The Invocative Repertoire of Half-Being: A Review of Chukwudi Eze’s “The Return of Half-Something” By Prof. Anthony C. Oha

Chukwudi Eze. The Return of Half-Something. Makurdi: Sevhage Publishers, 2018. P: 304

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One striking thing about this novel is the title, The Return of Half-Something. We have a linguistic contour loaded with semantic colours. The protagonist, Emmanuel (Nkemefuna) is biracial who struggles with identity and racism as a result of his heritage. His being the seed of a black man and a white woman resulted in the continuous use of ‘half-something’ to describe him. The point of climax in this truism becomes prominent when he got disciplined at school for acting in anger against racial tags:

“He remembered the day he punched a classmate while in a predominantly white junior high school, for calling him merboy – half fish and half boy in reference to his being of mixed race. It was his calling him ‘Spock’ in reference to Spock’s dual human and Vulgan ancestry that earned the chap a second more powerful punch and a bloody nose.” (TROHS, 5)

The idea of ‘returning something that is half’ makes the reader curious at unveiling a sense of incompleteness, an ideology of being portrayed with cultural inference. In African belief system, half of something is an aberration because a respected entity comes full and readily prepared to lead. Thus, if something half is returned then something great is missing. In the story, the reader is faced with the issue of self-reconciliation and self-realisation. The protagonist, Emmanuel, thrives academically in school despite the discrimination he faces at school from bullies who deride him with ridiculing names to undermine his academic excellence. Identity crisis is prominent in the story. The writer carefully passes a message, which shows how he tries to bear the burden of human frailties. Beyond the title, we needn’t undermine the cross, which African writers bear. One of which is the cross of identity and significance; a kind of tragedy tormenting the African immigrants who try to correct anomalies in Africa with anomalies from the western world. This novel could be described as sensational because it presented dramatic overtures of the experiences of the characters and reveals the storyline more as a movie script!

In the plot, we are taken back to the experiences of African immigrants in America. Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah come to mind here as we are presented with the traumatic possibilities that impinge on the psyche of Africans in enclaves that do not reverberate their cultural leanings. The message in The Return of Half-Something is quite dramatic, though traumatic. We have the plausible and the implausible juxtaposed to expose the impossibilities that trouble Africans in strange cultures. The author, Chukwudi Eze, seemed bothered about the causes of estrangement where Africans try to undermine cultural affinities. The story begins with Emmanuel whose father, Uchechi, taught the need to be closer to his native root of Umuati, an African community. His Igbo name is Nkemefuna (which means, “My own won’t be lost”). He speaks Igbo but he’s unfamiliar with Igbo culture. This is not strange. Many children in the Diaspora cannot even speak their native language. The case of Emmanuel seems different. He is being prepared for greater roles by his father, Uchechi.

Emmanuel has an Igbo father and a Caucasian mother. At age 17, Emmanuel’s journey to become a legend begins. From his father’s tutelage, he believes that his destiny will become manifest when he mingles properly with his African root, especially with his ancestral village of Umuati. His father, Uchechi, believes that his son will be useful in fighting the injustice and oppression in the community which his people are suffering from the government in connivance with the oil companies operating in the community. He sounded it as a note of warning to Emmanuel not to fail to follow his instruction by returning home to do the needful to avoid being cursed. This is 1993. Emmanuel is presented as a Christlike typology who will help emancipate the people from injustice, oppression and anarchy. However, after a decade, Emmanuel is yet to visit Umuati against all expectations. Africans believe that destiny comes in many forms and could be formed by a parent’s curse or blessing. The fact remains that he is an American with the attitude and aspirations of the American space. Emmanuel, who resides in Manhattan took a doctoral degree from Columbia Law School, never visited Umuati with almost a decade gone after his studies. He becomes engrossed with his new found love, Rebecca Levitt, who works as the Vice President of her father’s brokerage firm, Peak Management Group. Interestingly, Emmanuel also works in the firm and this enhances his closeness with Rebecca.

