Somewhere between folklore, memoir and modern fiction
Reading Yewande Omotoso's novel "Bom Boy," just when you think you’ve figured the characters out, the author opens them up a little more, and our perceptions change.
A thing had begun to grow like a tree in Leke’s throat.” So begins Yewande Omotoso’s Bom Boy, a bright debut novel that sits comfortably in the realm of magic realism, somewhere between folklore, memoir and modern fiction. Leke Denton is the son of a Nigerian father and a coloured South African mother, the latter who through uncontrollable circumstances gives up baby Leke for adoption to a White Capetonian couple, the loving Jane and the well-meaning Marcus. After Jane dies due to a sudden illness, Leke is left even more lost in a city that specializes in alienation. As a young adult he becomes reclusive and starts stalking people; he makes endless doctor’s appointments and false check ups in order to have basic human contact. He eventually finds out through old letters from his biological father about a family curse, and he starts piecing his past together.
I found the book to be genuinely refreshing, with characters that constantly surprised me; they all unraveled very gently throughout the narrative like flowers in bloom. (Which works for this romantic.) Just when you think you’ve figured the characters out, the author opens them up a little more, and our perceptions change.
Yewande told me she wanted the reader to “be compelled to consider their own prejudices, and the shortcomings of these. Mostly I wanted people to experience compassion for the characters, to be unable to simply write even the most difficult of characters off.”
A Cape Town based architect “by day,” Omotoso had to wake up at 5am every morning and write for two hours before it was time to leave for work. She describes it as somewhat of a “military operation.” She comes from a family of writers, and completing a novel was something she had wanted to do for many years. Her father, Professor Kole Omotoso has written five novels, not to mention a plethora of academic publications, plays and literary critiques. Fun fact: he is famously known in South Africa as the “Yebo, Gogo” man in the Vodacom commercials from the late 90s-early 2000s. Her brother is the well-known and respected filmmaker/writer/director Akin Omotoso (remember his ‘God is African’, but he also has recently completed a new feature – ‘Man on Ground’ – tackling the South Africa’s xenophobic streak). I mention to Yewande that Bom Boy would make a great film and asked whether a sibling collaboration is on the cards. “We’ve spoken about it. I think we’d like to do something together in the future.”
Bom Boy is a debut novel that deserves your attention. As Tade Ipadeola writes in the Lagos Review of Books, “I hope, sincerely, that this golden debut fills every barren space on the continent from the Karoo to the Sahara with the chlorophyll of hope…” So do we.
Read an excerpt of Bom Boy here.