power and politics in the country.
While this is a work of fiction, Dantala’s story feels real and authentic. His coming-of-age story is at once gripping, heart-wrenching and encouraging. Religion is portrayed in a very nuanced way. It can be a source of courage and resilience, a source of strife or a pawn in the power play of local, national and international politics. What remains the same throughout the book, however, is the fact that no matter what happens on a political or religious level, the true victims in all of this are the people who form the majority of the society that is affected.
Born on a Tuesday is both timely and timeless. It depicts and reminds of the brutal killings by Boko Haram fighters, but the violence and crimes committed in the novel are also timeless in their senselessness and brutality. Religiously motivated killings have been perpetuated throughout the history of mankind, and the message that is contained within this wonderful novel can be applied onto any country and any religious or ethnic conflict.
This book reminds us that any of us can be caught up in violence and conflict that we thought we had no part in, it shows how dangerous religious fanaticism and the ruthless power plays of the high and mighty can be to innocent members of the public. It is a call to action to be vigilant and to remember each other’s humanity before being sucked into a fight that is not ours. If the people do not let themselves be used as pawns in the games of the rulers, there will be no game.