Unfortunately, Reuben, Rebecca’s father, never approved of her daughter’s intimate relationship with Emmanuel because of his biracial origin which has no Jewish leaning like himself. But, he likes Emmanuel What a paradox! Rebecca’s father is a conservative Jew and they are strict with their religious and political leanings. Emmanuel’s growing relationship with Rebecca is more obsessive than romantic in the story. Rebecca is just recovering from heartbreak and is finding it difficult accepting the reality of Emmanuel’s love. Emmanuel sees his new found love, Rebecca as a fulfilment of a dream he had. This brings to mind the belief in dreams which Chukwudi Eze uses to capture man’s quest to rediscover himself. The major preoccupations in Emmanuel’s emotion becomes firstly, the fight to marry Rebecca and secondly to find a way to assist Umuati, his ancestral village, as instructed by his father.

In Umuati, an oil-field explosion results in death through a mismanaged oil spill in the community. This ugly fatality pushed Emmanuel to call Umuati kingmakers and stakeholders to file a lawsuit against Sooli Oil, the company responsible for the catastrophe. To do this, Emmanuel needs to travel to Umuati; but unfortunately, he faced unexpected resistance from his kinsmen. He presented the evidence he gathered but it unfortunately vanishes and makes Emmanuel and his fellows to understand that there may be a spy working for Sooli Oil. We cannot easily forget the roles played by Mr. Strongbull, the Chairman/CEO of Sooli, who sees the rally by Umuati people as a bad signal but says, “We’ll do whatever to remain in business” (TROHS, 211), regardless of what it will cost the company.

The roles of Chief EbubeOgowani, the leader of Umuati’s Youth Federation (UYF) is remarkable. He is described as “…a well-known writer who had forayed into the slippery world of environmental activism and youth leadership.” (TROHS, 152). He is presented to lead and guide Emmanuel in helping his people. We read also that Emmanuel is a fine poet, who writes to capture the realities of his situations. The lawsuit brings in fear, tension and suspense. The oppositions to the lawsuit put Emmanuel at an edge. The author captures the court processes as realistically intense as Emmanuel fights the rich oil company to bring succour to his people. The suit becomes hydra-headed with the case of murder and a kidnapping in the matter. Beyond this suit, he also battles his own identity as many Umuati indigenes see him as an outcast even as he overcomes his adversaries. However, it is difficult for Emmanuel to move over to Umuati because Rebecca’s refusal to leave the United States seems to threaten their relationship. The destiny realisation in the life of Emmanuel becomes sacrosanct as we see him struggling to return to Umuati and also struggling to keep his relationship with Rebecca; even as he tries to live with the tragic loss of his parents in a boat mishap. We are presented here with similar scenarios we find in Helon Habila’s Oil on Water

Emmanuel’s return and his conquest vis-à-vis the court action against the oil company coupled with the awareness of the community about the essence of environmental rights, places him as a hero. He achieved this because he is educated in the law. Rebecca discovers a new being in Emmanuel beyond the American blues. Reuben realises the essence of thinking beyond racist and religious blocs. Umuati village relishes in a new beginning that breeds fresh air courtesy of Emmanuel’s exploits in line with his father’s advice and yearnings. The community sees no other person to lead them farther in the fight against injustice imposed by neo-colonialists. A king must lead and Emmanuel fits the picture. He is from a family of legends being “the son of Uchechi, grandson of Tochi and great grandson of Ebuka the Great One of Umuati…” (TROHS, 299). Nkemefuna is recognised as the King of Umuati Kingdom for his accomplishment in the fight to emancipate the people from slavery and environmental hazards. He is now, “Eze AguOchenduOmelora 1 of Umuati” (TROHS, 299-300), which he deserves. In his acceptance speech, he advises his people thus:

We must encourage our youths to receive world-class education at home and abroad…. We should encourage those highly skilled in the diaspora to return home. To continue to thrive, this kingdom must strive to evolve. (TROHS, 303)

The writer weaves his prose like an architectural craft in a subtle manner which captures varieties of themes and subject matters like racism, heartbreak, discrimination, differences, love, identity crisis, desperation, religious bigotry, parental influence and cultural integration. Chukwudi Eze is careful with characterisation. The protagonist is strong though sublime and proactive. Emmanuel braves discrimination from his culture and from his biracial nature. As a New Yorker, he possesses the grandeur of restlessness. Uchechi, his father, represents the bridge between culture and modernity. In him, we see another Ezeulu of Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God, who believes so much in the power of western education as a way of surviving in the modern world.

