Twin sisters Bibike and Ariyike and their younger brothers Peter and Andrew live a comfortable life in 1990s Lagos. But when their mother loses her job and abandons them, and their father gambles away their home and disappears shortly after, it is the twins who slowly take control of the newly orphaned family’s destiny.
Switching between each of the children and dipping in and out of their lives as they grow, Tola Rotimi Abraham‘s Black Sunday is an elegant and exciting debut, exquisitely beautiful and painful in equal measure.
Each chapter chronicles a brief period in each character’s life; a small vignette that reveals much about its subject. There’s a danger of things becoming disjointed, but common, universal themes abound from chapter to chapter. Abraham’s young characters are so fleshed out and well rounded too, that even the unseen years between these brief excerpts from their lives seem to have a presence, just lingering on the edge of peripheral vision.
Grief in particular looms large in the earlier pieces, as each child finds a way to accept their abandonment. Indeed, it never really leaves, informing their emotions and decisions as they go on through school, work, relationships, and varying degrees of financial security. Each is resilient in their own way, and fight on where their parents could not.
At the core of the book is the startling contrast between Bibike and Ariyike. For so long indistinguishable, but with their parents gone, a chasm is opening between them. It begins visually, as Ariyike in particular seeks to distance herself from Bibike, and soon personality, religion, and direction all begin to widen the gap. As the years pass, they find distinct ways to navigate, survive, and resist the world around them, and it’s fascinating to witness.
Black Sunday is sad at times, uncomfortable at others, and while there might be some who wish for a more definitive ending, that doesn’t seem to be the point here. Filled with poetic, vibrant prose and rooted in Nigerian culture, Abraham allows us a glimpse at four lives as they diverge from a single traumatic moment. It’s devastating, in its quiet way, but it’s also funny, sweet and occasionally quite profound.
Tola Rotimi Abraham‘s Black Sunday is out now, published by Catapult