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Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson
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Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Christie Watson

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2101555,654 (4.23)34
Member:geirsan
Title:Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away
Authors:Christie Watson
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Collections:Lest 2012, Latest additions, Your library
Rating:****1/2
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Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson (2011)

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  1. 10
    Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (sboyte)
    sboyte: Both novels are about women in non-Western cultures dealing with difficult situations. Both books serve to immerse the reader in the cultures they are set in.
  2. 00
    Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (chazzard)
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Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
A very compulsive read, set in (for me) a totally alien country. As 12 year old Blessing and her asthmatic brother Ezekial are forced to leave the relative luxury of Lagos to live with her mother's family in the Niger Delta, it's a massive culture shock. Blessing narrates her story: the initial shock of fetching water and the state of the toilets; the endemic violence of the area; the oil industry and its problems. And against this the personalities - Grandfather Alhaji (quite a character); Grandma, with whom Blessing forms a bond; Grandfather's larger-than-life young second-wife, Celestine; and Mama, as she starts a new life...

Perhaps Blessing was just a tad unbelievably well-behaved and subservient, never failing to tow the line, obey and get permission.
But overall a good read that gives you an insight into this region of Nigeria. ( )
1 vote starbox | Sep 18, 2014 |
Through the eyes of Blessing, an adolescent girl, we experience the daily lives of Nigerians. Blessing and her slightly older brother Ezikiel return to their mother's home when the mother is abandoned by her unfaithful, violent husband. They move from an apartment complex to a rustic compound where there is no running water, no air conditioning, and barely any furniture. Blessing sleeps on a mattress with her mother, in a room without windows. She learns to fetch water and cook traditional foods. And, when she cannot attend school, her grandmother trains her to be a midwife. Ezikiel, who suffers from asthma, is a dedicated student, determined to be a doctor. At one point, he has to leave school because the family does not have the money for tuition. Without ruining the read, things go from bad to worse for Ezikiel.

Throughout the book, we see how the foreign exploitation of Nigeria' oil resources is destroying the land and its people. Although their grandfather, Alhaji, is an educated engineer, the English company that runs the oil company does not hire locals. The family, therefore, does not have the money needed for basics, nor for education. Without opportunity, the young men of the region are turning to gorilla warfare, but do more harm to their own people than to the oil company or the corrupt government.

In the end, Blessing has to decide if she will stay in her home country or take the opportunity to make a new life elsewhere. This is a heartrending tale, a thoroughly engaging book that creates a truer understanding of the troubles in Nigeria than the information we read in the newspapers. ( )
  bookfest | Sep 5, 2014 |
With its comprehensive look at life in the Niger Delta this is an education as well as an entertaining read. I don’t think I have ever read a book set in Nigeria that didn’t cover the oil situation, and here as well we see the economic and social injustices suffered by the local people despite such valuable natural resources in their midst. Not only that, the novel covers religion, education, childbirth, inter-racial relationships, crime, health, militants, and takes a really honest look at FGM.

The voice of the narrator, 12 year old Blessing, was good – never seeming too old for her years. I feel as though I got a really detailed picture of life in Nigeria outside of the big cities. One thing that stood out for me was the sense of resigned acceptance – the incident with the fridge, for example, and later Blessing’s statement that no goods mailed to Nigeria from Europe were likely to make it to their destination as such packages would be “too much temptation” for the postal workers, ‘even if they made it past the aircraft staff’.

As the novel approached its conclusion I wished it could have gone on for longer – some very dramatic events happen in the second half but relatively little time seemed to have been invested in them. There is probably an optimum length for a book, but if this one had been thicker I would still have been more than happy to read it. ( )
1 vote jayne_charles | Dec 23, 2013 |
After finishing the book, I first read the biographical summary of Christi Watson, since I sensed a slight difference in approach from the other African authors.

It dawned on me why I enjoyed the humor in the book so much. It reminded me of what Alexander Fuller said in Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness about being English: "In this way, the English part of our identity registers as a void, something lacking that manifests in inherited, stereotypical characteristics: an allergy to sentimentality, a casual ease with profanity, a horror of bad manners, a deep mistrust of humorlessness."

It is present in most British authors I have read, regardless of the seriousness of situations or events, and I love it! It was a delightful addition to this narrative and correspond with the kind of attitude one finds in Africa. It also explains why people can endure so much and survive it all. Laughter is really the essence of survival.

If you are serious about pollution disasters in the world, you have probably read more about events such as the fracking issues in Pavillion, Wyoming, where Louis Meeks asked 'What happened to my water?" and blew the lid on the disastrous consequences of frack-mining that started a huge international protest; or why the cats started to dance in the streets of Minamate(Japan) where an entire community was poisoned with mercury and killed over a period of thirty years; or the aftermath of Chernobyl(Russia), or the tragic story of Hinckley, California which made Erin Brockovich famous. Tiny Sunbirds Far Away will give you a clear example of the devestating effects of oil pollution in Africa on many community's lives. But compared to the serious journalistic reports on similar issues, Christi Watson has written a 'light read' in comparison, thanks to the sense of humor she applies to ordinary people's day-to-day lives.

These different events also offer a conceptually clear and affectively powerful example of the concentration of elements in food chains, the sometimes unexpected interconnectedness of humans and their environment, and the complex interactions of biology and culture. In short, it is a paradigm for teaching ecology and science-society issues.

This is the background of Blessing and her family's story, but without the superior ultra-impressive scientific jargon!

Actually, her story puts the dots where they belong in a simple, eloquent way. Reading books like "Tiny Sunbirds Far Away" the reader will discover the humor, happiness, intelligence and perseverance of a continent's people under siege by the corrupted government officials, the 'freedom fighters' and the Sibeya Boys.

