Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson
Winner of the 2011 Costa First Novel Award
When their mother catches their father with another woman, twelve year-old Blessing and her fourteen-year-old brother, Ezikiel, are forced to leave their comfortable home in Lagos for a village in the Niger Delta, to live with their mother’s family. Without running water or electricity, Warri is at first a nightmare for Blessing. Her mother is gone all day and works suspiciously late into the night to pay the children’s school fees. Her brother, once a promising student, seems to be falling increasingly under the influence of the local group of violent teenage boys calling themselves Freedom Fighters. Her grandfather, a kind if misguided man, is trying on Islam as his new religion of choice, and is even considering the possibility of bringing in a second wife.
But Blessing’s grandmother, wise and practical, soon becomes a beloved mentor, teaching Blessing the ways of the midwife in rural Nigeria. Blessing is exposed to the horrors of genital mutilation and the devastation wrought on the environment by British and American oil companies. As Warri comes to feel like home, Blessing becomes increasingly aware of the threats to its safety, both from its unshakable but dangerous traditions and the relentless carelessness of the modern world. Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away is the witty and beautifully written story of one family’s attempt to survive a new life they could never have imagined, struggling to find a deeper sense of identity along the way.
If there was ever a book that caused me so much emotional turmoil, it was this one. Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away starts off with you feeling complete injustice. Could you imagine if your husband chose his mistress over you, and due to your country’s laws you were not allowed to live alone and support your children. How about you then having to move from your up scale life into the village you came from. A village your children have never know. A village where your children’s posh up bringing has never prepared them for. Their life with now be lived in a remote village with no running water, no indoor plumbing, and no electric. How much of a failure would you feel as a mother?
The water and air are polluted from the oil company’s plant, the crops wither and die. As a result, hunger and undernourishment is the norm in one of the richest agricultural parts of Africa. Both of Blessing’s grandparents are educated–her grandfather is a petroleum engineer, but has never found work in his field, despite the oil company almost in his backyard. All engineering jobs are filled by white men from American and Great Britain; local blacks are given “ghost jobs”. Ezikiel the young son, takes up with the local militia. A young man with hopes of becoming a doctor, his life now seems to be crashing and burning. The injustices in this book are heartbreaking and you weep with the corrosion that occurs in humans due to their circumstances.
Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away has many characters, and many stories, but the one that really grips you is the one of Blessing. Blessing is the young daughter flung into this poverty stricken life. You experience her outrage, her sadness, her struggle, and her triumph. Blessings mother seems to run away from this life, one she feels she just can not bare again. While I believe her absence is her trying desperately to find her footing, and scoop her children back out of this tragic life; she misses so much of the kids lives and their development.
Blessing through all the hardships begins to bond with her grandmother. This bond and the respect that developed is pivotal in turning Blessing into the woman she becomes by the end of the book. Blessing becomes a midwife like her grandmother, and in a decision that is so hard for me to comprehend she chooses to live her life in the village. A new life one with the comforts of her old life is offered to her, but her heart and who she is lies in that village.