Encyclopedia of African Literature

By Simon Gikandi | Go to book overview

U

Ubesie, Tony Uchenna

b. Nigeria

novelist

Whereas Pita Nwana is given credit as the founder and "father" of the Igbo novel, and Frederick Chidozie Ogbalu is given credit for nurturing it through the development of Igbo language, Tony Uchenna Ubesie is indeed its creative genius. The most gifted Igbo novelist of the twentieth century, Ubesie's novels include Ukwa Ruo Oge Ta Oda (When the Fruit is Ripe, It Falls) (1973), Isi Akwu Dara N'ala (The Prime Palm Fruit that Falls on the Ground) (1973), Mmiri Oku Eji Egbu Mbe (Boiling Water to Kill the Tortoise) (1974), Ukpana Okpoko Buru (The Insect that is Caught by Okpoko Must Be Deaf: Okpoko is a ferocious bird that leaves a loud noise in its trail) (1975), and Juo Obinna (Ask Obinna) (1975). Ubesie's distinction as a novelist lies essentially in his stylistic innovations and thematic realism (see realism and magical realism). He brings a fresh awareness to familiar themes and discusses contemporary social and cultural issues in ways that show in the author a perfect understanding and acute perception of the varying alternatives that come with time. Ubesie's legacies in the art of the Igbo novel are in the four areas of language, humor, irony, and characterization.

Ubesie has an excellent mastery of the Igbo language usage, which makes his writing easy and fascinating to read. His sense of humor totally captivates the reader. His use of sophisticated irony leaves the reader musing about the motives of human behavior in complex situations. His authentic characterization plants the image of the protagonist so indelibly in the consciousness of the reader's mind that the reader continues to see the face long after finishing the story: His patterns for resolving human conflicts are neither forced nor melodramatic. The total effect of these in each of his novels is one of suspense, wonderment, curiosity, and aesthetic delight, all of which make the reader want to reach out for Ubesie's next novel. Some writers make us laugh once in a while by their amusing anecdotes, but Ubesie has a seemingly endless abundance of anecdotes that keep the reader laughing till the end of the novel. Ubesie's brand of humor is so effusive that it fills the reader with nothing but a feeling of recurring delight. These qualities are present in all of Ubesie's novels but he seems to have surpassed himself in his novel about the Nigerian civil war, Juo Obinna.

Juo Obinna, probably the best Igbo novel on the Nigerian civil war, is a skillfully crafted commentary on the phenomenon of the Biafran straggler, the loud-mouthed "we must fight to the last man" advocate who shows his bravery and commitment to the war effort by the unequalled dexterity with which he dodges conscription into the army. He is adept in military tactics without ever reaching any war zone. Ubesie creates him as a simple yet complex and pathetic character. He has a fantastic imagination and can effortlessly weave endless stories about his gallantry, fitting every minute detail of military maneuvers so that his audience cannot help but admire him as the incomparable war hero. His audience is always the womenfolk who adore him for his dare-devil adventures and

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