BOOK REVIEW: Francis Is Alive

Literary artists the world over from the antiquity down to this contemporary time always function as the recorders of history and the voice of the vision of their time. In that way, their works perform aesthetic gratification by being available to the people as a means of transportation back into their glorious past and edification, teaching them lessons of life.

Their literary works help to record important information of successes and mistakes that have helped generations in the transition of their society towards the betterment of people’s lives and impinged upon the development of a society respectively, as the case may be. These accounts clue the new generation with important information that are pertinent to their developmental quest. In this regard, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and George Orwell’s Animal Farm are typical examples of the literary works to render.

Like the just mentioned classico-excellent works of art, ‘Francis Is Alive’ although the medium of its communication may be different because of inhibition and perspective of the artist, is set to do a similar job to the psyche of every African person that has and will lay his/her hands on it.

In furtherance, the work’s setting is definitely a post colonial era, which showcases a very peaceful coexistence between the black people of Africa and the White people of the western world. This is very evident as pointed out in the novel that Mr. William Livingstone, Michael Livingstone’s father lived as a successful cocoa farmer with the Black people of Laje village in southwestern part of Nigeria.

In fact, both the father and son, the Livingstones lived as active community members. Just as Michael popularly called White in the village by his friends and the other villagers (except for Bukola, Michael’s teenage girlfriend) grew up among the children in the village, his father, Mr William Livingstone also participated gallantly alongside other villagers in the fight against the Fulani herdsmen who grazed their cattle on the villagers’ farms.

The literary work did well pointing out the fact that Agriculture was once a sector which placed the African race, most especially Nigeria in the fore front of the world’s recognition, when Michael Livingstone (Francis Whyte) in one of his lines stated that:

“Nigeria was one of the world’s highest producers of cocoa, and Laje, the village where my father had brought me was always busy cultivating it”.

Again, the cultivation of cocoa in its larger exportation quantity accounted for the frequent presence of the white bussinessmen in Laje village. This assertion was aptly captured when Francis continued from the above excerpt and said;

“Nonetheless, we harvested and sold to other white men who came to buy from us. It was exhilarating seeing other white men come to our village and I would cheerfully tell them my name is Michael anytime they asked. They would run their hands through my hair and tell me I’m a smart kid”.

Another point of significance which the novel has touched is the clash between the farmers and the Fulani herdsmen; a very gruesome menace that has endured from the years past to this contemporary time. However, what I think should be added to this part of the novel is a voice specifying the possible causes of the menace and suggesting likely remedies to such menace just as George Orwell did with his novel, ‘Animal Farm’ using its allegory as critique of Josef Stalin’s era.

Not that alone, the novel has also been able to awaken the African people’s consciousness to several societal abnormalities that have been soiling the continent’s integrity in the intercontinental space. An example to note from the novel which teaches a very resounding lesson of life to the entire African youths is the case of Majeed and Olawunmi. Both characters engaged in what as of today has become a societal norm among African teeming youths especially Nigerian youths; cyber theft, and got more than they bargained for.

“When Majeed was using Olawunmi’s pictures to deceive the man on the internet, giving him the false impression that he was chatting with a pretty Nigerian girl, he wasn’t doing it without Olawunmi’s consent. They had been in it together from the beginning and Olawunmi had had tête-a-têtes with the white man anytime he video-called. Majeed wouldn’t answer a video call if Olawunmi was not around.”

Another problem facing the continent as a whole which the novel seems to expose is the problem of institutional sophistication. This can be noticed in the manner in which crime evidence and a prime suspect of the crime was carted away from the police custody, and to crown it all, the manner in which a police officer was killed right in the police station without any suspicion by any officer on duty of the perpetrator of such criminality. The above point exposed the porosity of our security network and explains several breaches we see today in our security system. A typical example in this recent time is the wanton killings in Benue State despite the presence of not only the police but also the military.

Considering the few points raised above and so many others inherent in the literary work which cannot be exhausted in this short review, one can proceed to say that Francis Is Alive has without any resentment fulfilled all conditions for serving the aesthetic gratification purpose of literature and as well taught us lessons. Excellent writings like I always say to myself go beyond penning down one’s own random ruminations, (if you will pardon me for borrowing the author’s words). To have a sound writing, one must be able to carry along his audience. Most importantly, understand that readers have tastes, and irrespective of their tastes whether high, mild, or low, they must get a writing they can easily relate with, so as to secure their attention in following the work to the end.

