Lákíríboto, a novel by Ayodele Olofintuade, is a queer coming-of-age story about two young Nigerian women who find themselves at the centre of a family saga. In this novel, Olofintuade delivers a powerful narrative that speaks to the resilience of women in the face of adversity.
Most book reviews do not begin with a description of the book’s cover but allow me to make an exception with Lákíríboto. With its bright red background, white lettering, and pictures of two faces on either side, the moment I saw Lákíríboto in the bookstore, I knew that I would have to read it. This was my introduction to the captivating work of non-binary, Black feminist author, Ayodele Olofintuade. In this novel, Olofintuade weaves a powerful and poignant narrative that explores the complexities of family, tradition, and the struggle for independence in the face of oppressive patriarchal norms.
The author uses the foreword to set the scene for the events of the novel, describing the concept of Lákíríboto and providing a well-informed, brief insight into Yoruba culture. One of the ideas Olofintuade posits in the foreword that resonated with me the most, is that ‘labels are not used for restriction—they are used for individual freedom, because the more aligned each person is with their original purpose on earth, the healthier society is.’ The idea of finding purpose is one that they return to throughout Lákíríboto, and they demonstrate the difficulty that one may have in doing so when their society has differing expectations.
UNVEILING THE FEMININE POWER IN THE NOVEL
What makes this Lákíríboto truly compelling is Olofintuade’s skilful portrayal of the female characters—Moremi, Kudirat, Tola, and the enigmatic Morieba. Each woman is a vivid, multifaceted individual, fighting against societal constraints and personal tragedies. Their resilience and determination form the beating heart of the story, illuminating the strength that can emerge from the depths of despair.
Olofintuade delves into the harsh realities faced by these women, exposing the injustices and hardships of their lives while also highlighting the deep bond of sisterhood that develops among them. The camaraderie and mutual support they offer one another become a source of hope and inspiration amid their struggles.
The author’s decision to have the two protagonists, Moremi and Kudirat, allows them to explore two different reactions to loss and change. Moremi dreads the fact that she must join a new family and has lost the status she enjoyed when she was under the care of her grandmother. Kudirat, on the other hand, is excited to leave her village and go to live in Lagos, a place she regards as ‘The most beautiful place in the world…filled with shiny things and shiny people.’
The narrative’s exploration of queer identity through Morieba adds another layer of depth to the story, challenging traditional notions of gender and sexuality within the confines of a conservative society. This inclusion is handled with sensitivity and grace, contributing to the novel’s overall message of acceptance and self-discovery. She is a fiercely independent, confident, force of nature who wants to take custody of both Moremi and Kudirat, but she is repeatedly denied by the head of the family—Uncle Olori Ebi. It is in the dramatization of the dynamic and combative encounters between Morieba and Olori Ebi that Olufintuade’s prose shines.
As the two girls navigate their roles as housemaids, they also grapple with the oppressive forces of tradition and patriarchy that seek to confine them. The patriarchal oppression is embodied in the characters of their Uncle Wale who is an abusive alcoholic and the husband to their Aunt Tola and their greedy Uncle Olori Ebi.
Wale’s status as a doctor affords him the respect and admiration of the family, who choose to turn a blind eye to his issues. The abuse that the girls suffer whilst staying at his home demonstrates the dangers of a society that places too high of an emphasis on career and status over the wellbeing of its people. In a similar way, Olori Ebi’s status as the eldest son in the family allows him to cover up his schemes to enrich himself under the guise of performing his duty as the head of the family. We witness the systemic injustice that weighs men’s words against women’s, encourages violent homophobia and maltreatment of women.
Their Aunt Tola struggles with post-natal depression, suicidal thoughts, and her own spirituality. Through her story, not only are we reckoning with how difficult it can be for people with mental health struggles to fit into societal demands, but we are also being asked to consider the toll placed on women to conform to patriarchal ideals. Olofintuade skilfully portrays the tension between modernity and deeply entrenched beliefs, offering readers a thought-provoking commentary on the clash between progress and tradition in contemporary Nigeria.
The novel is also laced with magical realism in the form of demigods who are present at parties, mischievously ‘sipping Schnapps’ or observing the offerings from humans. As readers encounter these magical events alongside the characters, they are drawn into the intrigue of the unknown. This sense of mystery keeps the reader engaged, prompting them to speculate about the magical occurrences and their implications, which adds an element of suspense to the plot. It also allows the author to blend the ordinary with the extraordinary seamlessly. By introducing magical elements into the story, readers are encouraged to use their imagination in new and exciting ways. This blending of reality and fantasy transports readers to a world where the impossible becomes possible, creating a sense of wonder and awe.
The plot twists and turns are expertly executed, keeping readers on the edge of their seats as the story takes unexpected turns and each chapter brings a new development or revelation. The author chooses to divide the novel into different seasons (as opposed to chapters) which interestingly suggests that story is a series rather than a novel. For some younger readers, the traditional idea of chapters might feel formal and academic. Referring to chapters as seasons can make the book’s structure feel less intimidating and more approachable. This informal approach may encourage young readers to dive into the story without feeling overwhelmed by the structure of a typical novel. Additionally, seasons are often used metaphorically to represent different stages of life or emotional states. By incorporating seasons into the narrative structure, the author can infuse the story with symbolism. Young readers might enjoy uncovering the symbolic meaning behind each season, deepening their understanding of the story and its themes. The emergence of a new character with motives of revenge and redemption adds another layer of suspense, enhancing the overall narrative arc. Olofintuade’s writing is evocative, immersing readers in the sights, sounds, and emotions of Lagos, making the setting an integral part of the story.
In Lákíríboto, Olofintuade delivers a powerful narrative that speaks to the resilience of women in the face of adversity. Through rich storytelling and compelling characters, the novel explores themes of family, identity, and the pursuit of freedom. It is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the importance of solidarity in the fight against societal constraints. Lakiriboto is a must-read for anyone seeking a thought-provoking and empowering story that lingers in the heart long after the final chapter⎈
Cipher Press, June 2023
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