Although this enthralling book is classified as “Teen Fiction”, Nwokeji explores the age-old problems of poverty and dreams now compounded by child labour and the new wave in crime, kidnapping, through Ike and his brother, Emeka. The book opens with the exposition of the fundamental truth that, as in most other things, there are various levels of poverty:
He did not know of any other child of his age who went to the farm every day. Most of the other children went to school on week days and went to the farm only on Saturdays.
Those who did not go to school went to the farm only on appointed days….He was born into a poor home. His parents could not afford to send him to school. It was even hard for him to make out time to play, like the other children did. (6)
For Ike, the drudgery and hardship caused by their level of poverty are alleviated by the dream of “living with Ekene in the white man’s land” (7), occasioned by Ekene’s invitation to the two boys “to travel back there with him” (7).
Most modern readers will find it curious that the children’s parents objected to Mr Obi’s offer to take the two children abroad, for, according to them, the fear of living like childless people and losing farmhands, or as their mother pointedly said, Mr Obi did not “consider that [they] shall have less help with farm work if [they] lose any of these hands” (9).
However, a bustling household was a guarantee of a good work force for the farm and the initial resistances to education by many parents, in the olden days, were as much about not understanding the gains of education as they were of the fear of losing dependable farmhands.
Nwokeji’s deft resolution of the problem of choice by Mr Ofoma is ingenious but also precipitates Ike’s devious plan to outwit his brother thus leading to his kidnap.
The development of the subtheme of kidnapping which has gripped some zones in Nigeria is also sustained. The viciousness of the crime is underscored by the trauma that Ike goes through in the hands of his captors: Vynn, Kodo and their master.
The moral, for most books written for teens teach one moral or the other, is Ike’s realisation that “He had robbed himself of the opportunity” (123) to go to the white man’s land. In every generation, the young always thinks he/she is wiser than the parents.
Ike’s attempt at upstaging everybody, and stacking the cards in his own favour, backfired. The comic relief is in the fact that Ike’s quest to be chosen to go abroad was granted but his web of deceit which culminated in his kidnap deprives him of the opportunity and his brother now has to go in his stead.
I think Nwokeji’s handling of that episode is brilliant. This book will make a good read for our teens. Ladies and Gentlemen, I agree with Spencer Okoroafor’s assessment that this book is “quite a gripping tale”. Thank you.