cover image A Kind of Madness

A Kind of Madness

Uche Okonkwo. Tin House, $16.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-959030-38-6

Okonkwo explores in her agile debut collection the private feelings of her characters and the social pressures they face in contemporary Nigeria. In “Animals,” a boy befriends the chicken his mother has purchased for a pepper pot dinner and hides the depths of his grief after the chicken is slaughtered. In “The Harvest,” a pastor named Alfonso loses his church in pursuit of a capital funding campaign. Certain of his holy rectitude, he becomes increasingly alienated from everyone around him—including his wife: “Alfonso wondered why it was so much easier to talk to an unseen God, than to the person beside him, made of flesh and blood, like him.” In “Burning,” a little girl is subjected to her mother’s mental illness, which is brought on by a dibia or spiritual medium who diagnoses the confused child as an ogbanje (in Igbo lore, a child who is repeatedly reincarnated). Okonkwo has a Chekhovian eye for the tangle of internal motivations and assumptions that steer her characters. Particularly well rendered, in “Shadow,” is the affection of a young boy, alienated from his own family, who fixates on a visiting aunt, only to realize over time that he is not as special to her as she is to him. Readers will be eager for more of Okonkwo’s artful writing. Agent: Renee Zuckerbrot, Renee Zuckerbrot Agency. (Apr.)