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“Love Grows Stronger in Death” Anthology Explores the Depth of Human Emotions Amidst Mortality

“Love Grows Stronger in Death” Anthology Explores the Depth of Human Emotions Amidst Mortality

Though this is a small sample of the deluge of writing coming out of Africa, Love Grows Stronger in Death represents, in many ways, the nature of writing being produced by young writers on the continent. 

By Chimezie Chika

Perhaps there is no grander purpose than to publish an anthology of short stories themed around love and death — fundamental events that define human existence. And what paradoxical responses do we, as humans, give to these events? Love brooks hope and desire to be alive; death unceremoniously squashes it. To lump the two together is to reach the limits of human anguish. But Love Grows Stronger in Death, an anthology of short fiction curated by Tope Akintayo and edited by the duo, Ibrahim Babatunde Ibrahim and Basit Jamiu, reaches these limits while exploring this conflicting subject. 

The anthology contains fifteen stories by promising young African (mostly Nigerian) writers at various stages of their craft. The first story, “The Good Spirits” by Chinuzoke Chinuwa has an interesting conceit (and it seems, in fact, to have become a somewhat popular device for writers of Igbo origin since Chigozie Obioma’s epic novel, An Orchestra of Minorities): that of a chi — personal guardian spirit in Igbo cosmology — giving mournful account of his ward’s death at the hands of a mob who killed him for no other crime than his homosexuality. Formally, it is an overly indulgent story, dwelling too much on details that add little to the overall plot. The author’s use of the second person singular point of view, while potentially a powerful device, in this case poses the challenge of potentially failing to hold the reader’s attention. 

In the generality of its central conceit, however, the story bears some semblance to Roseline Mgbodichimma’s story “OmniPresent”, another speculative story that appropriates the mythical realm of Igbo cosmology as a narrative device. In “OmniPresent” an ogbanje — “we exist as water and we communicate like the closing of caves” — seeks revenge on her spirit companions who had jealously deprived her of the love of her human family through the deaths of her human siblings and parents.

“The Emails” by Thirikwa Nyingi is a Poe-esque story with distinct Gothic elements. The writer’s handling of suspense is palpable through the main character’s uncertainty about the death of her mother. Many of the stories in Love Grows Stronger in Death tend to dwell on this uncertainty, on the quite literal inability to accept death in its initial stages. In many of the stories, this is captured through the imposition of the metaphysical world, but it is only achieved to varying degrees of success. In the best stories of the anthology, uncertainty is traced through the characters’ reappraisals of their relationships with others. 

Love Grows Stronger in Death Anthology - Review - Afrocritik

 

This is what we find in Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera’s “Going to Look for Adesua.” Very few young writers today understand a child’s mind like Chukwudera does. Tranches of that acute understanding are found in the things, people, and items upon which a child places the most importance. The narrator forces us to confront Adesua’s death, not just as a great loss to the school or her parents, but also to his own seemingly puny plans with her. The story has a familiarity that anyone who grew up in Nigeria would immediately identify with, and the anxieties and situations therein are elevated by the quality of the writer’s perception.

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That quality of awareness, that sensitivity is Chinonso Nzeh’s strongest forte in “Sweet Basils”, where love for a particular species of flower is used as a conduit to explore a woman’s love for her father, and the complex emotions she negotiates at his death. Moments of grief are intertwined with subtle moments of tenderness and a vortex of other unvoiced feelings. With good stories, everything is built on subtlety and nuance, and with a subject like grief, a certain care is needed so as not to descend into sentimentality — on that note, Nzeh’s capacity for empathy as a writer is faultless. 

In “Yesterday and Today and Tomorrow” Mustapha Enesi takes the introspective route in a story about a childless woman burdened with regrets. Here, grief transmutes into hallucinatory flights of fancy. A long keening envelops the crannies of the story; again and again, we are confronted with the horrifying scenarios that sorrow can spring up in the mind. Throughout Love Grows Stronger in Death, we see this from different angles —  the inseparable but contradictory relationship between love and death — though I cannot attest to its accomplishment in all the stories.

Though this is a small sample of the deluge of writing coming out of Africa, this anthology represents, in many ways, the nature of writing being produced by young writers on the continent. Here, you find their strengths; and here also you find their weaknesses. The best stories show visible evidence of mastery; in others, one longs for the writers to be more ambitious and more subtle. Notwithstanding, the promises the writers in this anthology exude are unimpeachable; it is indeed a worthwhile, unforgettable read.

Love Grows Stronger in Death will be available nationwide from Witsprouts Books on May 24, 2024. 

Chimezie Chika’s short stories and essays have appeared in or forthcoming from, amongst other places, The Republic, The Shallow Tales Review, Terrain.org, Iskanchi Mag, Isele Magazine, Lolwe, Efiko Magazine, and Afrocritik. He is the fiction editor of Ngiga Review. His interests range from culture, history, to art, literature, and the environment. You can find him on Twitter @chimeziechika1.

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