Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Eghosa Imasuen, My Life, My Writing...

Mid 70's, Warri Nigeria.

In the oil rich city of Warri, as the dust and rubble of the civil war settled over a young nation, as a refinery reared its head, alongside a sea port and steel company, breathing new life on the city, a young lad, Eghosa Imasuen was growing up. He would later attend the University of Benin to become a medical doctor at a time when campus confraternities turned aggressively violent, at a time when the Military regime made a novel blunder in Nigeria's history - the cancellation of the June 12 elections - a blunder that threw the fledgling nation into unrest once again.

In his novel Fine boys which was published in 2012, Eghosa fulfills a solemn promise - to tell the story of the events that shaped that era, of the people that lived in it, and of how they emerged. His first novel To Saint Patrick, an alternate history novel of Nigeria was published by Farafina in 2008 to critical acclaim, and his articles and short stories have also appeared in several online magazines.
2013, Democratic Nigeria.

Enter Eghosa Imasuen, My Life, My writing....

let us start from your background, What are your earliest memories of  growing up?

Growing up? I took it as I met it. But now, looking back, with nostalgia
being the deceptive little imp that it can be, I would say beautiful. I
grew up in Warri. I remember the friendships, the parents of my friends,
where for the most part young technocrats attracted by the late seventies
boom that hit the town, the refinery, the steel company, the port, all
three were built or refurbished within a decade of each other. It was a
lovely time to grow up in.

It made the town small, this ability to know almost everyone in your social
class. We went to the same schools, or so it seemed, and when a new school
was opened, we’d all switch schools together. It was a beautiful time.
Sadly now lost because of internecine conflict that resurfaced in the
mid-nineties. The city hasn’t recovered.

How did this writing journey begin for you?

I took writing seriously with my first novel, To Saint Patrick. I started
writing it in 2005, after I was urged to do so by family. That’s when it
began. Of course, the details have been told in many interviews I have

Who were your earliest influences?

I think my parents were eclectic in their reading tastes. On our
bookshelves growing up, I’d pick up books on the American Civil War, books
on World War Two, books on the Nigerian Independence Movement; I read
fiction by Ngugi, Achebe, and Ekwensi before I found out they were required
reading in secondary school. But my own tastes were honed by science
fiction, I loved this British comic series, 2000AD, I read novels and short
stories by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke.

In your first book To Saint Patrick, an alternate history novel of
Nigeria, one is transported to a different kind of Nigeria where
things are working. The police collect finger prints, the rail system
is functional and even electricity is constant. If you were to write an 

alternate history of the Civil war of 1967-1970, what
would you make the leaders of both sides do to prevent the war?

You’re asking me to plot an entire new novel within an interview. The
alternate history trick of using a point of divergence to plot an entire
new timeline doesn’t so much as question decisions made as it does
acknowledge the inevitability of humanity to make bad decisions. So when
you read typical alternate history, it doesn’t preach by bludgeoning you
over the head with its opinions. It picks something simple, something left
to chance, not to someone’s decision making. What if on the way back from
Aburi, Ojukwu’s flight had need to stop at Lagos to repair faults caused by
a birdstrike? What if during that stop he had another meeting with Gowon,
this time alone, or with the permanent secretaries present? It is little
things like this that alternate history uses to ask its questions about
humanity, about history.

So if I wrote an alternate history
novel about a Nigeria that didn’t fight a civil war, it wouldn't be that
leaders of both sides tried to prevent a war, no. It would be that the war
didn’t happen, and this is what happened instead.

Then... Ironically, you started writing Fine Boys shortly after you signed the
contract  for To Saint Patrick, and Fine Boys is like the other side
of the coin, a complete opposite of To Saint Patrick. What informed
this new paradigm?

Fine Boys is more personal to me. My first love has always been the far-out
genre story, well-told, beautifully plotted. But I just had to write Fine
Boys, it was a story I promised I would tell. A story of my generation,
told by one who lived it.

Could you tell us about the book? Fine Boys seems like a coming of age
novel, and one cannot ignore the
shared attributes between you and the protagonist Ewaen. How has
looking back and writing the novel affected your understanding of that
era, having lived in it?

Fine Boys is a novel, sort of a Warri-bildungsroman, not only of the main
character, but of the year, of the generation itself. It follows a group of
sixteen-eighteen year-olds as they manoeuvre life. Its told by a young
medical student in a Nigerian university. It uses the university gangs, the
confras, the politics of June 12 and the resultant protests, it uses these
to show the teenagers growing up. It is a snapshot of their lives, and by
its incompleteness—covering them for only three years in their late
teens—it asks that we look at where that generation is now.

What do you like most about Ewaen as a character?

That he is so blind to his and his friends’  own failings. That this is a
sanctimonious young man who can rail against corrupt government on this
page, and flip the next, you read that he is cheating at exams. This utter
lack of self-awareness, and the single-mindedness that it breeds, might be
what we need to save this country. It isn’t hypocrisy. It is just being
young, and demanding more of others despite one’s own failings.

Amidst several recognizable issues in Nigeria that you portray in the
book, there's a thematic focus on Campus cultism and the pro-democracy
movement of the early 90's. Everything else is happening against this
background. Is there any perceived relationship between the
Anarchist-military government and the proliferation of cults in
Nigerian universities at the time?

