After months of waiting for it to be available in the U.S., I have finally gotten my hands on Elnathan John’s Born on a Tuesday, and I do not want to let go. I like the way it feels, the texture of the cover. Often, I sit and rub my hand along it, over the smooth almost flesh-like page. Gripping the back and front together around the spine, feeling all the sides at once.
Sometimes, I need to close the book and grasp the supple tome just to remind myself that I am real and I am here, in a chair in my apartment, at an airport, on a plane, in a hotel, wherever I might be reading. That I am here, and me, and born on a Sunday, not on a Tuesday.
It is not glossy. It is not like the dust jacket on a hardcover or the plastic-y coating on a mass-market paperback. It is soft, though firm. It is as though the paper was coated like the wax print wrappers Nigerian women wear. Like even in its international printing and distribution Nigeria seeps through, out of the book, and into you.
I like the way Elnathan John does like Adichie and puts phrases in English right after they appear in another language. I like even more that he only does it sometimes, leaving us to get the meaning from the context and emotion of the situation instead of doing it in definitions of words we know carrying their own heavy connotations and histories in our lives.
There is much in the book that is difficult, but anything that makes us face our own empty humanness is difficult. So are things that tie tongues in knots. There’s a lot of Hausa and Arabic, and I cannot tell one from the other, written out in Latin script. There are phrases I recognize from working with colleagues on the Arabic Creative Commons licenses---insha Allah---and phrases I know from Ziriums’s songs and Malcom X’s biography---salamu alaiku; alaiku wasalam. But there are many others unfamiliar that I cannot even stutter out in my head. How does one pronounce a g, h & f all together in a row? It’s like playing scrabble with Cat. No wonder Dantala thinks English sounds “soft and easy like one does not need to open one’s mouth a lot or use a lot of air or energy.” Imagine if he ever heard Italian!
The reviews on the back of the book compare Elnathan to Achebe. But Born on a Tuesday feels far more accessible to an outsider than Achebe. Perhaps I just know Nigeria better than I did. I hope, though, that it is more accessible, that it is read widely, and that those of us whose story this is not see how easily it could become a story that is ours. And that they---we---make it so that it never is. Insha Allah.
“I am not sure if it is the hope of money that lures them or the fact that the [ ] movement is something new. Everyone likes something new. Eventually people get tired and some other new things takes over. It isn’t grounded. Something that has no roots and springs up with leaves and branches everything is bound to crash from the weight. They can’t see this now.”
– Born on a Tuesday, pg. 89
Born on a Tuesday, Elnathan John; Black Cat 2015