The debut short story collection The Whispering Trees showcases a young writer’s command of the short story form. In no way pretentious or structurally formulaic, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim seems to be searching for his distinctive style in this collection only to end up offering 12 stories that are each stylistically pleasing with engaging characters whom I could not help but identify with.
"There are times when silence is more eloquent than poetry."
Another gift this writer has is stories that bleed excitement to the point of abandoning the literary and acquiring the entertainment label. Fortunately that point is never crossed, thus successfully creating stories of quality in terms of economy of language, characterization and layers of emotional depth, while simultaneously entertaining the reader with cultural nuances such as traditional superstitions, religious interpretations or family values. In a few stories, the theme of political oppression is mixed in with the cultural nuances providing the stories with a further richness and reminding the reader of the volatile setting that is Nigeria.
Ibrahim's evocation of traditional superstitions and political oppression reminded me of Ben Okri's stories in 'Stars of a New Curfew', where both collections lean towards magical realism with a Nigerian flavor, as these stories often involve witchcraft or voodoo (black magic) that is traditionally a part of many tribes that currently inhabit the geographical locale of Nigeria. Where the advent of modern faiths, particularly Islam and Christianity shun these dark practices, the inherent fear amongst local populace of witchcraft practitioners remains, and Ibrahim exploits these fears. As for political oppression, I have covered this here
A real treat is the tightness of Ibrahim's stories with respect to narrative cohesiveness and economy of language, while constructing layers of depth in each story as the characters come to terms with their emotional turmoils. The style of writing occasionally reminded me of Jhumpa Lahiri's excellent short story collection The Interpreter of Maladies. There is one key difference though, where Lahiri's style is typical of an MFA graduate form the U.S.A., Ibrahim's is anything but that. His is a self-made style albeit still in development that has a richness all of its own. His stories lack predictability and often end at the climax leaving me at times shocked to ponder the character's choice, and at times amused at the absurdity of human behavior while completely accepting it as valid. Perhaps the most remarkable feat of Ibrahim is the level of subtlety in delivering this unpredictable climax to the reader.
This is a writer whose work I will be taking a closer look at in the years to come. It is such a privilege to be able to read writers of distinctively different cultures. Not only is Ibrahim a Nigerian, but he is from the north of the country from where I have read much fewer writers compared to the south. I would like to leave you with this line that resonated deeply with me from the title story:
"happiness lies, not in getting what you want, but in wanting what you have."