Not really. I have never subscribed to the notion of only the military
taking the bulk of the blame for the violent gangs that took over the
universities. I blame them for being the leadership of the time, for not
understanding the problem, for not taking drastic actions. I blame the sort
of society that called gangs cults, and still does so, ascribing a nonsense
metaphysics to the inane mutterings of idle teenagers. I blame the kind of
society that eschews personal responsibility, instead punishing a group.
There were many factors that lead to the tragedy of the university
confraternities becoming violent gangs. The military regimes were the most
tangential of them all.

Did the events of that time contribute to the decline of youth and
students participation in socio-political thought over the years,
considering that the pro-democracy movement of those days thrived
greatly on an active students/youth movement?

Big question. The lazy, and simpler answer, would be to rant at the new
generation of SUG leaders, to blame money, to blame the new democracy. But
the world is changing. The kinds of situations we found ourselves in no
longer exist. The politics of the eighties, the two major ideologies,
capitalist and socialists, have had their borders blurred. The sustenance
that activism gave is now being supplied by the new American
Pentecostalism. The closeness, the sibling-hood, afforded the earlier
activists has been supplanted by the false familiarity of social media and
mobile phones. It is inevitable. Just like the way the confraternities
seemed to wane in influence post-nineties, the flipside is what happened to
student activism.

Then of course you had the shameless opportunists who still run the
students’ organisations. They now visit governors and collect money for
end-of-year party. The relevance is gone.

In Fine boys you employ the use of everyday Nigerian English and an
uncensored directness that makes the book fun and easy to read, was
this deliberate? When did you develop this style?

I did not think of it as being a style. I was creating a character, the
character of the narrator, and to make it real, I had to make Ewaen sound
the way a certain kind of student at the University of Benin sounded in the
nineties. So what you read in Fine Boys is a character telling his story.
The nuances, the accent, the words used, the things not said, all are
important. In that way it was deliberate. But it was easy for me since I
modelled the voice on those of people I grew up with.

What is your definition of a good novel?

One that comments on the human condition, one that has something to say,
and that says its things within the ambits of an interesting story.

What would you say is the greatest challenge faced by Nigerian writers

What has always faced them, money. Both its lack, and its ability to be
used as a weapon to silence.

Are there any prevalent themes that you've noticed in contemporary African

Not any different from what I have noticed in contemporary literature
elsewhere. All writing is preoccupied with telling truth. So all writers
examine the same themes. Now their plots, and the associated details, must
vary according to where they live, but all writers want to tell their

Do you have any issues that you would like to address in your coming works?

I don't think of stories in terms of issues. I find that it kills
creativity, it stunts the story before it begins. I think in terms of an
effect, a snapshot, a situation. As the story evolves, then the issues come
up and are examined. That said, I’m thinking of writing a proper
contemporary novel, set today. Will it utilize sci-fi tropes, I do not
know. But that is what I am thinking of.

Are you going to be writing "Medical fiction" any time soon?

Maybe, maybe.

What are your current projects?

No comment. *hint* That’s what writers say when they aren’t working on
anything at the moment.


How do you juggle medical practice and writing?

I’m not practicing medicine at the moment. I took a break to settle some
issues with the family.

How do you relax?

By reading. And having loud argumentative drinking sessions with friends.

Okay, lets do a little alternate history game on you!

Assuming you didn't go to the university to study medicine and you
weren't writing, what would you be doing?

I’d be in the family business.

Assuming all the books by Nigerian authors haven't been written, which
would you like to write and why?

It’d have to be Half of a Yellow Sun. My mother’s family has some personal history surrounding the start of the civil war. And I
grew up with stories I heard from her, and granddad. I would have loved to
have written that book.

Assuming Aliens finally come to earth, and time travel becomes
possible, what three items will you take with you as you escape to
Pre-colonial Africa?

I would take a pen, paper, and an AK47. A pen and paper to democratise
reading and writing. An AK to copy, mass produce, and to use on the first
European who would dare ask my kings to sign anything.


Thank you for coming Eghosa.

My pleasure.

Interview by Tchidi Jacobs

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  1. I so love how Eghosa defined "a good book." I've not read "Fine Boys" yet. Will get it. Wanted to come for the launch @ Quintessence? - but Eghosa abandoned my chat with him on FB a day before the event; I wanted to ask a few questions about it. Lol... I've listed the book for purchase.

    Meanwhile, you have a fine voice, Eghosa. Cool questions from Chidi too. Great interview!

  2. I so love how Eghosa defined "a good book." I've not read "Fine Boys" yet. Will get it. Wanted to come for the launch @ Quintessence? - but Eghosa abandoned my chat with him on FB a day before the event; I wanted to ask a few questions about it. Lol... I've listed the book for purchase.

    Meanwhile, you have a fine voice, Eghosa. Cool questions from Chidi too. Great interview!

  3. Thanks James. A good novel comments on the human condition. True. Glad you enjoyed the interview. Thanks for taking time to read!

  4. Pointy insightful questions by the interviewer, Lovely,candid and revealing answers by Eghosa. Lovely interview all together.

    Eghosa, my number one fine boy. I hail!

  5. Wonderful I luv his book fine boys!lyked d way ewaen told us hw he met wilhem back then!*thumbs up*

  6. Nice one from Eghosa. As someone who also interviews people, the questions from Chidi *went the extra mile* (for want of a better word at the moment). They brought out the BEST in Eghosa. They caused him to go a bit deeper! Good job from The Emerge Review! Lucky Ihanza

  7. I find the alternate history style profoundly revealing. Interestingly, Fine Boys is set in my Alma Mater, University of Benin. Really nice!

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