Michael Afenfia’s The Mechanics of Yenagoa
Michael Afenfia does not go the safe, conservative route with The Mechanics of Yenagoa. He does not bore us with a sanctimonious story either. What he does is, take the whirlwind, wrap it within his characters and lets them unleash their wrath as the story unfolds.
The Mechanics of Yenagoa tells the story of Ebinimi Jacob, a young mechanic living in Yenagoa together with his employees; Saka who was always murdering song lyrics while working in the garage, Broderick, a youngster and Biodun. It talks about the myriad adventures Ebinimi undertakes with them, his family, friends, a fraudulent Prophet taking residence in his compound and romantic partners alike. It delves into themes such as politics, crime, religious fanaticism, betrayal, love, marriage, superstition and corruption. As opposed to most Nigerian novels I have read that focus on Lagos state, this book is set in Yenagoa.
It highlights the complicated nature of humans. How we realize our flaws, retrace our steps and then somehow forget midway that we took a vow to change and so continue the cycle. In the earlier portion of the book, Ebinimi finds a large sum of money in a customer’s car. Rather than going with his gut to hand it over to the appropriate authorities, he squanders the money. The customer turns out to be a big shot in the political scene and comes back for his pound of flesh when he discovers his missing money. Ebinimi then resolves never to get tangled in such a mess again. However, he makes a deal with a politician later on in the book, gets paid in advance and instead of delivering his end of the deal, goes on a spending spree, throwing a lavish party, and even goes as far as lodging into expensive hotels with his side chick.
Too often, we judge people and things in black or white. We say if person A believes X and does Y, he is a good person and if person B does and believes Z, he is ultimately a bad person. Michael Afenfia trashes such thinking in his book. He presents to us a main character who on one hand consistently falls into pits, in his on and off romantic relationships and his dabbling into political matters. While on the other hand, we find same man worrying and looking out for his sister, catering to the needs of his employees, and trying his best to steer the life of a much younger employee in the right direction.
I could glean from the plot of the story that no one is really immune from greed and peer pressure and when push comes to shove, everyone looks out for their own back.
You also get a sense that the writer was so intent on making the book a memorable read so much that he neglected to pay adequate attention to the art of writing in itself. It contained quite a number of overly long sentences and details that could have been done away with. One is almost unable to keep up with the many characters. If like me, you lack the patience to go back to earlier pages to confirm who is who, you might not be able follow the sequence of events, at some points. However, what this book lacks in stellar writing prowess it makes up for in scintillating drama, akin to a Nollywood movie where you begin to wonder how feasible it is for one to experience so much in a fraction of a lifetime.
I love that the book is original in that it does not force its Nigerianness. The author weaves pidgin English, regular Nigerian sayings, Nigerian music and pop culture into his work, in an unassuming manner. Take for instance, this conversation between Ebinimi and his girlfriend Blessing, supposedly pregnant and miffed at being falsely accused of kidnapping his elder sister’s son.
At any other time, I would have cautioned her against talking about my elder sister in that manner, but since I was trying to pacify her, I let it slide.
“You wen carry belle naim wan follow person fight?’
“Which belle? No be you say I no carry belle, say na lie I dey lie? Anyway, you say you no want pikin so I don comot am. That was what I came to tell you that night.”
“You have removed the pregnancy?”
“No, I no remove am. I give am to my mama to carry am for me,” she replied in a sarcastic tone.
All in all, The Mechanics of Yenagoa makes for a captivating read, right from the first paragraph. It draws you in, makes you laugh out loud and further plunges you into its depths, until you reach its abrupt end.