AiW Author Sarah Jilani
With her faithful old Porsche Buttercup, her toe-rings and her zest for life, Dr. Morayo Da Silva is a cosmopolitan Nigerian woman whose 75th birthday is just around the corner. A retired English professor, her love of literature, flirtatious personality and her wealth of life experiences now serve her well in her adopted hometown of San Francisco. Visiting friends in coffee shops, driving around the city and contemplating a tattoo on her birthday, Morayo is a well-travelled and independent woman. She sometimes entertains thoughts of returning to Lagos – then realises she equally misses India, where she once lived, and would miss San Francisco, too.
In a gentle and intimate manner, we are invited to see that there are traces of loneliness in her life: in the phone conversation she prolongs unnecessarily with a call centre worker who may revoke her driving license; the homeless girl she befriends on the street; or the postman whom she can’t wait to talk to. Yet Morayo is so self-aware and easygoing that hers even seems the voluntary, occasional loneliness of the worldly-wise, always capable of warming a room in any social occasion if she chose to be present.
One day, however, she suffers a fall. Though no lasting damage is done, both her ideal retirement and unshakeably independent lifestyle take a turn for more contemplative, considered and wistful days. This quiet but thought-provoking novella – the second work by Sarah Ladipo Manyika – takes us into Morayo’s reminiscing and her friends’ individual stories as she adjusts to unwelcome new feelings about age, longing and dependence. Although she absolutely does not think her life is over, she does think back and take stock of a life with its share of ups and downs. Married young to an older and charismatic Nigerian diplomat, she recalls an early life of travel, social status and a youthful hesitancy coupled with excitement during the early years of marriage. Having experienced eventual betrayal and the cooling of passions, Morayo also frequently recalls her happy times with a lover in her more mature years. A full picture of a life emerges, with a biographical and self-accepting tone; at times, this leaves little for a reader awaiting a trajectory or revelation, but it is much like real life in its lack of a particular arc for Morayo or the people that drift in and out of her life. Whilst in the care home, these also include an African American man visiting his wife in the mid stages of dementia. Finding intellectual equals in one another, their friendship helps Morayo make peace with the physio she faces daily and the care home she must endure a while longer during her recovery.
There are only the gentlest of undertones of a social or political backdrop to any of the story: once, this man rushes to her defence after a racist remark from one of the senile patients, and his friendship with Morayo sometimes makes him question the mixed motivation behind his two past marriages – both were to white women fascinated with black men. When Morayo considers moving back to Lagos at times, her hints as to the lack of safety could imply her hometown’s proximity to regions now controlled by Boko Haram. However, there is no one larger framework within which Morayo looks back on the main trials and tribulations of her life. As is more often than not, lives cannot be contained in neat little bundles of identity, context or historical event; hers, like many others’, crosses her many homes and selves, to recount what has so far been and what she yet anticipates life will bring. An elegant and truthful read, Manyika’s second offering is an open-hearted and mature-minded character study.
This review of Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun is the second in a series of reviews of books published by Cassava Republic Press that we’ll be running over coming weeks to celebrate the launch of Cassava Republic in the UK. The first review in this series was Olajumoke Verissimo’s review of Elnathan John’s Born on a Tuesday.
Sarah Jilani is a London-based freelance writer for publications including ArtReview, The Times Literary Supplement and The Economist. A graduate of the Master of Studies in English (1900-Present) from the University of Oxford, her research interests are anti-colonial and resistance literatures and film from African and South Asian independence periods. Her research has been published in Senses of Cinema (68, 2013), Life Writing (11:4, 2014), Postgraduate English (29, 2014), Literature/Film Quarterly (43:2, 2015) and The Oxonian Review (30:2, 2016).
Sarah Ladipo Manyika was raised in Nigeria and has lived in Kenya, France, and England. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, and currently teaches literature at San Francisco State University. Her writing includes essays, academic papers, reviews and short stories. Her second novel, Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun was released on April 1st, 2016 and is published by Cassava Republic Press (Abuja-London). Sarah’s first novel, In Dependence, is published by Legend Press (London) and Cassava Republic Press (Abuja-London).