Abraham, Tola Rotimi. Black Sunday. Catapult, 2020. 277p. ISBN: 9781948226561. $26. HS, OT *****
The year is 1996 in Lagos, Nigeria, when the story opens on twins, Bibike and Ariyike and their two younger brothers, Peter and Andrew. Their family is stable: a mother with a good government job; a father who is a risk taker, and all of their lives are held tightly together in spite of difficulties. But when their mother loses her job and father makes a bad gamble, the family is forced apart, and all four are set onto very specific trajectories. The boys are destined for a military boarding school that grows them up in the kinds of toxic masculinity and brutality stereotypical of such schools. The girls are torn between a grounding in a charismatic church and their desire for secular life that includes education or stardom. None of them are on an easy path and the hard turns their lives take are like blows. Readers are left to watch as they face these challenges and work to maintain connections to each other even as the absence of their parents haunts them.
Debut novelist, Abraham has written a beautiful and devastating story with rotating narrators in a true ensemble cast of unforgettable characters. It is a family story and a story of self-identification filled with heartbreak, violence and destruction. There are some relationships and some romances, but that is not what forms the core of the story. Neither do friendships, religion, war, or poverty, though certainly all of these things are in the universe of these four protagonists. What is at the core is family, and for one sister it is about what it means to be a twin seeking separation. For another, it is about a younger brother following behind his older brother so he can keep an eye on him ensuring he won’t be abandoned. For all of them, it is about trying to find a way inevitably forward after family tragedy and separation. This is a beautifully written book that shifts tempo and tone with sections that are more and less comic or lyrical. To be sure, it is a hard story in many ways and particularly for women as there is a lot of sexual violence. I would not recommend it to less mature readers for this reason. Still as a reader who never been to Lagos, and likely never will, this was an unbelievable #ownvoices window book for me.
-Andrea Mullarkey, Berkeley Public Library – Tarea Hall Pittman South Branch
Tags: Coming of age, Diverse, People of color, Realistic