Book Review: Othuke Ominiabohs’ Aviara affirms his place in Nigeria’s literary canon

Aviara

In 2016’s Odufa, first time author Othuke Ominiabohs spun a disturbing tale of the toxic nature of love and the several ways that people who are supposedly in love turn around and hurt each other. At the center of the narrative, the title character and her paramour, Anthony Mukoro, two feckless souls who by the end of the story would have stretched readers’ willingness to empathize with their foolish hearts.

Aviara (subtitled Who will remember you) isn’t so much a direct sequel as it is an extension of Anthony’s medical and spiritual journey. Even when Odufa was the title of Ominiabohs’s debut, framing the story from the point of view of the male lead revealed where the author’s sympathies lay.

With Aviara, Ominiabohs doesn’t bother so much as Odufa- the character- is merely a footnote. Following the traumatic events of his past, twenty-five-year old Anthony repairs to his village, Aviara to spend some time with his parents. Suffering from a chronic medical condition, his health is deteriorating rapidly. On arrival, he finds that something is not quite right though as the once peaceful Aviara appears to be in the grip of a mysterious force. This may or may not be linked to the sudden death of his elder brother who passed away when they were kids. To make sense of the happenings, Anthony meets up with Zara another childhood friend and both of them embark on a journey unlike anything they ever expected.

The first part of Aviara reads like a mystery-thriller. Ominiabohs’ writing is crisp yet straight to the point. His depiction of village living is detailed and readers can easily sink into the world that he’s created. Anthony becomes entangled in a mystery involving the preacher in the local cathedral and for a while he plays the sleuth, making his way through a maze of clues. Ominiabohs is quite comfortable writing pulpy thrillers (see his second novel, A Conspiracy of Ravens) and his whodunit retains sufficient amounts of suspense to keep things moving at a brisk pace.

Ominiabohs paints a convincing portrait of what it must be like living with chronic kidney disease. The clinical, social and economic significances are all considered and weaved deftly into the plot, presenting a robust picture of chronic illness.

The second half is where Ominiabohs elevates Aviara to a stunning and complex work of literary fiction. Through the protagonist’s journey, Ominiabohs investigates the complex balance between science and spirituality, fate and ancestry. A trip to India is as impressive for its accuracy in capturing both the minutiae of the medical jargon and the deeply felt traumatic experience of the medical tourist. Aviara then shapeshifts and becomes an enthralling meditation on the fantastical introducing elements of magical realism that are vividly drawn out and demanding to be adapted to the big screen.

Aviara is a deep dive into the depths of the human mind. It explores the power that memory and guilt have while at the same time, queries the limitations of the coping mechanisms that human beings adapt to make life just a little bit more bearable. Unmissable.

 

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