As a reader, I allowed this book’s title to dissuade me. Finding Love Again? A romance novel? Not my thing.
Surely, this would be another mushy love story from another upcoming author yet to find their muse. I set aside my cynicism, however, after reading the first line, the first paragraph, the first page, the first chapter… such beautifully written prose, it drew me in, page by page, and did not let me go until the last line, the denouement, had come to pass.
For me, Finding Love Again is a masterpiece, an outstanding example of imaginative and narrative prose. It is also the work of a young, prodigious Nigerian writer, Chioma Iwunze-Ibiam, who appears intimately at home with the great practitioners of the romantic fiction genre. It is Chioma’s first novel, and it is certainly a confident and assured debut in which she admirably demonstrates her gifts for characterization and psychological analysis.
I like the tone of this novel. The tension of the narrative climaxes in the opening pages of the novel, ushering us into the emotional wreckage of Kambi’s life. Yet it is entertaining and hopeful at the same time. In this novel, love, passion and friendship, are some of the items that permit us to share the turning point in the life of a young lady who is seeking to control the tone of her relationship. Through the narrator’s introspection, the writer shows great capacity to surprise the reader with passages written in a compelling fashion.
The summary of the plot revolves around the potential love affair between Kambi – a beautiful performance poet, and radio broadcaster, who had recently being abandoned at the altar by her fiancé, and Beba, a handsome, African Robin Hood who had in the past rescued Kambi from a dangerous situation. The setting for this love tryst is the Obudu Ranch Resort – a serene mountain expanse, high up in the Cameroon Mountains. Chioma Iwunze-Ibiam treats the Obudu Ranch setting as an old-fashioned theatre, laying down the romantic dilemmas of the main characters, lighting and dimming their fates with the magic of stage lights, nudging them towards their exits and entrances. Bit by bit, we are introduced to a great romantic endeavour in a completely authentic atmosphere.
There is much to admire in the protagonist, Kambi, and I believe that a great many readers of this novel will as well. Why? Because there is something fundamentally Amazonian about her. We can associate her experience with our own lives. Kambi has a fascinating ambiguity: following her truncated wedding she is victimized by a social moral code, but then she is also selfish and strong-willed, in a way that makes her final submission to a man almost like a triumph against wrong. Perhaps it is because she refuses to buckle, to be trapped by a life devoid of true happiness and fulfillment. She looked elsewhere for happiness; and we see in her actions that betrayal can be a hopeful act, that life must go on for broken hearts to heal.
Beba is cast as a classy, gentle, and irresistible young man, and his romantic chivalry towards Kambi is one of the remarkable aspects that makes the novel so unique. His adoration for Kambi is evident, and he showers her with a tenderness that most women can only dream of. The conventional judgment on Beba puts him in the conservative, old school-romantic tradition of Africans. His character possess a depth and flair that one rarely finds in fiction. Beba has a cheerful sense that is vibrantly youthful as well.
There are of course tempting sexual insights that decorate this wonderful book. Sadly, though, the plot is so cleverly managed, these temptations are never realized. Time and time again the lovers are pulled from the brink: Kambi avoids leaping to her desires: Beba plays his part as the old-school gentleman who would not take advantage of a lady. The narrator creates much mileage in psychoanalysing their suppressed passions. We are fed with tormenting sexual fantasies, erotic charades, and heart-pounding debts to pleasure. It is a classic moral treatment. Yet, in all these, you get the sense that the lovers are having fun.
His attitude is on full display in this passage:
Beba pulled her close until her breasts pressed against his chest. His heart swelled with longing, as she returned his kisses with as much passion. His loins awakened with a new life. He groaned. His fingers dug behind her jeans, felt the tightness of her belt. Her upper torso stiffened at his touch, yet he pressed his lips on hers. His heart broke as her hand pushed him away. It took him a great deal of strength to hold back.
It is easy to appreciate Kambi and Beba’s approach to romance, because the fiction conveys a sense of something familiar. And that is the true beauty of any good book. In the words of the author in a recent interview, this novel is about “the uncertainties of life. I am fascinated about how life throws us into the unexpected situations, how we find love in the most unlikely places and how we resist unconventional love.”
Indeed it is about two people who have managed to connect on a deeper, more romantic level. It is about a culture of romance that breeds mutual love and respect. However, there is the literary dimension as well. The writing expertise showcased in the book is a joy to read. My wager is that just as the characters of this old-fashioned love story are profoundly changed by their fortuitous liaison, we, the readers, are also moved moved by sharing in their romantic experiences.
The book winds up with a couple of incredibly realistic scenes that are masterfully described. It was perhaps intrinsic to their grand passion that there should be spats and break-ups. And perhaps the most catching scenes are when the two lovers are separated. A terrible suffering ensues on both sides. The significance of the book’s title becomes clearer in a scene at a friend’s wedding where Kambi is operating as a maid of honour. Love is forever a game of second chances. And, such is the subject of the finale, where their burning passions are set alight inside Beba’s car.
There are no spoilers in this book. It is indeed a smashingly fine read, richly spiced with poetic innuendos, and a superlatively crafted work of fiction.
Finding Love Again is published by Ankara Press.