Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away

Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away

4.5 22
by Christie Watson
     
 

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Winner of the 2011 Costa First Novel Award

When their mother catches their father with another woman, twelve year-old Blessing and her fourteen-year-old brother, Ezikiel, are forced to leave their comfortable home in Lagos for a village in the Niger Delta, to live with their mother’s family. Without running water or electricity, Warri is at first aSee more details below

Overview

Winner of the 2011 Costa First Novel Award

When their mother catches their father with another woman, twelve year-old Blessing and her fourteen-year-old brother, Ezikiel, are forced to leave their comfortable home in Lagos for a village in the Niger Delta, to live with their mother’s family. Without running water or electricity, Warri is at first a nightmare for Blessing. Her mother is gone all day and works suspiciously late into the night to pay the children’s school fees. Her brother, once a promising student, seems to be falling increasingly under the influence of the local group of violent teenage boys calling themselves Freedom Fighters. Her grandfather, a kind if misguided man, is trying on Islam as his new religion of choice, and is even considering the possibility of bringing in a second wife.
   But Blessing’s grandmother, wise and practical, soon becomes a beloved mentor, teaching Blessing the ways of the midwife in rural Nigeria. Blessing is exposed to the horrors of genital mutilation and the devastation wrought on the environment by British and American oil companies. As Warri comes to feel like home, Blessing becomes increasingly aware of the threats to its safety, both from its unshakable but dangerous traditions and the relentless carelessness of the modern world. Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away is the witty and beautifully written story of one family’s attempt to survive a new life they could never have imagined, struggling to find a deeper sense of identity along the way.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Watson's impressive debut, 12-year-old Blessing is uprooted from her suburban Lagos, Nigeria, life when her mother Timi catches their father with another woman and moves Blessing and her brother, Ezikiel, to the outskirts of the dangerous, oil-rich Niger delta. The proximity to the oil fields, which erupt often in smoke, oil, and violence, exacerbates Ezikiel's poor health, and it's not long before a stray bullet sends him to the hospital. He survives, and takes up wandering the "evil forest" bush, home of the Sibeye boys, who kidnap oil workers and eat fireflies for strength. When Timi falls for a white oil worker, the Sibeyes become interested. Ezikiel takes up with them, discarding his dreams of becoming a doctor even as Blessing begins to help deliver babies, which gives her the confidence to take a stand against the genital mutilation that midwifes traditionally perform. Watson's nuanced portrayal of daily life in Nigeria is peopled with flawed but tenacious characters who fight not only for survival but for dignity. Blessing is a wonderful narrator whose vivid impressions enliven Watson's sensual prose. (May)
From the Publisher
Selected as one of CNN.com’s 12 Good Summer Reads  

“A sure-footed debut narrated by 12-year-old Blessing, a girl growing up too fast in the troubled Niger Delta.” —People Magazine

“[An] assured, absorbing first novel…Watson’s cleanly told coming-of-age story generates real narrative momentum.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Watson is generous in her assessment of human nature, and her novel surprises even as its sense of danger is never truly at bay…[An] ultimately triumphant book.”—Miami Herald

“[An] impressive debut…Watson’s nuanced portrayal of daily life in Nigeria is peopled with flawed but tenacious characters who fight not only for survival but for dignity. Blessing is a wonderful narrator whose vivid impressions enliven Watson’s sensual prose.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“[An] absorbing first novel, told through the eyes of the bright and observant Blessing…a memorable debut novel about a Nigerian girl’s coming of age.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Confronting issues of race, class, and religion, this work ponders idealistic ignorance in a way that is reminiscent of Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease. Watson’s story will appeal to readers of African and literary fiction.” — Library Journal

“Through the lens of young girl’s coming-of-age, this breakthrough novel views the politics of contemporary Nigeria, portraying the clash between traditional and modern as it affects one extended family.” —Booklist

“A first novel that knows how to tell a story, concocting a voice that lures us. Perfect pitch is not reserved for musicians; some novelists have it, too. From the very first page of her very first book, Christie Watson proves she possesses it, creating a voice that tells a tale we can’t put down.” —Barnes and Noble Review

“An excellent novel. It takes the reader deep into the reality of ordinary life in Nigeria and is also funny, moving and politically alert.” —Giles Foden, author of The Last King of Scotland
 
“Christie Watson’s debut novel, set in the troubled Niger Delta, does what fiction does best, it captures place and characters so well that you feel you are also there. It is sincere, it is powerfully written, and it deserves to be read.” —Helon Habila, author of Oil on Water, winner of the Commonwealth Prize
 
