Wednesday, 25 October 2017

When We Speak of Nothing by Olumide Poloola

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Two friends so close they are like twins. One who never stops talking. The other who never stops running. In the summer before their eighteenth birthdays, their lives pull them in different directions. Karl flies to Nigeria in search of a father he never knew existed. Abu stays behind, in a London about to explode into riots.

Port Harcourt gives Karl a chance to be himself, free of other people’s assumptions. In company of new friends, he learns how oil companies are despoiling the landscape while leaving local people in poverty.

“The village we are passing. Life expectancy is only 35 years. Because of the flaring. The gas, it comes back with the rain. There’s toxicity. Health problems.”

Back in London, Abu is immersed in a school project, discovering the memoirs of Mary Prince, an enslaved black woman who lived and worked in the Bloomsbury streets he walks down every day. And then there’s the anger that’s brewing on the streets. The anger that will explode into the 2011 riots.

Karl and Abu have always shared everything. But distance, new friendships and first love are all carving a space between them. Will their relationship be broken by their experiences – or just fundamentally changed?

This is a coming-of-age tale that explores friendship and trust, sexuality and gender. It touches, too, on the long legacy of slavery and colonialism to be found in both London and Nigeria. The voice is unusual, almost as if you’re overhearing a story one friend is telling another, and they’re not going to wait for you to catch up or fill in the gaps.

The sort of story that opens a window in your mind and lets in a breath of fresh air.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta, Orange Boy by Patrice Lawrence, Feral Youth by Polly Courtney

Avoid If You Dislike: Stories of teenagers exploring gender and sexuality

Perfect Accompaniment:
Spicy Nigerian beef and tomato stew

Genre: Young Adult, LGBTQ

Available on Amazon

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