Literature as an art form is held forth as being in the service of two basic functions: education and entertainment. In this light, the ideal piece of literary work is deemed obligated not only to titillate the sensibilities but also to pass across some enduring lesson(s) or impart some life values. A powerful example of ample discharge of this dual function is found in Chinua Achebe’s masterpiece, THINGS FALL APART(TFA). TFA, according to its author, was written to address and correct the gross misrepresentations of Africa gratuitously churned out by white commentators (foremost among whom was Joseph Conrad) in the guise of literature. In his work, therefore, (fittingly globally celebrated and now accepted as part of our century’s literary canon) Achebe did not just stop at telling an enthralling story, he also went further to richly document African history and, for final effect, wove in colorful cultural tapestries. Engagement with the book thus synthesized education with entertainment, edification with information.
Jude Idada’s BOOM BOOM comes across as being peculiarly charged with that self- same sense of duty. How best to communicate the dire and tortuous realities of the lives of sickle cell anaemia carriers than weave an engaging tale around the subject? How best to provide instruction for children about this ignored-at-your-own-peril subject than making a child the major protagonist and the story seen through the eyes of a child? And in a category of work that supposedly caters to juvenile interests, how best to command adult attention than by exposing the reader to a careful packed matrix of relevant data about the scourge of sickle cell anaemia in an adult dominated world?
All these are done through the narrative, in the first person, of an eight-year-old boy, Osaik (Osasunwen Ikpomwonsa Osagie). This narrator belongs to a family of four– no, make it five– comprising of his father, his mother, his sister from whose alias Eghe Boom Boom the book’s title is derived but whose actual name is Aiguobamsimwim Osagie and their dog, Kompa.
Those familiar with the arbitrary morbid humor of sickle cell anaemia know that when it is part of a household, it announces its presence three times out of every four births in that household. In the case of the Osagie family, Osaik is free of the ailment while his younger sister is a victim. With their mother being a victim too, their family just barely escapes being characterized as a sickly one.
Listen to how Osaik poignantly captures it:
“I was eight years old small, my sister was five years old tiny, my mum was thirty years old frail, my daddy was thirty-three years old strong and the Border Collie, Kompa, who my mother had given me for my sixth birthday, was a year and three months old feisty”.
As aforementioned, the sicklers in the family are the mother and her daughter, Eghe Boom Boom. And soon the mother falls to the implacable assailant with the daughter obviously next on the death-row. The rest of the thirteen-chapter book all but revolves around the struggle to salvage the daughter’s life. The duty and demonstrations of love, the bonds of family, the harshness and reality of sickness and suffering– all are depicted engagingly in this book.
The protagonist, eight-year-old Osaik finds himself exposed at such a tender age to the demand of standing and fighting and fending for his family. Providence however seemed to have somewhat equipped him for the unusualness of this precocious role by giving him an uncanny ability: understanding the language of animals. He could thus decipher the communications of his dog, Kompa. And his dog, in addition, was possessed of the power of clairvoyance.
This combination of powers made the burdens on little Osaik somewhat easier.
However, the battle for the life of Eghe is nonetheless harrowing, a battle in which the mother, though by then physically dead and absent still made contributions to from the spiritual realm. And this participation of the supernatural finally led to the provision of succour and reprieve for the suffering Eghe.
This added dimension of the supernatural of course furnished a surrealism which is a signature of children’s literature: a child’s world is often a kaleidoscope of the normal intermingling with the paranormal.
It bears mention that an outstanding feature of Idada’s work is the evidence of rigorous research into its thematic concern of sickle cell anaemia. The nature of the ailment, the character of its periodic attacks (crisis periods) of the victims, the recommended measures to alleviate suffering and most importantly, the sole preventive step against its manifestation in the first place: all these are carefully outlined and tinctured with the colors of fiction.
And — yes! — that preventive is in the choices made in the lifetime businesses of marriage and procreation. One take-away, obviously, is that love is not enough and should not be the sole determinant in the choice of spouse. In a world where science and technology have provided the apparatus for tests of genotype, there should be no excuse for the siring of offspring who would miserably live out tortured existences blaming and– in some instances– eventually growing to hate their parents for bringing them into such a world of unremitting pain.
In today’s world, sickle cell anaemia remains a debilitating health challenge empowered by ignorance and fuelled by inadequacy of information on the subject. In such a world, no better educational campaign deploying the comprehensive story of a sickle cell case study could have been done than what Jude Idada took up in BOOM BOOM. And herein lies the beauty of his campaign: not merely in the attempt to fictionalize his answer to the challenge but also that he effectively and convincing and alluringly delivered the burden and lessons necessary.
Martin Ezimano, an Abuja based literary artist, activist and lawyer. First Prize winner of the Inaugural Esiri Dafiewhare Memorial Poetry Contest, UNIBEN: 1996. First Prize Winner, CODE-ANA ABUJA PERFORMANCE POETRY PRIZE 2017. Former Legal Adviser, ANA Abuja.