DELE MARRIES THE DESTINATION, by Tomi Obaro
In Tomi Obaro’s loving and lively debut novel, we meet three women, lifelong friends – “essentially sisters, though Funmi would be annoyed by the sickly sweetness of such a term.” The intrepid Funmi, the timid Zainab and the humble Enitan meet in the 1980s at university in Zaria, Nigeria, and form (we are told boldly rather than shown) a solid unit, in which Enitan must play second fiddle to the beauties who are her two best friends. Now, 30 years later, their friendship shattered but still fundamentally intact, the three – all mothers, all in very difficult marriages – reunite for Funmi’s daughter’s wedding in Lagos. This is the fate of the title, a distant and unwilling bride (“Happiness is for Americans, that’s what Daddy always says”) who gives the plot the humble drama of won’t-she-won’t-she as her big day approaches, while Funmi steams on with ostentatious celebrations.
Fate, however, is an auxiliary character in regards to Funmi and friends, who “remain firmly in each other’s lives” – and will remain, the author assures us on the opening pages. Such steadfastness is welcome in life; in fiction, which tends to to be life of break and break, less. As I was carried smoothly through the trials of these women, a line crept toward me from elsewhere. It was the joke attributed to Francis Bacon, made famous again by Kanye, about champagne for real friends, real pain for make-believers, although in this case ‘fictional’ replaces ‘appearance’. In other words, I caught myself thinking a sadistic thought. On the other hand, isn’t the best and truest way for an author to love her characters to drive them into the kind of pain – real pain – that strains and changes their bonds, and with it their selves?
In the middle part of the novel, set in the mid-1980s of their childhood, we learn that the three have, of course, not been without their individual difficulties. Events are conveyed in simple, genius prose, unaffected by the occasional cliché. Curiously, some dramatic moments are ushered in or skated offstage, such as the death of Damolo, an activist who is first Zainab’s boyfriend and then Funmi’s boyfriend. Zainab’s response is strangely enough: “Even though they had drifted apart since their romantic relationship ended, she still thought fondly of him and was heartbroken to hear of his death.”