In Biographies are a Joke, her collection of really short stories and poems, Stella Uchechi explores a series of personal experiences which span across several years of trying to find the balance between love, fantasy and desire. This aptly titled collection opens with a series of stories which are interspersed with non-fictive narration and a spattering of fiction here and there. From the beginning of the journey, we are introduced to the world of a young woman, shuttling between love stories, trying too hard to establish an identity and desperate for some form of salvation.
The stories in Biographies are a Joke cover different subjects, much of which border on the need for companionship, and spans across a pretty long time. In them, we find Stella Uchechi trying to unburden the struggle of managing life as a single mother, waltzing from relationship to relationship in search of the warmth of another, and ending up in church, at the foot of the altar, accepting Jesus. The telling is typical of a Nigerian who has managed to keep a straight face despite all the struggles he has faced. Somehow, Stella manages to hold the attention of the ready by involving a narrative approach that personalizes the story and wins the heart of the reader.
Generally, if you are not one to hold a grudge over little chronological mistakes here and there, you may find this collection engaging as it shuffles between stories, and transits between events; oscillating between the outright humorous to the mildly frightening, the collection embodies a history of identity crisis, an insatiable craving for attention and companionship and an innate desire for salvation at the hands of a greater being. The stories and poems, which are primarily about the author’s escapade with love and her experience after her divorce, convey the struggles of a single mother who still feels the need to be loved, and who still struggles with the influence of women who aren’t even there.
Her ex-husband fusses her about calling his current wife; her love interest loses his head over his ex-wife. Both occurrences mirroring the sad reality that many women are faced with in their romantic endeavors because of women that they are not supposed to even have dealings with. Both women drive the men in her life nuts; one results in her divorce, the other renders her lonely, for the most part. The collection also mirrors the reality of sexual assault in a sense that is inspired by the idea that men own the bodies of the women they like. Three different occasions, the character is almost sexually assaulted by men who believe they deserve a pound of her flesh because they are attracted to her in one way or the other. Although, the author’s chronicling of these occurrences almost sounds like an attempt to patronize victims of rape, it does convey the seriousness of the matter effectively.
Use of language in this work is one of the many things that is enjoyable about the book, as the author effectively dabbles between conversational, colloquial and formal. There is something about the occasional switch from English to pidgin to Igbo that captures the ambiance of the time, place and events authentically. However, while the storytelling flows naturally, the poetry often feels forced and this results in the use of several unnecessary exclamations and ellipsis throughout the poems.