Black Sunday by Tola Rotimi Abraham tells the story of 4 siblings (Bibike, Ariyike, Andrew, and Peter) and how they cope through life and find their independence after crippling tragedy. We find out how abandonment plays out and shapes the individuality of each sibling, focusing on the two twin sisters Bibike and Ariyike.
The family was raised in a humble part of Lagos, Nigeria, where working as a child and pulling your weight to help your family, no matter how young, was a way of life. The siblings were born into a family with a mother who ultimately felt oppressed by her condition as a working mother in a lower class family with little to look forward to, and an aimlessly ambitious father who often started businesses and spent what little money the family had on half-brained schemes. The family had been ultimately manipulated through the naivety of the father by a trusted religious leader in the community. This is the final straw for the mother. She leaves her family in search of a better life.
The mother's sudden disappearance shocks the family. They all leave their home and move in with the father's mother, who also felt burdened by the baggage this family came with. Eventually the father is taken by his own arbitrary ambition and also abandons his family in search for God only knows what. This leaves the children, hurt, confused, and left to deal with the rubble of their abandonment on their own.
We get to watch the psychological effects this has on each sibling as they grow older, with the twins being the primary focus.
What does it mean to have deep rooted abandonment issues that are so embedded in who you are that you don't even realize your acting out of fear of losing someone? We watch the two brothers Andrew and Peter internalize both male and female relationships. We watch how Andrew and Peter learn to distrust those closest to them, while simultaneously craving the affection of women who remind them of their mother.
We see how Bibike's need for love and companionship drives her toward men who mimic the same behaviors as the parents she yearned for. We see how she internalized the inevitability that she may never know where her parents are, or if they would even come back. We see her internalize the idea that something may be inherently wrong with her. We are able to see this play out in her life and in the way she views the world. We are able to see the way she latches on to companionship and uses perceived love as a way to heal her wounds. We are also able to watch her become the mother, those around her, like the mother she never had.
Similarly, we watch her twin sister Ariyike fight for the same piece of mind-- just in a different way. We watch Arikiye learn to emotionally detach from everyone and everything that reminds her of the perceived deception of her parents. We watch her abandon the religious beliefs and upright morality she held on so closely to as a child. We watch her try her hardest to distance herself from those who have the potential to abandon her. We watch her use sex as a tool to manipulate and eventually dig herself into a whole she can't easily get out of. We watch her eagerly distance herself from her twin sister-- her best friend-- in more ways than one as an anxious attempt to survive and come out on top of her trauma.
In Black Sunday, we also witness the dichotomy of the parents' motives, who are also in search of their own identities against a culture that tells them what's proper and respectable is out of line with the lives they have found themselves so deeply rooted in. What happens when the social class you're in, by way of familial arrangement doesn't match who you feel you are meant to be? What happens when you're so weighed down by the inevitability that your family will always be poor?
What I enjoyed most about this book was the cultural richness. I loved learning about different traditional Yoruba customs, foods, and beliefs. I also enjoyed reading about how class can easily play a major role in life in Lagos, Nigeria.
I also loved how Tola Rotimi Abraham used various Yoruba folktales to shape the story, creatively lacing them in as lessons and tools of inventiveness for the characters, specifically Bibike.
It's easy to read this book at and hate the parents. That was my first instinct. But I feel as though the story demands, not blatantly, that you give grace to the parents and understand that everyone eventually does what they think is best for the interest of themselves, whether they go about it in a neurotic way like the parents of these siblings, or not.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I would have loved to take an even deeper dive into the fate of the siblings. We understand the irony of Ariyike's story, but I'd love to know how this continued to play out, even though the magic of storytelling is leaving a bit to the imagination.
"All women are owned by someone, some are owned by many; a beautiful girl's only advantage is that she may get to choose her owner."
Black Sunday by Tola Rotimi Abraham Themes:
Corruption in Religion
Social and Economic Class Systems
Have you read Black Sunday by Tola Rotimi Abraham? Is it on your list? Share your thoughts. The people want to know!
Until next time,