In far northwestern Nigeria, Dantala lives among a gang of street boys who sleep under a kuka tree. During the election, the boys are paid by the Small Party to cause trouble. When their attempt to burn down the opposition’s local headquarters ends in disaster, Dantala must run for his life, leaving his best friend behind. He makes his way to a mosque that provides him with food, shelter, and guidance. With his quick aptitude and modest nature, Dantala becomes a favored apprentice to the mosque’s sheikh. Before long, he is faced with a terrible conflict of loyalties, as one of the sheikh’s closest advisors begins to raise his own radical movement. When bloodshed erupts in the city around him, Dantala must decide what kind of Muslim—and what kind of man—he wants to be. Told in Dantala’s naïve, searching voice, this astonishing debut explores the ways in which young men are seduced by religious fundamentalism and violence.
Born on a Tuesday by Elnathan John was my book club’s pick this August. I selected this book for my book-club because it covers themes that I haven’t read a lot. In addition, it is set in Northern Nigeria, an area that I haven’t seen much of in African Literature.. For this review, I will start by sharing my own views about the book and then a few excerpts from the book club discussion.
This is the story about Dantala, a young boy who ends up living in a mosque after a series of unfortunate events. It is at the mosque that Dantala meets different kinds of people and learns more about his religion. He also learns about different types of Muslims including the radicals. However, not all his lessons are religious-based; Dantala also gets to learn more about his sexuality.This is a coming of age story entirely narrated from the MCs point of view.
The book covers different themes such as religion. In this case, we learn more about the people living at the mosque like the Sheikh who Dantala was drawn to. On the other side, we learn about radicalized groups, these are people who had extreme religious views. The theme of friendship was brought alive by the relationship between Dantala and Jabril. The two were different but they formed an odd friendship that I really enjoyed reading about. I also liked the relationship between Dantala and Sheikh. Dantala adored and respected him. On the other hand, the Sheikh nurtured Dantala to be a leader. Family, love, sexuality are also minor themes interwoven in the main narrative.
While I enjoyed the book, there are a few issues that bothered me. For instance, in as much as I enjoy the first person narrations, I wish there were more voices in the story. The narrative style affected the character development in my opinion. I felt like only Dantala was well-crafted. I didn’t get to know anyone else. I would have loved to know more about Jabril or Dantala’s love interest, Aisha. In the end, I was underwhelmed by the book although I did enjoy learning more about Northern Nigeria, the people and the religion.
Book club Review: This is what the Literary Gems had to say about the book:
Not all members of my book club felt the same way that I did. Most of them actually loved it. Here are excerpts from some of the members during our online review:
I love Born on a Tuesday… We are so used to reading books focused on Christianity that we forget that Nigeria has a huge Muslim population and other groups(apart from Igbo) such as Hausa and Yoruba. I found this quite refreshing. The lessons in the book told from perspective of a 10year old were easy to take in absorb…the author built whoever was pivotal to the story and even the lesser characters in the book– Muthoni
I got that the main themes were religion, power and politics. Religion division came out clearly, relationship between politics, power and religion was also brought on fore. Religion was a way of controlling our thoughts and actions. The book didn’t sound Nigerian though; I felt it connected more to the Middle East– Charroh
I loved this book, though a little underwhelming. It was well told, well placed in today’s world of Boko Haram abductions and fearful terrorist attacks and well paced. Interspersed in there were a lot of revelations about life and love that did not take away the overarching theme of the book – Lyn
I liked the book though it didn’t live up to the hype I was reading online but ultimately, it was a good read. I think the author did his best in the crafting of characters. Dantala stood out for me. We first met him when he was ten and walk with him through the adulating stage.I didn’t know so much about Islam until I picked this book. I didn’t know that like Christianity, Islam has denominations– Lyndah
I loved this book, great flow of the story, not so many anecdotes. The first person narration of the book gives it authenticity– Eddah
I connected with the book. It struck a cord with the current happenings in the world. Politicians using the disadvantaged in the society to push their agenda. Dantala painted a picture of an everyday person struggling with identity while being influenced by extrenal sources – Carol
The first person narration was okay though limiting. I didn’t find the voice too convincing. There wasn’t a feeling of growth over his years. I couldn’t tell the difference between 12 year old and 18 year old Dantala. I didn’t get too much insight about the other characters apart from Dantala – Peter (He loved the book though and especially the portrayal of the theme of religion)
Shaz reviewed the book here on her blog, Booksarge.
so there you have it, as you can see from the different reviews, The Literary Gems book club recommends Born on a Tuesday by Elnathan John.