Tomi Adeyemi is a twenty-four-year-old Nigerian lady who has just published her first book. The book is a five-hundred-plus-something page epic fantasy tale of magic, monumental affairs of state, massacres, oppression, rebellion, love, hate, and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit and possibilities.
Tomi’s book is already at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list.
She was born in the United States of America of Nigerian parents. Her father – a doctor, took the hard decision to leave the ‘wahala’ of Nigeria behind and start a new life. There were harsh difficulties at the beginning. For some time, he had to work as a taxi driver, while his wife worked as a cleaning lady.
The family dug in deep and prospered. Tomi obtained a degree in English Language from Harvard University.
Fascinated by the language, culture and mythology of her parents’ tribe, the Yoruba, a connection her parents had sought to play down in raising their children as ‘proper Americans’, she went on to obtain a fellowship to study Yoruba Religion in Brazil.
It was an exotic route for a young woman to travel in an effort to connect with her roots.
But it is a journey that has paid off handsomely for Tomi.
Her book, a magical fantasy tale, is planned to be in three volumes.
Already it has transformed her life. Apart from hefty royalties for the massive sales, it is said that she is already in receipt of a seven-figure income for the film rights of the book.
‘Children of Blood and Bone’ is on several different levels. On one level it is a fantasy, and because of that, it is exempted from any requirement to be anywhere close to the truth in its depictions, whether of the people, or the scenery, or even the ‘magic’ it portrays.
The Ooni of Ife is acknowledged in many circles as the spiritual head of the Yoruba, including those ‘stranded’ in the diaspora. Starting from the last Ooni and going on to the present holder of the esteemed office, a practice has developed whereby the Ooni from time to time visits the Yoruba diaspora in its various locations to re-affirm their physical and spiritual connections. The Ooni and his entourage are usually received with pomp and pageantry by ‘Yoruba sons and daughters’ who have been separated from their main stock for centuries due to the scourge of nineteenth century slavery.
Of course, it is only to be expected that the Yoruba language and some of the religious observances that they have been held on to through the days of slavery and its aftermath have been altered somewhat through the passage of time. This goes on in Brazil and several of the countries of South America and the Caribbean.
The Brazilian version of ‘Yoruba Religion’ represents the background knowledge that formed the context for Tomi Adeyemi’s enthralling story.
Zellie Adebola, a young lady in the oppression-ravaged land of Orisha – whose capital is – incidentally- Lagos (Surprise! Surprise!) – is the central character in the story. She remembers a time when the land throbbed with displays of ‘magic’ in its various forms – ‘burners’ who ignited flames, ‘tiders’ who created waves in the ocean, ‘reapers’ who summoned the souls of the dead into action.
The land is divided between a wealthy ruling class with hoity-toity ways and a poor and hapless proletariat who have nothing except the power of ‘magic’ held by a few of its members. The rich disdain the poor, calling them ‘maggots’. But they fear their ‘magic’ could foment rebellion, threatening the ‘law and order’ of society.
One night, some time ago, the king moved against ‘magic’, sending out his soldiers to exterminate the magi – all the adults who had the tell-tale signs of magical powers. It was supposed to be the end of ‘magic’ and the triumph of ‘law and order’.
It is necessary to put on the table the author’s other passionate concerns. She is strongly impelled by the regular shooting dead of unarmed black men in the USA by white police officers – the concerns that gave birth to the movement ‘Black Lives Matter’. She is also – if you want to count as evidence the fact that her male characters all fall by the wayside and the females are the ones who save the day and restore hope to mankind, something of a feminist.
Tomi is living her dream, currently. Watching her gushing excitement as she talks with Jimmy Fallon on the ‘TONIGHT’ show, it is impossible not to feel a glow of joy and pride for her accomplishment. In her eager words she describes where she is coming from, the parental aspirations she has had to live down, and what writing the book has meant in her life.
‘I’m Nigerian, and everyday I’m not a doctor is like a failure to my family…so I had to give them a big book…’
She describes how the inspiration came to her.
‘I was in gift shop in Brazil and … I saw the picture of the ‘Orisha’ for the first time…’
So – a Yoruba girl, born and bred in the diaspora, experiencing the culture and ritual of her people for the first time in another part of the diaspora – in faraway Brazil, a culture and ritual tainted and twisted by the passage of centuries – as it necessarily is.
Tomi’s is besotted with Nigeria, but the Nigerian will squirm at her sense of geography. In her book, familiar names crop up – Ilorin, Gombe, Warri, but their topographical descriptions are not recognizable. In her defense, Tomi would say that her story is, after all, a work of fantasy!
‘Children of Blood and Bone’ is a statement of hope about the common destiny and possibilities of all humanity, ‘maggot’ magi and patrician overlord, black and white, male and female.
It is a tall yarn with a message, and a great pleasure to read.
‘Children of Blood and Bone’ is published in the Nigerian edition by Quida Books, Ikeja, Lagos.
In last week’s article in this column, titled ‘A Service (Mostly) For the Women’, some of the background descriptions made in respect of Mrs Amina Oyagbola, one of the speakers at the event, and the founder of Women In Successful Careers (WISCA) actually pertained to Mrs Ebun Oyagbola, who was Nigeria’s first female Minister.
The error is regretted.
(a review of the book ‘Children of Blood and Bone’ by Tomi Adeyemi)
By Femi Olugbile