The title of Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s novel, In Dependence, captures the thematic subtleties presented in its pages. Is twentieth-century Nigeria seeking independence, or just struggling endlessly with one form of dependency or another? Are Manyika’s characters independent human beings, or are they inherently dependent upon their nationalities, their parents, their offspring, their loves? In Dependence raises all these questions and more in a thoughtful tale of pride and prejudice and love.
Manyika’s novel moves deftly between Nigeria and England with one noteworthy foray to San Francisco. Along the way, the reader learns a great deal about modern Nigerian history—its colonial status, its declaration of independence, its subsequent spate of military coups, its ongoing struggle for freedom and democracy. Consequential upheavals affect the In Dependence characters in a variety of ways. Some adjust, while other lives are changed irrevocably. This is not a novel about war, or even about politics, but what happens in the historic background at least partially moves the narrative action.
Twentieth-century racism partially dictates the characters’ moves, too. At the heart of In Dependence is the love between Tayo Ajayi, a Nigerian studying at Balliol, and Vanessa Richardson, another student who happens to be the daughter of a colonial officer who served in Africa for many years. Manyika wisely avoids stereotypes in her representation of Tayo and Venessa’s intellectual and physical chemistry. Instead, she focuses on more indirect obstacles. One of my favorite scenes, for example, occurs when the two are arguing outside an Oxford rail station. A nearby policeman assumes Tayo is harassing Vanessa, whereas, in truth, Vanessa is at fault. How this plays out is a microcosm, I think, of prejudices against biracial romance. The nonjudgmental author simply relays the incident, letting the reader evaluate its truths.
There are other biracial relationships in In Dependence, too. Each is slightly different, but each causes the reader to re-evaluate his or her own understanding of kinship and race. Manyika also makes a point of showing how racism takes different forms in Great Britain than in America. Even Nigeria, a country half Muslim and half Christian, with three distinct tribal affiliations, has its own internal racial hierarchies, not to mention its generations of colonial oppression. All this makes for provocative reading, for sure.
Finally, In Dependence closely examines family ties. Not only does it contrast Nigerian familial expectations with quite different British assumptions, but it also adds multiple in-depth storylines about parents, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. Of particular interest are the roles played within Tayo’s rollicking extended family—his mother is one of his father’s four wives, with multiple offspring everywhere and countless uncles offering endless advice—compared with Vanessa’s aloof and more dispassionate parents, a regimental father and a mother who daily drinks too much. Male/female relationships play major roles in In Dependence. Disconnects are explored within friendships, courtships, marriages enjoyed, endured, even marriages excised. Disconnects between mothers and sons, between fathers and daughters, are part of the story, too. Again, Manyika is more than subtle with her words, creating characters non-stereotypical and real.
Raised in Nigeria and now a literature professor at San Francisco State, Manyika brings consequential knowledge to the personal and global insights of In Dependence. She has written a novel that raises important thematic questions while at the same time, surrounds the reader with memorable men and women. We care about their lives, we care about their “in dependence,” we care about how they live with themselves and with each other in an all-too-chaotic world. – Ann Ronald
Also available by Sarah Ladipo Manyika: Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun.
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