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Online Magazine of Contemporary Nigerian Writing

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WELCOME TO sentinel nigeria | Issue #2 | May 2010


Su’eddie Vershima AGEMA, a graduate of the Benue State University, is a writer, reviewer and development enthusiast. He lives in Abuja and Makurdi and takes a special interest in the various faces of humor in life and literature. He can be reached by e-mail at eddieagema@yahoo.com

Title: Shadows and Ashes
By: Dul Johnson
Publisher: Arrowhead Publications
Reviewer : Su’eddie Vershima Agema

Dul Johnson’s Shadows and Ashes is a collection of eight (not so) short stories that are woven around three broad subjects; the Civil war, Rape, and a General Philosophy on life. What strikes one though, is the strong and vivid description in the collection that is evident of the author’s romance with the still and moving camera.

There is another view to Johnson’s descriptions, the psychological. This can be said to be the mind descriptions. Most of the characters in Shadows and Ashes are not shown simply as characters that appear to serve as a vehicle to meet the end of telling a story. They are given human emotions and importantly, a strong intellect that allows thinking. This is a quality that is shared by almost all the central characters in the book. They are shown to think deeply before most of their actions or where they don’t, after. The deep thinking brings out aspects of the characters that are hitherto hidden and adds spice to the development of the character and indeed, the story.

This is most evident in the final story of the collection, ‘The Shadow of Truth.’ The story follows a debate that a minister, Dungchang has with himself on whether he should have sex with a twenty year old member of his congregation, Tanya, or not. She is a true temptress as she admits in several instances. She is made to look like Eve and Dungchang, Adam. He thinks severally on the consequences of his actions and whether he would be justified to preach to others after his ‘fornication.’ He is strong willed and keeps the debate in his mind right up to the time when Tanya’s clothes are off. This might be the author’s way of showing people that not all men think from their groin. It is true that Tanya finally succeeds in seducing him but what is of note, is his strong resistance he offered. Usually, it is said that the forces of good and evil debate when we consider doing anything evil or bad.

What is also notable is the way that Tanya is used to act as the evil in the debate that goes on in Dungchang’s head. Many people call the good and noble thoughts, conscience and the other, human nature while others refer to the good as God and the negative thoughts or thoughts that lend credence to our desires, the Devil. The use of Tanya here makes the whole pattern fresh and one has no problem believing the story or asking, how come this man’s evil is far more fluent. The debate about righteousness and the act of sinning, human nature and denial is also a high point in this story. The story has some sexual descriptions at a point but quickly becomes figurative making use of planes, and cars in order to cover what some might consider as lurid. This again adds credit to Dul Johnson’s writings as he can be said to know when to cover the sheets on his characters’ moment. This does not mean that he lacks the skills of describing the process, his quick notes on the foreplay is just enough.

A lot of stories have been written about the Nigerian civil war with most of the notable ones coming from writers of Igbo origin usually focusing on the Biafran view. It is in this regard that any differing view is seen as a breather. In this collection, Johnson packages the first section of his collection, ‘Haunting Shadows’ on the war. He focuses on the physical, emotional and psychological effects that it has on men who volunteered for the Federal forces and their family. The central character in ‘Living with Shadows’ watches his two brothers go to war and finally gets word of their death. He is deeply traumatized and makes a vow to kill Igbos.

He however changes his mind in the end when he meets and rubs minds with three Igbo friends of his, who had equally lost families and felt deformed for life due to the war. He recognizes that the pain is mutual and that none of them had a hand in it. “That experience has been my healing” he finally admits accepting his friends as brothers. ‘Ghosts of War’ tells the story of Dukven, a wayward man who goes to war so as to prove a point and comes back a better man than his wayward self. He promises his father wealth on his take-off but comes back worse than he left. He remains in the city living a wasteful life. Another remarkable story I the collection is ‘Bond of Love’, a very touching story. The story concentrates on the love that a young man, Domsing grows for Ndubisi, a ten year old boy whose parents are butchered by his (Domsing’s) people. His love and bond with the boy increases as his twin brother goes to join the war. Domsing doesn’t join the war due to his love for the boy but alas his twin brother is killed in the war. This leads to tension in the family with emotions rising against Ndubisi but Domsing’s love remains strong.

Two stories on rape ‘The Rape of Reginia Afang’ and ‘Cinders of the Volcano’ roundup the masterpiece, not chronologically as shown in the table of contents of the book, but rather in the life of this review. The first is about a lady whose encounters with rape make her vulnerable and unable to shield herself from approaches. The second centers on a letter written by a teenage girl about how she has been violated by her father. These two are very touching and paint the picture of helplessness that most ladies usually have to go through after the hideous crime of rape. The two stories might also form the weakest points of the collection. The storyline in ‘The Rape of Reginia Afang’ is laboured. The evidence of the author trying to tell this story can be seen in his elongation of the story. He tries to introduce some twists, albeit unsuccessfully. ‘Cinders of the Volcano,’ though beautifully written in an epistolary style, has its flaw in the almost too obvious story line. The plot runs like the conventional Nigerian home movie screen play . After the first few lines, one immediately gets the drift and can almost accurately predict the end of the story. To the author’s credit though, the name that appears as the writer of the letter, turns out to be the same person that the letter is addressed to. The writer is writing to herself, this forms a ready and beautiful surprise, considering the instructions that the addressed is given, like publishing the letter in case the writer dies or disappears.

In all, one notices in Dul Johnson’s first collection of stories, Shadows and Ashes, the hand of a focused and matured writer, one who is not rushing to write but rather taking time to produce a beautiful piece, which the work turns out to be in the end.





Abigail George
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
Aderemi Adegbite
Angela Amalonye Nwosu
Anthony Agbo
Chima Iwuchukwu
Emmanuella Nduonofit
Ifesinachi Okoli
Immanuel Inyang
James Tar Tsaaior
Lola Shoneyin
Ozioma Izuora
Rasheed Ademola Adebiyi
Richard Ugbede Ali
Rishad ibn al-Sudani
Saka Aliyu
S. Ifedigbo & R. Ali
Sylva Nze Ifedigbo
Su'eddie Agema
T.J. Nanna
Tonyo Biriabebe
Umar Sidi 


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