Book Review: The Familiar Stranger and Other Stories
Title: The Familiar Stranger and Other Stories
Author: Frederick Mordi
Publisher: New Africa Book Publishers
Reviewer: Funke Osae-Brown
Literature, the arts generally, has always been known as an endeavour that speaks in many voices. And contemporary African literature cannot be well understood and appreciated as an isolated expression. It is about the entirety of human experience.
It is in the light of this that writers have tapped into the folklore tradition to tell their stories. One would have thought it would be impossible to infuse the oral tradition into the novel but writers across ages have done this effortless.
Late Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe is famous for his use of folklore in his novels likewise Amos Tutuola’s The Palmwine Drinkard is very successful in this genre. Contemporary African writers have employed the use of the folklore tradition in varying degrees. Chimanmanda Ngozi Adichie used this extensively in her debut novel, ‘Purple Hibiscus’.
And so, Frederick Mordi in his debut collection of short stories, ‘The Familiar Stranger and Other Stories’ borrows largely from the oral folklore tradition to tell his stories. Divided into eight chapters, the book is a collection of exhilarating stories that are well told.
The narratives are didactic in nature, a by-product of the folklore tradition. The first story titled: ‘The Familiar Stranger’ tells the story of Tambolo who would rather follow the voice of avarice than that of conscience as he embarks on the dangerous mission to steal the King’s priced sculptures and other artefacts on the eve of his departure from the village after the completion of the village road.
Tambolo works with a construction company who is contracted to construct the major road that leads to the village. After a job well done, the King decides to host the chief engineer and his team to a banquet to have a taste of the traditional food. While at the banquet, Tambolo’s mind drifts to how he hopes to carry out his mission of stealing the artefacts and becoming a millionaire in the city.
Throughout the collection, Mordi is able to fully employed the didactic element of the folklore tradition to awake the human conscience. As with the story of Tambolo in ‘The Familiar Stranger’, every man is always faced with that moment in life when there is a battle between avarice and conscience. However, man is at liberty to decide which voice to follow. Often, avarice wins over conscience as it is the case with Tambolo. Man does not learn his lessons until the deed is done.
Furthermore, Mordi highlights the hypocritical nature of a typical society in ‘The Senator’s Car.’ He tells of how the society unconsciously encourages corruption through its utterances and disposition to people in government. Here is the story of a Senator who would rather jumpstart his car than steal the state money to buy a brand new Mercedes Benz car, for instance. He prefers to be ridiculed for driving a rickety car than steal state funds. Yet the society he tries to save is the one crucifying him. A character says of him:
“Stingy man!” ‘He must have hidden the money he made somewhere in Ghana!” (P. 134)
Unknown to them, he has no money stack up somewhere. He is just a man who detest corruption as depicted in his treatment of the erring traffic management officer. Mordi goes further to teach a lesson with this story that curbing corruption in the society is possible if everyone will play his part.
One of the unique features of Mordi’s style of writing as shown in the two stories discussed above is his ability to create universal characters. There is a Tambolo in every man and society the same way there is a Senator who can still hold his head high. He drives home the message through his characterisation that it is not all Senators nay politicians who are corrupt. The same could be said of his characters in Mr Erastus Udoka, Mazi Achara in ‘The Farmer’s Daughter’.
Through the use of simple language, Mordi, shows that folk tradition in African literature has become part of the essential qualities of its literary expression.
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