Sade Adeniran couldn't find a publisher for her first novel. In this she is not at all unusual. What makes Sade different, however, is that she not only decided to publish the book herself (that's pretty easy these days), but has done such a good job of marketing it that people have sat up and taken notice. The kind of people - booksellers in particular, but also readers - who usually make a point of avoiding self-published books like the very plague. On the not unreasonable grounds that the good stuff will float to the top eventually and be snapped up by a publisher and hence what sinks is likely to be not worth bothering about.
Well, yes, there is a hell of a lot of self-published dross out there these days, but I think we all know post-JKR that traditional publishers can and do make mistakes. Books fall by the wayside which really deserve better, and Imagine This is is a case in point. So thank goodness that its spirited author was undeterred, built her own door and has marched right through it and won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book in the Africa category. Go girl!
Imagine This takes the form of a journal, written by Lola Ogunwole between the ages of 9 and 19. Lola and her brother, Adebola, are born in London to Nigerian parents. Her mother abandons her children for reasons Lola never fully understands and Lola and Adebola are looked after for a while by English foster parents. Their father then returns and takes his family back to Nigeria. The children are separated and farmed out to live with different relatives. Lola ends up in the village of Idogun, living with people who do not seem particularly to care about her, and whose ways and language Lola does not understand.
Lola’s struggle to come to terms with both the physical privations of her new life but above all her deep sense that she is never accepted nor wanted – let alone loved - by the people who grudgingly allow her to live with them are confided to her journal. As the months and years pass, Lola emerges as a hugely distinctive and lovable character. The chasm between the reader’s perception of the heroine as a bright and sensitive young woman and the woefully ignorant and neglectful treatment meted out to her by her relations – especially her negligent father – drive the narrative along.
At times the relentlessness of the misfortunes which befall Lola can make the book almost unbearably painful to read, yet it never pushes the boundaries of credulity, especially when we are reminded of the political and economic climate in 1908s Nigeria – factors which come to the fore when Lola moves to Lagos. Despite everything, however, Lola’s battle against the odds to get herself an education, to discover why her mother abandoned her, and to become an independent young woman are rewarded by small triumphs – though never quite in the way that she or we expect.
All in all a compelling, rewarding and thought-provoking read. It struck me again and again how readily Imagine This would lend itself to audiobook format – and that is no surprise, really, considering that the author’s writing career has hitherto been as a dramatist - her plays have been performed on Radio 4, and at the Hammersmith Lyric, The Bush and the Riverside Studios in London.
Imagine This is a book I should almost certainly never have encountered had I not read about it on a couple of blogs I visit regularly (Me and My Big Mouth and Crockatt and Powell). So, hooray for the power of the blogosphere, I say.
You can buy Imagine This on Amazon, or, even better, for a signed copy (as well as lots more about the author and her work), visit Sade’s quirky Imagine This website .