The admixture of humour and tears: The case of Reward Nsirim’s Fresh Air and Other Stories

This entry is part 5 of 10 in the series Reviews season one

Last Updated on June 2, 2018 by Memorila

Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy writes that Reward Nsirim trapped him with ribald sense of humour in his Fresh Air and Other Stories book when he treated serious issues with too much levity that one is either left with the choice of crying or laughing it all.

It is only on few occasions that I have encountered a book and yearned so badly to meet the writer, stretch my hand forward for a warm handshake and say: “Thank you very much for that book of yours. It is marvelous!” I do remember that the last time I was this excited was when I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, other times were my first encounter with Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God, Richard Wright’s Black Boy, Buchi Emecheta’s Joys of Motherhood and of course Nelson Mandela’s A Long Walk to Freedom (great novels!). My love for these stories is due to their ability to draw water from my eyes (and I should have you know that I am never the crying type).

However, this writer is in a different category from the above mentioned writers. Reward Nsirim seeks another kind of tears from my eyes, the type oft-accompanied with laughter! Reward Nsirim trapped my heart with his ribald sense of humour, he treats serious issues with too much levity so that you are either left with the choice of crying or to just sit back and laugh at it all. Yet you know not where to stand in his game of humour and tragedy. With Nsirim we find what can be transliterated to “bad words with laughter” from the Yoruba “oro buruku pelu erin”.

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Reward Nsirim’s Fresh Air and Other Stories contain sixteen short stories yet it is a page turner. What sustains his writing is not just the suspense or the kind of stories he tells (even here will he not be found wanting) but rather the way he narrates his stories with a quick eye for the ridiculous and humorous aspect in every situation. It is therefore almost impossible that you would read one of his stories and not want to turn to the next to continue laughing while not failing to see the absurdity of the situations he describes. With Nsirim, there is rarely a dull moment! You can only understand Reward Nsirim kind of humour if you have encountered Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People. Nothing escapes Nsirim’s notice and his form of satire is just…sublime!

We must also not forget the swift injections of words not found in everyday conversation or language into his stories, he drops these words like a Boko Haram suicide bomber that before you know what hit you, the word is already causing damage to your medulla oblongata (haha) and you scamper about trying to arm yourself with the dictionary while saying “I don learn something today!” With Nsirim, there is always linguistic freshness. You will also find his stories characterized by the ability to paint out speech mannerism with an exactitude that is bound to leave you astonished.

With his finesse in writing, someone should help me ask the writer why he went seeking training in medicine and public health or is he another “black sheep” like the protagonist in one of his stories with the same title? Okay, that was a joke.

Again, one aspect that would never get you bored easily with Nsirim is his ability to diversify, he does not settle for one theme (or set of themes) all through, he moves from buffoonery among the political class to parents who are adamant in choosing a career path for their children, militancy and thuggery in the Niger-Delta, man’s inhumanity to man, sexual exploitation and even matters of shit (yes you heard me right, I said “shit!” Haha!) Nsirim’s characters come from every strata of society, sometimes, they are Nigerians, at other times they can be Indian, Europeans, Asians, and they can be rich, poor, be a politician, an engineer, mechanic, student, police inspector, or an abused teenager. If you follow Nsirim stories, you would definitely find yourself doing a lot of traveling, from Europe to Nigeria; where you can either be in the Niger-Delta, Abuja, Lokoja, Port-Harcourt, or a university in western Nigeria. You will never understand why I appreciate these various settings unless you understand the diversity of the country called Nigeria with the Niger-Delta speaking a sublime form of the pidgin, the Yorubas and their peculiar names, or the Hausa’s speech intonation, as well as the Benin people and all these are well represented in Nsirim’s stories. Yet, Nsirim expertise lies in his ability to tell stories from every of his character’s perspective and worldview in a believable and realistic manner. Despite his diversity, his stories are never bereft of a glaring humorous effect, and this; if nothing at all; sustains our interest in his stories.

However, as Nsirim continues to entertain us with laughter, the writer holds a mirror to our face to see how foolish we truly are, how we place value and elevate irrelevancies while pushing important things aside. There is a picture of every one of us in the stories told by Nsirim. We are the ones always seeking money from relatives abroad without asking to know what they are going through out there before piling our weight on them, we are that uncle who takes in a teenage girl to help her but ends up raping her, we are that parent who insists on deciding what his child must become and who he or she must marry, we all know that African company which values an illiterate white expatriate more than our own highly educated local workers and pay these expatriates higher, we are that man who cannot control himself with women and gets into trouble, we are that politician who attaches more importance in satiating his libidinal ecstasy to assisting those who elected him into office, or who after acquiring power derives happiness in oppressing and suppressing innocent and law abiding citizens, we are that wife who would never stop nagging her husband to live up to expectations even if that meant becoming corrupt, we are those militants who have refused to turn new leaves since the government has refused to attend to our needs, we are that man who uses his influence and position to steal from the coffers of the government, and we are those young ladies who trade their bodies to get money, appointments, jobs, or contracts.

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You see, we are all partakers in Nsirim’s stories and the stories are about us, about the way we do things and handle issues. And after the laughter, the stories call for a solemn reflection, a reflection on the need to change and stop playing the buffoon! Herein do we see clearly the effect of Nsirim’s admixture of humour and tears in telling his stories!

Well, you know how we do it Nsirim, it is “no long thing!” Good work Nsirim, I shall be on the lookout for another of your work, perhaps a full length novel this time, haha!

© Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy 2017

Hook up with Eazy’s reviews on Memorila every Saturdays!


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Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy

Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy holds a degree in English language and literary studies. He is a short story writer, copy editor, book reviewer, literary critic, poet, and essayist. He teaches English as a Foreign Language in Hargeisa, Somaliland.

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