“Watson has written an immensely absorbing novel. It is both heart wrenching and consoling.” —Chika Unigwe, author of On Black Sisters’ Street
 
“A fascinating, poignant story that had me laughing in places and deeply moved in others.” —Ike Anya
 
“Lyrical and beautifully drawn, a poignant coming-of-age tale, set in an Africa few readers will have experienced. A must-read.” —Lesley Lokko, author of Sundowners, Saffron Skies, and Bitter Chocolate
 
“The gripping, triumphant tale of a girl who chooses life over loss, in a sweet but savage world where oil is bled from the earth.” —Lola Shoneyin, author of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives

Library Journal
Only a strong writer can create a lyrical novel that has the gripping quality of nonfiction, yet Watson captures this in her debut. Here she assumes the identity of 12-year-old Blessing, whose young life is marked by newness and uncertainty. The novel opens in Nigeria with the seemingly perfect life that Blessing shares with her mother, father, and older brother, Ezekiel. When Father, as he is known, suddenly casts them away for another woman, they take refuge with Blessing's maternal grandparents in a culture entirely different from the one to which they are accustomed. As the broken family copes with living sparely, Blessing comes to terms with the reality of her once "perfect" life and learns, through crooked law enforcement agents, unsympathetic teachers, and the violent Sibeye Boys, that the world is larger than she once thought and not nearly as welcoming. VERDICT Confronting issues of race, class, and religion, this work ponders idealistic ignorance in a way that is reminiscent of Chinua Achebe's No Longer at Ease. Watson's story will appeal to readers of African and literary fiction.—Ashanti White, Univ. of North Carolina, Greensboro
Kirkus Reviews

Uprooted from the comforts of Lagos by her parents' divorce, a 12-year-old girl must cope with dire poverty and violence in the Niger delta.

Watson's absorbing first novel, told through the eyes of the bright and observant Blessing, opens with a snapshot of middle-class contentment. She and her 14-year-old brother Ezikiel attend the International School for Future Leaders, live in an air-conditioned apartment and bask in the affection of their parents. But after their mother, a hotel worker, catches their father, an accountant, with another woman, they are forced to move to their grandmother's stark rural home—the hotel employs only married women. Blessing is shocked by the lack of electricity and running water, not to mention separate beds and safe food for her peanut-allergic brother. But gradually, she adjusts to the conditions, her eccentric relatives and her family's shift from Christian to Muslim practices. Trained as a midwife by her wise, centered grandmother, she gains a stronger sense of self even as her angry, alienated brother falls under the sway of a roving teenage gang. When her secretive mother becomes romantically involved with a well-off white man, who however decent works for a violently oppressive oil company, things intensify. Left to their own devices, the women bond together to stand up to corruption. Unlike her mother, Blessing ultimately rejects the dream of a Prince Charming whisking her off to a happier place by committing herself to her home, her homeland and her own family. The ending is a bit pat, and the book could use a few more sparks. That said, there's much to admire in Watson's measured, flowing prose and her avoidance of melodrama. Blessing is an appealing pre-teen protagonist.

A memorable debut novel about a Nigerian girl's coming of age.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590514672
Publisher:
Other Press, LLC
Publication date:
05/10/2011
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
211,151
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

Father was a loud man. I could hear him shouting from the neighbors’ apartment, where he argued about football with Dr. Adeshina and drank so much Remy Martin that he could not stand up properly. I could hear him singing when he returned from the Everlasting Open Arms House of Salvation Church, on a bus that had the words UP JESUS DOWN SATAN written on the side. The singing would reach my ears right up on the fourth floor. From my window I watched the
bus driver and Pastor King Junior carry Father towards the apartment because he could not stand up at all.
   If Father did stand up, it was worse. He seemed to have no idea how to move around quietly, and when he did try, after Mama said her head was splitting in two, the crashing became louder.
   We were so used to Father’s loud voice that it became quieter. Our ears changed and put on a barrier like sunglasses whenever he was at home. So when we left for market early on Saturday morning and knew Father was out working all day on some important account at the office, our ears did not need their sunglasses on. And when Mama realized she had forgotten her purse, and we had to turn back, our ears were working fine. I heard the chatter of the women at market, the traffic and street traders along Allen Avenue, and the humming of the electric gate to let us back into the apartment building. I heard our footsteps on the hallway carpets, and Mama’s key in the front lock. I heard the cupboard door open when Ezikiel and I went straight for the biscuits.
And then I heard the most terrible, loudest noise I had ever heard in my life.
   My switched-on ears hurt. I tried to put the glasses on them, to switch them down, to turn them off. Father must have been home; I could hear him shouting.
   Father was a loud man.
   But it was Mama who was screaming.
 

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