The author may have unconsciously selected names that capture the thematic contours of the message. Such names as merboy, half-boy, half-fish, Spock, etc. set the onomastic tone of the story which is hinged on racism and discrimination. Uchechi, which literally means “the thought of God”, generates the semantic idea of [+expectation/+hope/+possibilities]. Christians believe that the thoughts of God for men are thoughts of good and not of evil in order to give them an expected end. More so, we observe onomastic relation between the names, ‘Emmanuel’ and ‘Nkemefuna’. Emmanuel depicts ‘a saviour’, while Nkemefuna projects ‘a continuity’. Both names project the semantic possibilities of: [+continuity /–ending]; [+Messiah /–Destroyer]; and [+New beginning /–Old order]. We also have realisable toponyms (place names) like New York, Manhattan, Buffalo, China, etc. but the kingdom name ‘Umuati’ is not explained because ‘Umuati’ is symbolic of the Igbo race in the story. But, structurally, we have Umu (children) + Ati (?), and we can interpret it as ‘the children of Ati’ while ‘Ati’ could be interpreted depending on the dialect of Igbo it originated. ‘Ati’ is an ancestral name, which could have been clipped from a longer name.

The author is careful with characterisation. At the end of the story, Emmanuel truly becomes the saviour and brings a continuity of the greatness of his ancestry. His roles and achievements reveal the essence of education as projected in Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease and Noel AgwuochaChukwukadibia’sThe Return of Hope. More so, the female characters are very strong and passionate. Anna, Emmanuel’s cousin, is significant. Her roles at strengthening Emmanuel-Rebecca obsession call for attention because she enhances Emmanuel’s intentions of winning and weaning Rebecca. Rebecca is resolute. Her emergence as the Queen of Umuati is not surprising. Anna is strong and never hesitates in attacking racists or those who demean her personality. She is as strong as Amaka, the no-nonsense, young, strong character in Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus.

The language of the novel is skilfully crafted with vivid descriptions and linguistic colours capturing the American milieu and the Igbo culture. With less grammatical infelicities, the language runs in simple syntactic and lexical structures. We are exposed to the cultural ambience of the Igbos, which enhances verisimilitude. Consistently, the author maintains the lexis of migration, culture and racism. No doubt, we curiously feel the touch of Africanness as the author exploits Igbo sociology and Igbo cosmology in realisation of the African belief system. We are completely engrossed in the racy story, which holds every reader spellbound at getting to the end of the tunnel’s suspense. We have steady anachronistic and diachronic flow of the plotline that makes the style unique. This is an ambitious contribution to African literature which adds a voice to Chinua Achebe’s dialectical treatise in Morning Yet on Creation Day, which says, “What we need to do is to look back and try find out where we went wrong; where the rain began to beat us!”

Anthony Oha is a Professor of Literary Onomastics. He has published extensively in many journals in Nigeria, India, South Africa, Canada, Australia and the United States of America such as World News, Okike, OnomasticaCanadiana, Kiabra, SAJAL,Semiotica, Style, Names, etc. He is in the editorial board of many journals worldwide. He has written two collections of poetry, two novels, two children’s fictions and a travelogue. He is a Senior Research Fellow in Catherine Acholonu Research Center Nigeria, Noida International University, Utter Pradesh India and Indira Gandhi Research Center for the Arts in New Delhi, India. He is the President and founder of Nigeria Onomastic Society.