Book Reviews With Oumissa 11: A Life Elsewhere by Segun Afolabi

From the title, it is evident that this is a collection of immigrant stories. The entire work traverses the varied experiences of black people in the diaspora. For the most part, the setting of their new abode is England.
Most of them were written from a male viewpoint while the inner workings of a female mind can be strongly felt in the remaining. The age range of the characters is diverse. We find people at the end of their careers and young children analyzing their immediate environment in that intelligent yet innocent tone peculiar to them. In capturing all demographics, the author delivers a well rounded view of life as a foreigner. The common background however, appears to be South West Nigeria as heavy Yoruba presence is seen in the names, customs and memories.

In one story, a diplomat mother grapples with the cold austere winter in Japan while raising two young children. The author goes ahead to illustrate the myriad forms of life immigrants lead as medics, musicians or tourists. This rich diversity is united by one single pervading theme – the struggle of integration and acceptance in a foreign land.

People are grateful to leave poverty and a lack of opportunities behind but beyond missing the familiarity of home, they do not find it so easy to earn and save in a new land.

Navigating life outside one’s home isn’t as rosy as it appears. I found this crucial because it is still a common view in many parts of Nigeria that going abroad is the solution to any and every problem. People are grateful to leave poverty and a lack of opportunities behind but beyond missing the familiarity of home, they do not find it so easy to earn and save in a new land.

For starters, tax is more heavily enforced than in their home country. Some lose themselves in the new culture and end up in a suspended state when they disconnect with home and are still not fully accepted in the host country. This affects their state of mind, leaving them sad, lonely and distrusting of both citizens of their adopted home and rather ironically, fresh immigrants.

Everyone is thinking mostly about adjusting to the new climate, food and culture while battling old demons. There were some shocking stories in this book. Afolabi was not afraid to take us to the inner recesses of the minds of some of the characters.
With a kind of abstractness running through this work, the core narrative was in the thoughts and not in dialogue. The whole book appears to lead nowhere but the careful tapestry lies just beneath the surface. You need some level of focus to get through this as it isn’t a light read. Perhaps it is just as well that it was written as a collection since the many breaks ease the weight of what was plaintive in many places.