Born on a Tuesday

Elnathan John. Grove/Black Cat, $16 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2482-1
This sweeping debut novel by Caine Prize–finalist John is poignant and compelling. In a rural Nigerian community called Bayan Layi, an inquisitive teen named Dantala has joined a group of homeless youths. He must flee, however, when a political election sparks a riot resulting in the death of one of his friends. Dantala goes on a harrowing journey to find his mother, Umma, in Dogon Icce. He inevitably settles in the northwestern city-state of Sokoto, at a mosque headed by Sheikh Jamal and Malam Abdul-Nur Mohammed. Over seven years, Dantala befriends Abdul-Nur’s younger brother, Jibril, and falls in love with the sheikh’s daughter, Aisha. External conflicts surround the protagonist as he grows into a thoughtful and conscientious man. Told through a blend of first-person narration and diary pages, John skillfully employs Dantala’s probing voice to pose crucial questions and explore collisions between modernity and tradition, Arabic and English, rhetoric and action. The narrative depicts political and spiritual division: the nation’s political parties are in heated opposition, and Abdul-Nur’s brutal jihadist movement opposes the sheikh’s peaceful view of Islam. This turmoil echoes the internal conflicts raging inside Dantala. He wrestles with his identity, sexuality, morality, and faith, while struggling to navigate violent clashes that threaten to destroy all he knows and loves. John has written a stunning, important coming-of-age story. Agent: Toby Mundy, Toby Mundy Associates. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/07/2016
Release date: 05/03/2016
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