Book Title: The Return of Half-Something
Author: Chukwudi Eze
Publisher: Sevhage Publishers
No. of Pages: 304
Year of Pub.: 2018
Reviewer: Uthman Qasim
Literature echoes the underlying realities of any given society and seeks to penetrate the minds of those who appreciate the aesthetics of its form and content. Writers have consistently responded to sociocultural challenges through their works at different literary epochs, making books repositories of our antecedence, present and times to come. That is why African and African-American writers have over time written extensively on racial abuses, which in most cases were first hand experiences of the writers. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Buchi Emecheta’s Second-Class Citizen and Toni Morrison’s The Origin of Others are some good examples of creative texts that discuss Black struggles in White dominated territories. But African biracial characters have also had their bitter peels served by their fellow Africans. Chukwudi Eze’s The Return of Half-Something captures this harsh realism of acceptability in White hegemonic nations and identity acceptability in Black dominated societies.
The Return of Half-Something delves on the life of a biracial protagonist – Emmanuel Uchechi – whose life in America and subsequent return to Umuati, Nigeria, chronicles the tough struggles of biracials in any given society. His father, Uchechi, had traveled to New York through a scholarship and fell in love with a white woman. It is this couple that gives birth to the novel’s hero. Emmanuel also marries Rebecca, a conservative Jew, who travels back to Umuati with her husband in fulfilment of a prophecy that he would return to Nigeria to make his community flourish.
As viewed by Bank (1988) in theorizing ethnic identity development and cited by Enrique et al. (2016), “ethnic psychology captivity” is the first stage of systemic racial discrimination, where individuals or groups are desolated and brainwashed to assume a belief in their inferiority, while aspiring to be like the captors or racial supremacists. Since childhood, Emmanuel is racially abused in a White dominated society. The writer captures this predicament thus:
“He remembered the day he punched a classmate while in a predominantly white junior high school, for calling him a 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 Vulcan ancestry that earned the chap a second more powerful punch and a bloody nose. That, in addition to being called a half-cast, a half-breed or even a half-something became some of the verbal ill-treatments he had to endure as a child….” (5).
But Uchechi seems to have experienced a similar encounter and encourages his son to brace up, using subtle eulogy. He said:
“They are jealous because you are doubly blessed – richly White and richly Black. They are the past and you are the future. So, you should always be proud of who you are…” (5).
Although Eze cuts short the life of a wise character, Uchechi, whose wisdom would have made Emmanuel’s journey in life easier, his statement above reflects the required instrument with which people could survive in a racial discriminatory environment. The short life given to Uchechi by the novelist is a creative way few writers adopt to seize the readers’ interest in a most brutal, yet pleasurable way. We see in other places of the novel where Emmanuel makes reference to what his father said to him about racism to reflect the importance of the statement.
Racial hegemony is a system in which people of influence (power or population) seek to promote values and norms that assert a particular way of viewing the world and human nature and relationships. This influence comes in the form of social power that makes a particular racial value appealing and in so doing, other racial values become subjacent. Emmanuel remains hunted for a reasonable part of the novel by the name Merboy. In a conversation with Rebecca, Emmanuel recalls,
“I needed to prove myself that I could excel…”
And when his wife asks why he needed to prove himself, he responds,
“Don’t laugh. It’s because of the name one or two kids in junior high called me…” (38).
The question of biracials acceptability is of immense importance as we see the novel’s protagonist is almost terminated by his fellow youths in Umuati, who feel he is not one of them. It is only ironical that after so much sacrifice to his community, Emmanuel is still seen by characters like Romel and his gang as an alien who should be eliminated. Romel’s repugnance towards Emmanuel is adequately captured when he concludes that,
“Wetin I sabi be say Emmanuel na Oyibo, no be Umuati citizen ooo…” (187).
Isiatu agrees with Romel on Emmanuel’s skin. He describes him as one who
“…no be one of us, he be half Oyibo. His skin dey white…” (186).
While Emmanuel is mocked abroad over his race without any consideration to his feelings, his own kinsmen would stop at nothing to take his life for peanuts. But Rebecca’s family and Umuati traditional leaders demonstrate a progressive attitude towards the biracial character which should be part of the global model in tackling racism of any form.
Chukwudi Eze’s The Return of Half-Something also reminds us of xenophobic theme in another African text – Unexpected Joy at Dawn by Alex Agyei-Agyiri – even at a delicate scenario. We see hatred meted against Nii, who is born in Ghana but of Nigerian ancestry and certifies as both a Nigerian and Ghanaian. However, he is seen as a noncitizen in both countries; outsider in Ghana because of his Nigerian facial marks and alien in Nigeria because of his Ghanaian composure and inefficiency in all Nigerian languages.
Biracials hold the future development of Africa and other continents as we have seen in Emmanuel’s character and in the contributions of immigrants to the development of their host nations and the earlier we all realize this, the better for humanity.
Uthman Qasim is a literary critic, photographer, essayist and a teacher. His works have appeared in different print and online publication platforms such as Daily Trust, the Leadership Newspaper and the Nigeria Review. Qasim currently works with Primegate International Academy, Abuja, as a language Educator.
Facebook: @Sanchitagi Ndakitabu Qasim; Twitter: @Ortman360; Instgram: @ortman_slim