Just Read: Night Dancer, Chika Unigwe

Night DancerNight Dancer by Chika Unigwe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ezi died a rich woman. She had been a prodigal from her home and society because she was a prostitute. With one beloved daughter, Mma, and loyal friend, Madam Gold, she had lived a defiant and excluded life and did not apologise for it.

The story Night Dancer, while about Ezi’s daughter, Mma, explores several characters. It’s separated into two parts.

Part one starts off shortly after Mma buries her mom Ezi. She is being reprimanded by Madam Gold for not giving her mom a proper burial.

Mma is angry at her late Mom for a lot of things, like keeping her away from her family; her Father, grand mother, and allowing society to ostracise her. For this reason, despite being left with an abundant potion of wealth, she has a bone to grind with the dead woman.

Chika Unigwe writes the tale in a very nervy way. At the beginning of the story we see a little window into the life of Ezi from the outside – as society paints her, as her daughter knows her and also as her friend Madam Gold knows her. At the beginning, it can be easy to judge Ezi. In a way, it is a reflection of society, we judge from what we see. We judge a book by its cover. In fact, the title of the book is in itself misleading.

As she continues to write, she introduces a new window. Ezi’s letters to her daughter, Mma. Mma, having built a lot of contempt for her mother already, this time is drawn to the letters.

I particularly loved how Ezi wrote. Her speaking style woven into her writing, like how she would mention words twice – writing writing, loving loving, etc… Mma, made mention of some things like the redness of the ink, the way sometimes the ink would be faint and the handwriting fleeting to sort of reflect the ongoing mood in the letter.

It was these letters that properly opened an itch in Mma to go and find who her family were. And when part one ends, Mma ends up knocking on the door of a house opened by a woman called Rapu.

Part two is opened with a history of Rapu. It explores Nigeria’s fascination with divination. She is like a special child who brings blessings to her up-to-now very unfortunate and poor family.

The diviner’s prophesies come to pass when Mike and Ezi come to their village looking for a housemaid. It is the beginning of a true revelation of Ezi’s defiant nature…and why in the end, you cannot help but love her understand why she does the things she does.

A lot of themes are covered – xenophobia, religious extremism, adultery in African societies, preferential treatment of boys over girls, education being a waste, true friendship, etc

It’s rich in that even though I felt there was no one theme overshadowing another, the way Chika wrote gave each one effective coverage.

When you read and finish it seems to be another tale of prostitution and irreligion but when you dig deeper, it helps us understand that sometimes things are not as simple as they seem.

Thank you Chika.

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I just finished my fourth book in the 2015 African Reading Challenge on Kinna Reads. More to come!

Photo: cobra.be

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