The Infinity Mirror: A review of Damilare Kuku’s Nearly All The Men In Lagos Are Mad
“A good story, just like a good sentence, does more than one job at once. That’s what literature is: a story that does more than tell a story, a story that manages to reflect in some way the multilayered texture of life itself.”
Karen Thompson Walker
Like all good works of literature, Nearly All The Men In Lagos Are Mad, is more than just a melodramatic collection of stories. It is a reflection of the multilayered nature of our socio-cultural realities in an average Nigerian Society. It is like an infinity mirror of experiences reflecting the fundamental issues that define our individual realities.
However, and unlike what the title may suggest, the book does not assume a totally judgmental stance on some of these socio-cultural issues. I think that in itself, is brilliant. The author was able to craft a compendium of stories that reflect the status quo from the perspective of different players, across social classes, and across different (and fragmented) realities.
(And oh!) I would quickly like to add here that, in real life, we men really be doing the most (but this is a topic for another day).
The book starts off with a story about Isioma — an educated woman caught in between survival, fidelity, and family. Her story began with a climax of melodrama and desperation, and it continued in the form of a flashback. The book then progresses to tell the stories of the gigolo (Iggy), the pastor’s wife, Ohemaa, Uchenna, the healthcare worker (Orode), Ivie, the superstar (Dooshima), Genny, the actual real housewives of Lagos, and Mrs. Osa Akindele. All in all, Damilare Kuku was able to touch on the status quo of the man-woman dynamics in the average metropolitan society, and the biases that underscore them, without compromising the liberal, and very entertaining tone of the book.
First, I think the stories accurately explore the reality of patriarchy in the average Nigerian society. However, this time, it is different from the usual, abstract (or disconnected as I would say) analysis. Through her manner of writing, Damilare carefully shows the reader the subtleties and the obvious indicators of the Nigerian patriarchy.
Isioma in the first story — for instance — left her secretarial job for family and child-birth reasons; she ended up having to sell maize by the street side to cater to the same family. Not just that, she dutifully had to cover up for the expenses of her child, and that of her husband, with the hope that he will wake up one day and take responsibility. This, however, did not shield her from the sanctimonious disdain of her in-law and her husband, on account of irresponsibility and wickedness.
Maybe that was too subtle, but the story of Orode was not. Instead of the usual story of heartbreak or spousal irresponsibility, Orode’s story was more. It is a subtle reflection of the state of healthcare work in Lagos, and (most importantly), the socio-cultural bias that surrounds childbirth. Unlike Isioma in the first story, Orode’s man seems to be financially responsible. Their problem, however, lies in childbirth. Despite being fully aware of his impotence, her husband and his uncle, made Orode bear the full (emotional) brunt of their childlessness.
On different occasions, Orode was made to take concoctions and was subjected to verbal abuse from her husband’s uncle. Her story describes the other side of Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives. Unlike Baba Segis’s wives, Orode was a total victim of this patriarchal bias, and she was unaware of the feminine antics, to sustain her pride in a society that equates it with childbirth.
Furthermore, Damilare did touch on rape, and I think her choice of characters paints more than just the picture of the trauma, the lack of awareness, and the unique circumstance of each victim. In a way, I think the characters portray the frequency of rape, and how much-predisposed children are to it. Take, for instance, Ivie’s story. Ivie represents the demography (of young girls) that voluntarily walk up to their abusers because of adolescence, their ignorance, and (probably) parental negligence.
Ivie, in the book, was just sixteen, while Idris, her boyfriend whom she agreed to have sex with, was an undergraduate. Ivie’s story evolved into a more complex relationship of downs and disappointment and the absence of healthy sex life. And — although you may have a different opinion of this after reading the book — I strongly believe all of that connects up to her very first illegal sexual experience.
In contrast to Ivie, Mrs. Osa Akindele, in the last story, was a victim of violence and a more traumatizing rape experience. She was deceived, drugged, and manipulated and suffered all the corresponding mental trauma of that occurrence. And Just like Ivie, she was also underage and innocent.
I actually do hope that one-day rape discussions are no longer reactionary; that they transcend just condemnations and blame games. I hope that society takes proactive actions. I hope we build a society where kids like Ivie are enlightened, and people like Mrs. Osa are protected.
