Born on a Tuesday opens following a gang of street boys, who are hanging in the streets and getting up to no good. They spend time smoking wee wee, pillaging, committing random acts of violence and even murder. We are introduced to the main character, Dantala, “born on a Tuesday”, alias Ahmad. His poignant first person voice recounts his coming of age story in northern Nigeria.
This poignant novel takes us through friendships, political strife, islamic extremism, and death. We as readers learn more about the real life difficulties of growing up a boy in northern Nigeria. Dantala is a boy who has seen a lot already from the beginning of the novel. In spite of this, he is still not enough street smart. He is away from his home and is supposed to be studying the Koran, Arabic, Hausa, and Math. He’s an excellent student but a horrific incident sends him running for his life from Bayan Layi. We have no idea how old he is but it’s quite clear he can’t be more than 15 years old. He finds himself weak and sick in a town called Sokoto. This is where the growth of Dantala and Born on a Tuesday continues.
I have to say I was excited to buddy read this novel with The African Book Addict. We both owned Born on a Tuesday and were anxious to get to it. This book touches on many typical themes as most coming of age stories but this one goes much further. It explores political power, religion, and how religious extremism starts and can envelop a community and the innocent. This novel depicts all the complexities that we can’t think of. The writing style and the author’s capacity to make the reader feel so many different emotions in so few pages are the best things about Born on a Tuesday. I was engrossed immediately and liked Dantala’s personality. At times I found myself mentally rooting for him and urging him not to make bad choices.
The structure of the novel was cleverly done. It is separated into five parts ranging from 2003-2010. Part 3 begins with a chapter called Words. It’s from here where we read Dantala’s English word journal. These sections, written in italics, explore words that he had learned in English and through his journal we go deeper into his thoughts about what is going on in his life through them. It is a diary of sorts disguised as a simple word journal. Some of the words he writes about are obsess, anthropology, terrify, discovery shrug, etc. These passages are some of the more vulnerable moments of Dantala’s thoughts. It’s a clever device that Elnathan John uses for us to see what Dantala really thinks and feels about things. Despite this being a first person narrative, we are immediately sucked in and believe everything he recounts. He’s a pretty reliable narrator too since he doesn’t try to lie about his feelings or actions when he is embarrassed (and there are quite a few embarrassing moments) or wrong. I know usually readers feel first person narratives get a little too close for comfort but I can’t explain exactly why but this one could only work in that point of view.
This is the first novel I’ve read by Elnathan John and I can’t wait to get to another one. His writing is unfaltering and informative. Born on a Tuesday was shortlisted for the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature in 2016. After reading this one I’d like to know which title won. Elnathan John is a writer and novelist and is one of Nigeria’s most well-known satirist. If you’d like to read more of Elnathan John’s writing check out his blog Elnathan’s Dark Corner.
My copy: Born on a Tuesday, Elnathan John (Cassava Republic), paperback 261 pages
My rating: * * * * *
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4 Replies to “Born on a Tuesday”
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that diary via words is an interesting device that i’ve not seen used anywhere else
Me neither. I thought it was very clever.
Thanks for this review of a book by a writer who is new to me – I’ll have to keep Elnathan John on my radar.
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