Monday, September 13, 2010


Ngozi Achebe's first novel, Onaedo, The Blacksmith's Daughter, is a good book you're probably never going to read, and that's a shame.

Hey, it's not your fault. The book is not in your library, nor is it in any bookstore near you. You can order it from Amazon, but at $19.95 (even though discounted today to $17.05), it's overpriced. If you're looking for a historical novel by a Nigerian woman who lives in America, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun is a better deal at $10.85.

And yet Onaedo is an engrossing story about a likeable, gutsy woman, and it is rich in fascinating cultural and historical detail. The story is set in western Africa some 500 years ago. Onaedo, the teen-aged daughter of a prominent Igbo elder, is resisting one suitor after another. Her heart belongs to Dualo, but he is not prosperous enough to ask for her hand. Enter Oguebie, a rich but unscrupulous suitor who is involved in some nefarious business with a couple of Portuguese fortune seekers. You guessed it, probably sooner than Oguebie does - these are slave traders, and they want him to help them capture his neighbors.

Like her uncle, the famed Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease), Ngozi Achebe depicts a culture rich in familial relationships and traditional beliefs but threatened by European invaders (see my reviews of two of her uncle's books here and here). Whereas the uncle created tragic heroes who cannot reconcile the old and the new, the niece gives us a spunky heroine who manages to survive one disaster after another. Onaedo may never be a classic, but it's a page-turning historical romance.

The book has problems, though. It appears to be the first and only book ever published by Mandac-Goldberg, about whom I could find no information except the little that is on their website. To their credit, they have given the book an attractive cover (though the title needs more contrast with the background if they want bookstore browsers to notice it) and a functional interior design. However, their publicity materials, including back-cover copy, are amateurish; their pricing is unrealistic; and they apparently haven't figured out how to get the book into bookstores and libraries.

The biggest problem with the book is its inadequate editing at all levels. The copy editor, if there was one, did not understand standard syntax or comma placement. No content editor helped the author see that the 21st-century Prologue and Epilogue in no way helped the story, or that the Prologue's clumsy writing and tangled time sequences were likely to put off potential readers before the real story ever got started. Nobody helped the author shape her complex plot with its multiple points of view and its sometimes confusing roster of characters whose names, strange to Western ears, all begin to sound alike.

This is unfortunate, because Onaedo is a good story by a talented writer who deserves better than she got. The book ends just as a new adventure is about to begin, so there will surely be a sequel. In addition, Achebe told an interviewer that she is now at work on a "coming of age story ... set during the Nigerian/Biafran Civil war." An established publisher with a crew of professional editors and marketers could do well with Achebe on their list.

If she is very lucky, some such publisher or editor will read Onaedo as if it is a manuscript, not a published book; will see its possibilities and the potential for equally gripping sequels; will buy the rights from Mandac-Goldberg; and will work with the author to turn it into the excellent book it ought to be. I'd like to be able to recommend Onaedo without reservations. Perhaps someday that will be possible.

1 comment:

Gracie said...

i understood it perfectly...