By Chris Onuoha
Title of Book: When Death Dies
Author: Onyechi Anyadike
Publisher: Kindle Direct Publishing (eBook Publishers)
Year of Publication: 2015
File Size: 2022 KB
Print Length: 44 pgs
Available: Android (amazonappstore & Google play), Apple (App store) & Windows Phone (Windows stores)
Date of Print Release: November 2016
Luigi Pirandello it was who, in his 1921 play, Henry IV captured the inevitability of death thus: “As soon as one is born, one starts dying.” This maxim by the Italian writer aptly highlights the phenomenon and mystery surrounding this universal price every human must pay.
But can death be made non-existent –dead? This is the subject matter of the intriguing, fascinating and captivating story of When death Dies. Onyechi Anyadike, a budding and interesting power in the literary world has chosen a very complex and confounding subject to base her story, weaving her plot in a dizzying style that enthralls the reader, ensnaring him in a continuous reading till the very last page.
A novella, When Death Dies is the mystery story of a young brilliant university teacher who loses his fiancee, father (his only parent) and sister (only sibling) in a car accident 21 days to his wedding day. So pained and saddened by these losses, he comes to hate death to the extent of wishing death is non-existent. Employing his brilliant mind and wide knowledge, he researches on solution to the death of death. And finally, he finds the answer after intense research and reasoning.
This is when the story takes a mystical turn: a supernatural solution to the demise of death. And this tightly captures the essence of the story. The lead character, whose name is not provided, thereafter goes on a quest to the end of the world, the Wall, where he seeks the means, a power, to end death.
His spiritual journey to the Wall, behind which dwell supernatural beings whom he describes as “the Deciders”, and who will provide the answer, is interrupted from the physical world. Though granted audience at the Wall, and though his request to be allowed through is not granted, this interruption prompts an urgency to return the following night for the second journey.
To his disappointment, his request is still not granted on his second journey. His insistence causes devastating exposure to the divine powers behind the Wall that almost cost him his life. The third journey leads him back to earth and a date with the Strange One, who becomes the final source of the solution to death.
It is from their encounter the reader learns more about the lead character, that he is a polytheist, which had informed his understanding of the powers behind the Wall. Ultimately, he successfully secures the solution to death and finally destroys death.
As the reader will find out, the solution is not foolproof and comes with its own implications. In the world after, the spirit world, he encounters the Strange One again, who explains these implications.
An ingenuous story, the author utilises the complex plot of telling it from the lifetime of the lead character into the spirit world, with all the intrigues. She weaves a plausible plot that her readers will readily embrace, the mysticism of the story notwithstanding. In the core of this magnificent story is evidently Miss Anyadike’s story presentation. Its radiance is so deep and penetrating that the reader cannot help asking for more.
One undeniable truth about the book is the bold attempt by Miss Anyadike to choose such a subject matter and the confident and irresistible craftiness with which the theme is brilliantly achieved. Merely achieving the primary theme of the inevitability of death is not the major merit of this book. Every adult knows death is the opposite of birth: everyone was born and must die.
The major merit in achieving the theme is the power and force of the story, encompassed in its uniqueness and mysticism as well as the profound expositure of the impact of death and the extreme the lead character goes to seek the end of death.
The theme will be etched in the depth of memories. The reader is propelled into an indepth comprehension of the power of death by the force of the story: the losses, the grieving process, the thinking and research and discovery, the journeys of quest and ultimately the solution to death.
There are also the secondary themes of family bond, and true love and affection. The lead character holds genuine love and affection for his fiancee, father and sister. Even his late mother who had died while giving birth to him, and whom he never knew, is also dear to his heart. Apparently, these themes serve to enhance the central theme as these deaths enforce his desire to extinguish death, which again establishes this wanton desire as vanity: invariably promoting the power of death.
Few, round characters
The characterisation expectedly is comprised of few and not fully developed characters, as characteristic of short stories and novellas. The lead character and his new friend, the Strange One, are the major characters around whom the story revolves. And there are the minor characters like the lead character’s uncle, cousin and his maid. There is also the Strange One’s daughter. And of course the guardians at the Wall, whom the lead character named “Lords”, but the Strange One, going by his own belief and conviction, would have preferred to call “angels”.
