Born On A Tuesday by Elnathan John – A Short Review
Born on a Tuesday tells us a story of life on the streets through the eyes of Dantala. A story of his life in Bayan Layi after he left Quranic school, his move to Sokoto and working with Sheikh Jamal.
He is a deep thinker, Dantala. Inquisitive, filling you with a sense of how much more he could be if he was born elsewhere, given a different life. Elnathan’s sense of humor and beautiful writing shines through every page of this book. His style is so immensely readable and gripping, it saves one from almost falling into a melancholic state while reading about the destitute life of a section of society many know nothing about.
The first chapter of the book, Bayan Layi, is familiar. I read Bayan Layi when it was nominated for the Caine Prize 2013. It left me wanting more, wanting to know more about a social ill in the North that is at once familiar and strange. The story of almajirai in the North is one that has been talked about and written about but somehow, the telling lacks a realness and depth to it. Bayan Layi left me wanting more. Needing more. All this time, the names stuck with me. Gobedanisa. Tomorrow is far. A fatalism to the name. Acishuru. Eat quietly is the direct translation but means eating alone. And the boss of the boys beneath the kuka tree, Banda. An anomaly of a name because it seems incomplete. Well, unless I’m pronouncing it wrong. I don’t have. Don’t have what? Bayan Layi is the first chapter of the book Born on a Tuesday. Dantala.
The cover is beautiful. There’s a depiction of a running stick figure, the very opposite of a book with characters so full of life, you feel you know them. The background first brought to mind a fire, symbolic because it played a large part in the violence portrayed in the book. Upon closer look, the smaller “flame” is reminiscent of a minaret. Brilliant.
Typically, a book this size would have been read in a day. I savoured it. Read it over the course of two days. First night, I stopped on page 102. Why? Elnathan took us on a journey, dedicating parts of the story to Dantala telling the story in his own words, seemingly lifted from a journal. The first of this ended on page 102. I loved it. So I left off reading on that page and went to bed thinking. This book keeps you thinking, rehashing the story till you are done. And long after it.
There is a quiet desperation in the confusion that surrounds Dantala. The senseless killings and attacks, the easy sex and homosexuality and his reactions to it, the buying of loyalties of religious leaders by politicians. It is endless. Elnathan makes you feel this so much, feel so much for this young man who is good at heart but having to live within the society he was born.
We see his seeming rise within the ranks of Sheikh Jamal’s inner circle, a salafi Sheikh who is one of few good people we come across. Dantala’s innate curiosity pushes him to improve himself, learning English and becoming a trusted lieutenant within the movement. He meets and falls in love with Sheikh Jamal’s daughter, Aisha and it was a relationship I felt was doomed to fail. You would have to read to find out if it was so. We see a break in forces and ideologies which leads to so much senseless violence and an end to society as they knew it. The end had me sitting up in bed, praying, daring to hope, feeling so much. It takes you away from your comfort zone, makes you look at things from a different angle.
I’m not much of a fan of reading reviews with too many details because I lose some sense of the suspense. I implore you look for this book and read it. Share it. I am already looking forward to having discussions of the book with others who have read it. It cries to be a book club and school literature staple.
Thank you Elnathan for a story that needed to be told. For a story that is told so beautifully and with so much understanding. And that head shot of the author brought a smile to my face. Elnathan had to take a shot at once very familiar and nostalgic; posing in front of a banana tree. Love it
PS: Is Baba of Karo a real book? Dantala’s obsession with the book got to me. I want to read it.