It is a triangle of interest groups battling each other in Nigeria with the ordinary people somewhere in the scramble. The book explain the complete situation. I would not call it a chic-lit book per se since it is about more serious issues. The tone of the book is light, gentle, dignified.

Blessing is a perfect character to use as protagonist. From the Better Life Executive Homes of Lagos, to a poor village near Warri in the Niger Delta was a culture shock for 12-year-old Blessing and her 14-year-old brother Ezikiel after her mom found her dad lying on top of another woman.

When Blessing first arrived from Lagos, her grandmother introduced Blessing to her new life by saying: "We must row in whatever boat we find ourselves"

Blessing would attempt the new boat, new destiny, nosing her way in. Yes, even smells draw the line between prosperity, laced with luxury in Lagos on the one hand, and poverty, hardship and chores in Warri on the other. "The air was sweeter inside the house, and bitter at the same time... It confused my nose and took me a long time to stop sniffing."

When their Lagos driver Zafi was sent away by Alhaji, the young Blessing's Lagos life finally concluded. Her last memory would be particular smells: "He walked away, the driver with no car, like a tortoise with no shell. Zafi took with him the smell of Lagos, of crispy suya, and frangipani flowers."

They will soon have other people in their lives which will play a vital role in her development into a young woman.

Her grandfather, Alhaji - the village chief who converted from Christianity to Islam; the qualified unemployed engineer who cannot find work at the oil companies; he loved work: yes he could watch it for hours while he made sure the women in his household earned enough for him to uphold his standing in the community! He regarded Marmite as the wonder cure for everything from allergies and skin ailments, to a nutritional wonder supplement and a 'doepa' against serious illnesses. "Nigerians do not have allergies" he asserted when he learns about Ezikiel's nutoil allergies and his shaking, wheezing asthma. He was convinced the boy could be cured, like everything else on Allah's earth, with Marmite. He controlled his own fears by rubbing Marmite on his forehead.

Blessing's grandmother will ultimately become her role model with her wisdom, stories and skills. She taught Blessing to become a midwife.

Then there is 22-year-old Celestine, her grandfather's second wife who will become important in Blessing's life. Celestine went to a 'fat house' to be prepared for her wedding by being fed until the fat rattled several seconds when her bottom was slapped. Her breasts were so enormous, it could slap anybody unconscious who surprised her. When she was pushed, her body went one way and her boobs the other.

Some Nigerian tribes' men, such as Alhaji's, preferred well-roundend women. Grandmother herself was a mountain in her own right. Alhaji needed a second wife to produce a son to him. He desperately needed the offspring to ensure his standing in the community. Twenty-two-year-old Celestine, with her patchy face from whitening cream and her orange-bleached weave, the same color as the Jesus Loves You sticker on the car, complied boisterously with loud laughter, screaming, grunting, and high-pitched clucking noises when Alijah visited her during several consecutive nights.

Alhaji was not a big man, and he was old, but he sure had guts.
Blessings and Ezikiel had to sing all the Itsekiri songs they have ever learnt in school to grandma on the veranda, and very loudly so, to drown out Celestine's commitment to Operation Offspring every night.

Her crazy spending of the limited family funds, leads to Grandma finding her a job as the official Town Mourner, with often hilarious results.

The story is multi-layered: funny, serious, sad, happy. There is lots of excitement, drama, sometimes suspense. It is a lesson in the importance of family and a confirmation to the African expression 'it takes a village to raise a child'.

I was not impressed with the ending dragging out over a few short chapters at the end, but it was necessary to complete each layer of the narrative.

I will certainly read this kind of book again. I felt immensely happy when it was finished. Happy as in feeling good about life and Africa and how the people deal with the daily challenges, however dire. ( )
1 vote Margitte123 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Wow - where do I start? This is a great book - one of my top reads so far for the year. Having been brought up in Nigeria I like to read books set in Nigeria and books by Nigerian authors and this is a real gem.

After their mother comes home early and catches their father sleeping with another woman, twelve year-old Blessing and her fourteen-year-old brother, Ezikiel, are forced by their mother to leave their comfortable home in Lagos with all the mod coms and move to Warri a small and impoverished village in the Niger Delta.

Blessing is at first horrified by life in Warri no running water or electricity, means the toilets are horrible. Her grandfather has just converted to Islam and insists the whole family follows the faith. He then takes in a second wife. Living beyond his means, hiding from reality the whole family seems to be set up for a fall. Blessing’s mother finds work to pay for her children to go to school, and her work days start to become work nights. while their mother is working Ezikiel comes under the influence of a local resistance group of young thugs and Blessing is taught midwifery by her grandmother. As Blessing learns from her grandmother she slowly finds meaning to her life again - there are still some major hurdles to mount first.

All the characters are so real that I felt if I went to Warri they would all be there just as described in the book. I often wondered how much was fictional and how much was the author’s own memories. TINY SUNBIRDS FAR AWAY blends Nigerian modern and traditional cultures with civil and political unrest and international interference and has produced a simply outstanding read about a girl's coming of age and triumph under difficult circumstances, please do yourself a favour and get your hands on this book.
  sally906 | Apr 3, 2013 |
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Absorbing and passionate.
added by chazzard | editThe Guardian, Jane Housham (Dec 6, 2011)
 
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For the Egberongbes, who had me fall in love with Nigeria.
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Father was a loud man.
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After her parents separate, Blessing's mother moves with her and her brother Ezikiel to live in a village in the Niger Delta, where Blessing gradually adjusts, but Ezikiel soon leads a dangerous life as a boy soldier.

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