The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa is a quote-rich page-turner that leaves you with more questions than answers. It prods at the depths of your soul, seeking its most vulnerable parts, and then attacks it relentlessly.
Like Ayòbámi Adébáyọ̀’s A Spell of Good Things, The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa is a sad story about the realities of being an underprivileged citizen of the black continent.
Andrew “Andy Africa” Aziza, aka “Werdna”, is an Ososo boy from the southern part of Nigeria, residing in Kontagora, a small town about 344 kilometres northwest of the nation’s federal capital, Abuja. His life revolves around his mother, Gloria, eccentric friends Slim and Morocca, and two genius acquaintances, one of whom is his unofficial mentor and the other a friend-turned-love-interest.
We see life through the warped lens of Andy’s troubled, trauma-torn mind and watch him confront life as an underprivileged African youth with a fascination with all things Western. Most interesting are his prejudices against black-skinned women and his relationship with his still-born alter ego, Ydna.
This gripping story is set against a backdrop of the warring religious elements in the northwest region of Nigeria, the prevailing forces of poverty and political strife.
Religion is the most powerful theme in The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa. As a reader, it’s easy to be drawn into the book’s portrayal of the constant conflicts between Moslems and Christians in the region. However, the most interesting part, in my opinion, was how the author juxtaposed this with other beliefs, such as Zahrah’s Anifuturism theories, Andy’s HXVX theories and traditions like the Ososo fertility rituals, and the myth of abikus.
Of all the religious subthemes in the book, the portrayal of Andy’s relationship with Ydna excited me the most, and I look forward to engaging the author on the dynamics of that particular aspect of the story.
There are also themes of hardship, corruption in government, poverty and suffering, which, at this point, have become the definitive hallmarks of African Literature. The stories that we tell are sad, and there’s no need to mask them in a bid to appeal to a wider audience. The truth of our lives is what it is- sad.
Another interesting theme in The Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa is the love triangle between Fatee, Eileen and our protagonist. I wished Andy had come to realize his folly soon, but I suppose the author wanted to deeply explore the MC’s unique brand of racism against his own people. It wasn’t satisfactory, as I like happy-ending love stories, but I understood why it had to be written that way.
Stephen Buoro’s writing style is the most unorthodox I’ve ever come across in African Literature. It’s by far the most unique, too.
He writes a bit like a poet, almost raving like a half-mad genius with his head bursting full of creativity that urgently needed to be penned down. The result is flowing, delicious writing that uses various conventional and unconventional expressions that all speak of his unique personal experience.
I hope for the chance to engage the author on the source of this unique writing style of his. Who knows, perhaps it’s a function of being a first-class holder of a Mathematics degree while also being blessed with creative writing ability and “cursed” by being born Nigerian!
I can’t say too much about the characters without giving away spoilers, so that brevity will suffice here.
Andy is a gifted poet with a troubled mind and a bit of a personality disorder. Fatima is a genius, as is Zahrah, both of whom are Andy’s “professional colleagues”.
His droogs, Morocca and Slim, are eccentric, uncouth, ambitious characters who balance out the grim themes in the book with much-needed hilarity.
Gloria is Andy’s mother, a traumatized mother forced to make a living for herself and her son. Eileen is Andy’s infatuation with “whiteness” given life and form, and it’s interesting to see her navigate their relationship the way she does.
The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa comes highly recommended. It only falls one star short of the full five stars it deserves because it’s such a strange book.
If you like to read African Literature from the lens of troubled protagonists but with a touch of something different, this book is a must-read.