Michael Afenfia is a Nigerian writer, lawyer, and social commentator, and The Mechanics of Yenagoa, published by Nigerian publishers Masobe Books, is his latest novel. The Mechanics of Yenagoa has been described as a modern classic that describes the everyday realities of everyday Nigerians. Alongside the gorgeous cover, the premise and promise of this novel had us intrigued and eager to read and review it. Thank you to Masobe for making sure we got a copy in the mail!
Ebinimi, star mechanic of Kalakala Street, is a man with a hapless knack for getting in and out of trouble. Some of his troubles are self-inflicted: like his recurring entanglements in love triangles; and his unauthorised joyriding of a customer’s car which sets off a chain of dire events involving drugs, crooked politicians, and assassins. Other troubles are caused by the panorama of characters in his life, like: his sister and her dysfunctional domestic situation; the three other mechanics he employs; and the money-loving preacher who has all but taken over his home.
The story is fast-paced with surprising twists and a captivating plot – a Dickenesque page-turner. This is Ebinimi’s story but it is about a lot more than him. It is an exploration of the dynamics between working-class people as they undertake a colourful tour of Yenagoa, one of Nigeria’s lesser-known cities, while using humour, sex, and music, as coping mechanisms for the everyday struggle.
It is a modern-classic tale of small lives navigating a big city.
At first, I found it hard to get lost in the story of The Mechanics of Yenagoa, probably because I wasn’t too keen on Ebinimi – a womaniser and trouble magnet, who also happens to be the protagonist and narrator of the plot.
Apart from not directly taking a liking to Ebinimi, I think I went into the book with the wrong expectations. Having read the author’s rather impressive biography on the back flap of the book, I think I expected The Mechanics of Yenagoa to be very cerebral and poetic, with dense language, alongside a really deeply philosophical and tightly woven plot.
What I got, however, was a heavily plot-driven, fun, fast-paced and exciting story.
It took me less than 100 pages to adjust my expectations and only when I did, was I able to get into the story, which I eventually enjoyed.
Thinking back, I wouldn’t be surprised if my initial dislike for Ebinimi was intended by the author, because he is indeed a deeply flawed and borderline annoying man, who is striving to make a living, while also struggling to make sense of this thing called life. The author, however, still managed to explore the character in enough depth for us to see him in a different light, from different perspectives, which causes us to eventually even empathise with him and his struggles.
The Mechanics of Yenagoa is set, as the title implies, in Yenagoa, a lesser known city in the lesser known Bayelsa state in Nigeria. When one speaks of ‘Nigerian Literature’, Lagos tends to dominate the fictional landscapes, and so getting to know and explore a different Nigerian city was a real treat.
Overall, The Mechanics of Yenagoa is a deeply enjoyable and entertaining read, that explores serious themes such as political corruption, religious fanaticism, and infidelity, while also delivering a gripping story and introducing deeply flawed yet utterly unforgettable characters.
The Mechanics of Yenagoa is not so much about a specific social issue, as it is about the depiction of the variety, complexity and sometimes absurdity of life in Nigeria, and I’m definitely here for it.
This book is an example of what an author can achieve when he is published by the right publisher, when his story doesn’t have to fit a particular narrative, and when African characters, writers, and publishers are just allowed to be.