While some books begin with a bang and straight off plunge you into a deluge of emotions, some others ease into it, slowly, steadily. Ofunneka by Philomena Bivese-Djebah is one of such stories which ease into the narration easily, like a newly wed husband striking up a conversation with his wife.
The most important aspect of this story is the way it considers the different generations that make up the narration. The author begins by telling us, albeit briefly, about the history of the village of Umuobi, which is the hometown of the main character, Ofunneka. While this part of the story is brief and may be considered by some as irrelevant, it does have a cultural relevance in the general story.
Ofunneka is a beautiful woman, obviously, one that was the cynosure of eyes, that comes from a generation of great people and that is the only daughter of her parents. We are introduced into the childhood of our protagonist; a perfect period of running wild with her peers, receiving anything she desired and growing into a beautiful young woman. Even after having had six children, she still maintained her beautiful and desirable look. She still endeavors to dress in the most fashionable way she could and she still tries to look as young as possible, flashing a smile that is misunderstood often and that also endears her to many people around her. It is this freshness and the aura that Ofunneka carries about her that spurs jealousy – which is a major theme in this work – from people who barely even understand her struggles.
The story which opens on the Saturday of her brother’s wedding takes off slowly and quickly develops a pace which soon begins to capture and hold the attention of the reader. Philomena Bivese-Djebah shows that she definitely paid attention when her parents shared folktales with her and her siblings, because in this book, she does shy away from allowing those stories to reflect in her work and there is part of the features of the book which make it even more intriguing to read. The author occasionally drives us back down memory lane to pieces from Ofunneka’s past, all with the intention of creating a reference point or making a point or the other. All of this helps establish the general understanding that the reader requires to really understand the life and character of Ofunneka.
Even though this story is marred here and there by inconsistencies in the language, bastardization of some Igbo words and the narrative, it is an exciting read and it captures some of the exuberance of childhood, the pain of being the only one in your world who understands your struggle, and the desperation of women at certain age to look and feel young again. All of this is wrapped up in the ever-rich infusion of traditional history of the Igbo people and culture. Also, the introduction or infusion of folktales in the narrative helps spice things up in a way that most books don’t. Ofunneka is a novel you would enjoy reading because the language is mostly easy to flow with and comprehend and the story conveys the human condition in its own capacity.