Francis Is Alive addresses one of the age long African mythological conception of reincarnation. This idea and some others that will follow confer on this novel a great philosophical significance, which transcends it beyond a mere novel of entertainment. Although the idea of reincarnation is not African alone since it can as well be traced to Pythagoras in the western world, the argument still faintly subsists in contemporary African environment. Bade Adebanjo’s character suggested reincarnation, considering his perfect resemblance with Ismael Cissey, a man whose diary records dated back to 1938. The question that lingers in the mind is, is Ismael Cissey the same person as Bade Adebajo since we have been given the impression that Cissey has the power to transmigrate and telepath? Again, the sight of Elizabeth Akinyoyenu still breathing inside a coffin after she has been supposedly kept there for over eighty-seven years without oxygen, has pulse and is obviously warm is a mystery I am yet to put together. How possible can that be? In fact, this defies any medical explanation and opens a discuss that is beyond empirical confirmation and can be called a distinctive African metaphysics. Ordinarily, a non African reader may want to classify the novel as one of those usuals, but the natural inclination of Man to always want to find out knowledge beyond what meets the eye will keep them on with the novel till the end. The novel portrays a unique metaphysical conception that goes beyond the question of what the basics stuff underlining the multiplicity of things in the world are.

However, despite the fact that the discuss on such idea has been discredited by the two predominant foreign religions, to be the handiwork of the devil, it still forms part of the belief system of some culturally conscious African persons. So, reading on such subject will allow them a deep understanding of their traditional beliefs and in addition provides information that will be significant to their own self understanding. This will continue to glue readers to the novel, as it did me. Be that as it may, literature, beyond addressing issues that are believed to be particular in nature also dwells on universal issues such as ethics and morality. Francis Is Alive in one of its passages discussed the culture of assassination. Put differently, Francis Is Alive tends to the argument for and against killing for a living. This position is aptly captured in the argument that sprouted between Majeed, Francis, Anatoly and Olawunmi in the following lines:

“Are you… are you really an assassin?” Majeed asked reluctantly.

Francis nodded.

“Someone who kills people for money?”

“We can’t all be saints, can we?” giggled Francis, finally drawing from the cigar and puffing. “Some of us have to play more… spectacular roles. And being an assassin isn’t a bad thing to me, look around you, these boats, how much do you think each of them costs and you see, I can blow them up right now and not feel a wee bit bad about it. We’re rich! We’re celebrated assassins! We get the dirty works of the wealthy done for them. And… huh, well, I don’t usually see myself as an assassin though, I mean the way people define that personality, but if that’s what you’d like to consistently call it, I’ll cope. Anatoly, what do you prefer to call us?”

One of the men behind him smiled and said, “Regulators.”

“That’s it Majeed,” puffed Francis. “We regulate the balance in world population. We contain decorum in government… in politics, thereby making the world a politically balanced place. If we don’t kill people, people die anyway, don’t you see? Poisons kill them, accidents kill them, cancer kills them, lesser men with guns, petty thieves and most especially the government kill them. It’s either we do it or nature itself does it, people have to die, time to time.”

“But only evil people kill people!” exploded Olawunmi for the first time.

“Hmmm… welcome to the debate, love,” giggled Francis. “I’m glad to hear your voice again. I sense how surprised you are at this revelation of who I really am, a man who kills people, a bad man… arghh, but this is what you’re not looking at, when bad people need to die to save the good people, who kills them? You heard the story of Adolf Hitler, didn’t you? If someone like me had killed him before he started killing the Jews, probably when he was just a young boy, to you, would I have been a good person or bad then? Of course you wouldn’t know because you wouldn’t know he would grow up to be the holocaust guy he grew up to be, would you? I understand how you feel Olawunmi, starting from how surprised you must be that I’m truly the Francis Whyte they have suspected me to be. What can I say? I was on my way coming to get you when I heard that Sonia got you. I stopped here and here you are, I have to prove to you that being a hit man or a regulator like Anatoly likes to call us doesn’t make us bad persons, just the regulators that we are and nothing more.”

The philosophical questions begging for answers here are, can killing for a living or killing at all ever be justified? Can assassination be ethically justified to mean regulation? How can assassinating a person based on evil he will do be justified, when we all know that he can at volition of mind decides not to? Will it not be right to terminate someone who will grow to waste millions of lives? These and many others are questions that will keep on agitating the minds of the readers. And these are not just mere questions, they are philosophical questions that gave this work its philosophical relevance.

Lest I forget, the character that Sergeant Mustapha depicts in the novel indicates a law abiding, diligent and hard working officer of the Law Enforcing Agency, a prelude into saying that, we still have men and women of integrity in our forces. On the contrary, to balance the ethical case, Inspector Titus stood for the class of the typically corrupt officers of the law that we encounter in our daily businesses. This and many more provide edification that will for many years to come in the reader’s life be a guiding and guarding principle.

I must say at this point that ‘Fracis Is Alive’ was able to achieve verisimilitude, a criterion that every single literary artist strives to achieve, since exactitude could be a mirage. Mind you, I am very aware of the international politics that was showcased in the novel and the issue of fraternity. However, that will be discussed some other time since the story still continues in Can’t Win This War. The book is a good read filled with suspense, action and philosophical debates. I recommend it.

A Book Review (of Moshood Adebayo’s Francis Is Alive) by Olayanju Sodiq; a writer, philosopher and literary critic.

© Olayanju Sodiq, 2018

Francis Is Alive is published and available on https://www.okadabooks.com/book/about/francis_is_alive/14327 , Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iBookStore and Lulu.

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