Don’t let either the cover or the title put you off this novella, published on 25 January by the independent press, Holland House Books. I nearly did. Who wants to read about dead dogs?
This debut from the very talented Mickela Sonola is a seemingly naïve tale about a ten year old dual heritage girl, Yinka growing up bored and lonely in Lagos, Nigeria. Her parents don’t have much time for her so she turns to one of the house servants who gives her sweets, money and attention. But, when she finds herself unwilling witness to a burglary and is accidentally kidnapped, Yinka has to rely on all her limited resources to find her way back home from the bush. As an unreliable narrator her voice is very effective although occasionally slips into being over-naïve (I was really not keen on the use of Capital Letters to signal Powerful Words in her life); but interspersed with viewpoints from other characters in the story, it all builds up to a powerful short novel with a shockingly dark heart. What begins as the story of a child’s attempt to get home turns into an examination of the way some men groom and abuse vulnerable girls and young women.
Mickela Sonola uses Nigerian tales and magical realism to elevate Yinka’s story to one that stresses the vital importance of telling stories and the development of the imagination to make sense of the world. The language used is often very beautiful: ‘Darkness was pouring into the sky now. The red light drained into the horizon, leaving behind a blanket of black, pin-pricked with stars.’ But Sonola also uses it for more sinister effects: ‘The sharp glint of a knife appeared against his throat and there was a sprinkling like raindrops splattering pitter-patter, on the leaves around her, on the ground, on her skin.’
This is a stunning debut with a strong voice, comparable to the poignant child’s voice of Leon in Kit de Waal’s best seller, ‘My Name is Leon’. I look forward to reading Mickela Sonola’s second novel.