The lead character’s education and vast knowledge obviously are ineffective in his strength and capacity to absorb his tragic losses, depicting him as too weak and emotional. One has to also factor in his age (28), therefore not very experienced and exposed to the tragedies of life.
The Strange One confirms this in their encounter in the spirit world: “Like a few spirits, you’re peculiar, like me. We can even say special. But in a living body, a fraction of you couldn’t face the realities of death, due to those tragic losses you suffered: Your fiancee, your father and your sister all dying in a single day. Then you wished death never existed.”
As often with human vagaries, the lead character turns to his knowledge and intellectual prowess for solution. The interplay of the mourning process, the research for solution and the journeys of quest as well as the subsequent solution are enforced by his known qualities. Therefore, external interruption or interference becomes impossible. This is seen as the author narrates:
“Because he was known to be highly rational, he had been allowed to grieve the way he wished and his wishes had been accepted, knowing the gravity of his losses, believing that with time, his grieving would subside.”
And, “Not for a second did he deem it necessary to discuss his plans for death with anyone. The plan was for him and him alone. People might not believe in its possibility and might try to persuade him. He had carefully destroyed the pad on which he had written his notes. No written word was needed for everything was now stored in his brain.”
This establishes the fact that although emotional about his losses, the lead character is very firm and decisive on his resolve to exterminate death, bringing an element of doubt on his sanity.
In all, Miss Anyadike created a convincing and unforgettable character in the lead character to achieve her theme.
The Strange One is also a likeable character, but more reasonable. From their conversation during their first meeting in the physical world, the reader learns of his education, only a first degree, and his love for books and knowledge, which had also led him to the Wall. He is not as exuberant as the lead character, and less outspoken and often calm, especially when the lead character recounts his misfortune and his journeys of quests. This quality in the Strange One guides him to provide the solution to death, which the lead character finds irresistible.
Miss Anyadike must be commendable in the characterisation – realistic!
Formal language, unique style
The language of the story is simple but formal, devoid of the flourish commonly associated with female writers. This could be attributed to its seriousness.
The title of the book, When Death Dies, is powerful, captivating and very reflective of the story. What happens when death is dead, when death is no more? This the reader finds out from the book, and is not disappointed by his discovery.
One unique feature of the author’s narrative technique is that the story is neither divided into chapters nor is there break. This lures the reader to read it at a speed, not stopping till the very end. Another unique feature is the namelessness of the characters as well as the locale. These enhance the universality of the story – a story that could have happened in any modern town of the world.
And Miss Anyadike must be praised for telling the story without making this namelessness generate confusion in identifying the characters. However, the conflict between Christian and Islamic beliefs and practices over the dead will not escape a keen reader that the locale is a Christian or predominantly Christian community, making the characters Christians, as Muslims bury their dead immediately, and do not bury in coffins.
As common with many fiction writers, Miss Anyadike abuses her privilege as the omniscient narrator, which, in the classical sense, is all-knowing and neutral. This comes to the fore at the very last paragraph of the story:
“He got to his own grave and without a single thought to spare, gently descended through the concrete tiles, going down six feet to his dilapidated coffin, to his old skeleton, to rest forever.”
That the lead character believes he is going to rest forever does not make it axiomatic or unchallengeable.
Miss Anyadike has written a masterpiece of imagination and creativity. For a young woman, at 28, and for a first work, she must be praised for enriching the literary world with such a brilliant and insightful input. When Death Dies will make for serious reading and also easily find a comfortable place in popular literature. It will resonate with every class of reader, speaking to every reader from every walk of life.
The writing is solid, authentic and obsessive through and through. It sucks in the reader’s imagination, placing him inside the situation and demanding he fully partake in the intensity of every moment. The story will endure, and the writing, the solid foundation on which it will stand.
Offering a lot for study and analysis, this is a story to savour. With its brevity, it ironically has so much to offer that one cannot absorb all of it in one read. It is a story to be read and reread and each time, will offer something extra.