Lastly, on the issues of rape and the prevalence of patriarchy, I think it is also impressive that Damilare told the story of the complicity of women in perpetuating some of these things. For me, it further reinforces my stance that one gender alone cannot take the fall for societal lapses. These problems are a pointer to the status quo, that both men and women are complicit in, either subconsciously or otherwise.
Instances abound in the reaction of Isi’s in-laws to her marital predicament, or the stance of Uche’s mother on her relationship with Jide in the book. Jide and Uche were denied love because Uche’s mom wanted her son to maintain the paternal legacy that she built for (and with) her husband. I do not think there is bigger evidence of complicity than these.
Also, I like that the stories in the book reiterate the reality of emotions (I would say infatuations) in relationships, the fleetingness of it, the vulnerability of the human mind, and how much power these emotions can wield. As humans, we can only do so much as become conscious of possible bad endings/loss of spark (to put it in simple words). But when the emotions come rushing in, and the infatuation is strong, we are essentially powerless. Sub-consciously (while in love), we often live in denial of these possibilities and remain tethered to the hope of permanence that emotions present to us.
In the actual sense, it is not a mumu thing to fall for a man/woman, it is a human thing. However, at that moment, the emotions blind a majority of us to the seriousness of commitment, its own fleetingness, and the disparity between ourselves and whoever we are in tango with. This then presents a dilemma. We (or maybe I am just projecting?) are often caught between the devil and the shark in the deep blue sea. The over-bearing awareness of an end or the consciousness of how fleeting the infatuations are, makes us miss out on the bliss of these moments. So, it begs the question, Should I let go, and love? or Should I lock up and be a comrade?
The stories of Iggy — the gigolo that used women to optimize for big boy life — and Sid, the man that fell madly in love but had commitment issues, explains my little philosophizing better. Iggy was of course a hustler to the core, he bottled up his feeling and sacrificed them to optimize for the good life. Sid’s predicament is a consequence of childhood trauma and the fear of the unknown. Maybe love does transcend romance, maybe it does not, that is not for me to tell. But Oh boy! I related to these stories too well.
Most importantly, I think Damilare’s relatability game in this book is S-tier. The characters are superficial — each one represents a group of people and their predisposition towards the issues she touched on. As a result, readers effortlessly connect with the story. I mean it is either you share the same nature with some of these men or women — especially characters like Iggy, Edikan, or Ivie — or you know someone that acts as they do. Not just that, the stories were also set to describe the reality of the biggest demography in Nigeria — young people. There were a lot of pop song references, and there were references to how much (violence) transpires on social media. How much relatable could it get?
My favorite story in the book has to be the anointed wife. It is the story of a Church Man in a sexual Scandal, and his wife, who was responsible for his public image and that of the church. This story represents how much threat, the blind followership of a religious figure poses to accountability and justice in Nigerian society. I was particularly impressed by the story, the PR game of Mummy G.O, her choice of words, and the constant reference to Twitter and the mass media. I don’t think I need to be specific with real-life examples. After all, we have enough pastor scandals on Obasanjo’s internet to last us till the kingdom comes
One thing I however found to be over-done was the frequency of sexually explicit scenes in the book. Of course, I am not a fan of “modesty” or sanctioning explicit content in these books. It would be hypocritical to write of these things without touching on some of the explicit parts. I did feel however that explicit sexual descriptions were not necessary for some of these stories. This is even more plausible considering that the Nigerian society is largely conservative. If it was supposed to be relatable, it must be relatable to the end.
All in all, I do consider this book to be a beautiful piece of art. It is unconventional, interesting to read, and brilliantly crafted. The book also highlighted other themes like tribalism, class differences, etc. But of course, I cannot discuss all of the thematics in the book. That would make me a bore, wouldn’t it? I absolutely recommend this book to anyone looking for something interesting to read. It feels like you are reading, but you are not doing the serious reading; you are just having fun! No bad vibes, just straight-up gist. Go and Enjoy!
PS: When I finished writing this piece, It was half done. My editor did not only bully me into writing it(smiles in pain and mischief), she encouraged me to publish it. You should see some of her works here Thebeehive.