Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away

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  • Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away
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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: 9781590514665
  • Publisher: Other Press, LLC
  • Publication date: 5/10/2011
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 500,425
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Reading Group Guide

1. Ezikiel and Blessing share a special sibling bond. How did it change when they moved from Lagos to Warri? Do you think there was anything that Blessing could have done to save Ezikiel?

2. Blessing tells her story in her own distinct voice. How would you characterize her style as a narrator? Discuss Blessing's development from an unsure, shy girl to a confident young woman. How does each character in the novel encourage--or stifle--Blessing's maturation?

3. Watson originally tried writing Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away from the perspective of Dan, the white oil worker. How would Dan's perspective have changed the book? What insights might his narration have brought to the novel? What limitations might Watson have faced?

4. From the very first line of the novel, "Father was a loud man," it's clear that her father is of crucial importance to Blessing. How does her opinion of him change throughout the story? How does her relationship with him affect her relationships with the other men in her life?

5. Discuss the power of the women in Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away (Grandma's rally) versus the power of men in the novel (Alhaji, the Sibeye Boys). How does the expression of power differ between the genders?

6. It's estimated that three million girls are at risk of female genital mutilation in Africa. Discuss Grandma's choice to perform the practice. How does it inform Blessing's own career as a midwife? How do Grandma and Blessing determine where to draw the line between ethical responsibility and cultural tradition?

7. Legend and tradition play significant roles in Blessing's family--from Grandma's stories to Alhaji's disbelief in Ezikiel's medical condition. How are religion, education, and tradition balanced in the novel? Do they coexist? When and why do they clash?

8. Though foreign companies and Nigeria's own government gain enormous wealth from the oil industry, the majority of people residing in the oil producing regions of the country continue to live in extreme poverty. How does the presence of the oil industry impact the lives of the characters in the novel? Does Watson offer any hints as to what could be done to better the situation?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 22 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(13)

4 Star

(8)

3 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 22 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2012

    Good book!

    This was selected by one of my book club members and I really enjoyed it, looking forward to the discussion next month. I know little about Nigeria and found it quite interesting. The writing was such that I could picture the scenes in my mind vividly.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 13, 2012

    Loved this book

    One of the best books I have ever read. Recommended it to many friends. Lots of discussion items for book groups.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2012

    Very Good Read!

    Very moving, powerful story that kept me up all night reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 26, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A beautifully written story.

    A beautifully written story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2011

    A must read!

    Eye opening and heart warming. A great intermixture of characters that are easy to fall in love with.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2011

    Amazing book1

    This was a awesome book that caught my attention within the first few sentences. I felt as though you were a part of the story and were experiencing their emotions. It remindedof a book I read in high school "Things Fall Apart", and all the turmoile that goes on in the continent of Africa. I even research more about the subject matters discussed in the book to get a further understanding of the daily lives of the people living in the Delta in Nigeria.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 1, 2011

    Great read!!!

    I grabbed this book while on vacation and couldn't put it down. I highly recommend it. Through the author's well written voice, I could imagine all of the characters right in front of me acting out the story. I would also recommend this book to share in a book group.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 19, 2011

    highly recommended

    Beautifully written from word one. hated for it to end. if you enjoy a book you can live in for a bit, this is for you.

    lovely! Lolly Fox

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2013

    Excellent Read!

    I was mesmorized by this book from the first sentence. Every word i did not understand ,especially the food, I looked up. It was educational and inviting. Cant wait for another by the author!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2012

    Join Oceanclan!!

    I am Beachstar, and i need more members badly! All positions are open except for leader and deputy! Search Beach resort, all results. Hope to see you there!

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2012

    Echokit

    Mommy! Im scared

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2012

    To Silvermoonstar

    Go to hi result 27 plz its not the book we were at earlier either ur gonna want to c it

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2012

    Silvermoonstar

    "Nova.. i think i may be pregnant. I did it with Darkblades imposter.. i rlly thought it was him.. i did think he was a bit odd when he asked if i wanted to do it and when he kissed me back.. he never does.. i feel soo bad. I was gonna have you check and then if i was you were gonna help me by taking them up but now i have an idea. I will have the kits but i would give them to you because i cant take care of them. I cant even take care of myself.. nova, im anorexic.. i was a vegetarian but now i dont eat.. im too fat." her eyes fill up with tears.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2012

    Carmelheart

    I'm sorry but I gtg now. I just texted my friend, he said that he's coming over to my house tomorrow. I will make him rp Sharpfang then. Bye. I'll be back later tonight.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2012

    Y

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    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted September 17, 2011

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    Posted October 13, 2012

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    Posted August 22, 2011

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