I was born in Italy to Nigerian parents and spent fifteen of the first sixteen years of my life in Nigeria. In Nigeria, I attended the famous King’s College Lagos and lived in various parts of the city, providing me with a lot of literary fodder. My family immigrated to Canada in 2000, and I completed high school in Toronto. In high school, I was equally interested in both the sciences and arts and excelled in both. Despite my English teacher’s protestations, I decided to eschew the life of a fulltime writer/author and went on to study engineering at the University of Toronto. I currently work in the Canadian oil/gas sector and enjoy my professional career, but I have always maintained a healthy writing habit, contributing to blogs and online portals on both engineering and socio-political issues.
SD: A Rainy Season is your first novel. How do you feel?
NN: I am very excited to be able to achieve a childhood goal of mine. And yes, I have to emphasize ‘child’. I was less than 8 years old when I would write short stories, bind them up and distribute them to family members for their enjoyment. To be able to do this on a larger scale and for a wider audience is phenomenal.
SD: What was your inspiration forA Rainy Season?
NN: I spent most of my formative years in Nigeria, and from the time I was five till when I was sixteen, I lived in Lagos. Lagos specifically, and Nigeria in general, was an ‘interesting’ place to have as an abode during the nineties. There was a lot of social, political and economic turmoil. For a good part of that decade, Nigeria was largely a pariah state and this resulted in many hardships and deprivations. On a personal level, my family lived in three different areas in Lagos, I attended schools that exposed me to various social classes and I was always fairly observant. Putting all these elements together, it made sense that my first published work would not only cover that period, but also bring to life the personality types and social issues that I was familiar with growing up.
SD: Is there a meaning behind the title, A Rainy Season?
NN: The death of General Abacha is the pivot upon which the storyline revolves. He died during the time of year – June – that is called the ‘rainy season’ due to the torrential downpours that are typically experienced then. In addition, the country was going through a lot of social, political and economic upheavals at the time. These crises tended to give the impression of overwhelming the country and its citizens, not unlike the feeling one has standing in a downpour without an umbrella. Finally, it’s well known that sunshine comes after the rain. This speaks to the hopeful element that I hope comes across in the book; the promise that there’s something better on the horizon, despite our imperfections and problems.
SD: I particularly love the title of this book. At what point in writing this book did you come up with the title?
NN: I decided on the title almost as soon as I started writing the book. Prior to writing, when the book was still an idea, I had settled on another title. However when I started writing the first words of the synopsis, which became the back cover, “It was the rainy season of 1998…” I knew what I wanted the title to be.
SD: When you first had the idea for A Rainy Season did you ever imagine you'd end up with writing it the way it turned out?
NN: For the most part, I was settled on the book’s style right from the start. My inspiration was V.S. Naipul’s Miguel Street, which has a similar feel. I knew that I wanted it be from a first-person perspective and that I wanted to have multiple characters, so that the ‘voice’ didn’t become boring for the reader over the course of the book. As a bit of a deviation from Naipul, I wanted each narrative to stand on its own as a sort of mini-novel, while still having some inter-connectedness; after all the characters lived in the same compound. Clearly, that’s a particularly difficult style to utilize for a debut novel, so it was important that I determined it right off the bat and stuck to it. What probably changed a bit was the ending. I won’t reveal the original ending, but let’s just say that the current ending is both more realistic and more hopeful.
SD: Some would say a lot of information shared in this book stems from a strong historical and political standpoint. Would you agree or disagree?
NN: I would agree. When I’m not working as an engineer, I’m a bit of a socio-political commentator and I am a history buff. As much as this is a literary book, it definitely has strong historical and political nuances. I tried to tie in some events in Nigeria’s history without preaching about them or displaying any bias to the reader. In addition, I didn’t try to analyze them or allow them to take away from the narrative. Examples include the Nigerian Civil War, the hanging of political activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, the annulled federal elections in 1993, the recent Boko-Haram terrorist menace and so on. For the most part, however, the work is purely fictional. History and politics are simply used as condiments to make a better meal.
SD: Though your book is fiction, there is some information about the African culture that is non-fiction, correct? Please tell us what is fact from fiction?
NN: African culture is such a broad term that I hesitate to specify. Even in Nigeria alone, there are over 250 linguistic dialects among over 30-40 language and culture groups. Obviously, the aspects of food, language and dress styles are spot on. Socio-cultural norms like divorce and fertility – as seen in Tamara’s story, to give an example – largely represent African beliefs. Again, this is a broad term and I’m really hesitant to say that they are necessarily African especially because each culture has differing levels of tolerance for certain norms. What I would say is that Nigerian culture – in the context of its broad spectrum – is accurately reflected in A Rainy Season.
SD: You talk about an autocracy and corrupt ruler in A Rainy Season. Do you think a government system such as this still exists today whether in Nigeria or in different parts of the world?
NN: Nigeria is currently under a democratic government, at least on paper. There are lots of issues with the amount of power concentrated in the central government, with electoral malpractice which has seen the same party remain in power since 1999 and with corruption that’s fueled by the twin arms of nepotism and an absence of the rule of law. Of course, there are several other examples in the world. Is it better than having an absolute dictator in power? I’m sure there are citizens under iron-handed dictatorships who wish for the imperfect democracy Nigeria has.
SD: The main characters in your bookare different yet the same. Please explain this?
NN: Exactly! That is the underlying theme of the book. Despite all the outward differences – gender, social class, religion and ethnicity – the characters are all looking for the same things their fellow global citizens are looking for: food, clothing, shelter, happiness, love and peace. They want to go about their daily business without being harassed or having to compromise their value systems. On a more intellectual level, there has always been a debate in Nigeria about what it means to be Nigerian, especially when each of the three major ethnic groups (and several of the smaller ones) boast populations larger than some developed countries and have well-defined cultures of their own. I believe books like this help to show that those differences are minor when there’s a larger goal of building a better country that works for everybody.
SD: The book focuses on the differences in gender, tribe, religion and economic standing through the eyes of the eight characters. Do you think it was important to write about these differences?
NN: Yes, it is. As I mentioned previously, these are the main social differences in Nigeria. Most acclaimed books written about Nigeria tend to be politically-correct when describing ethnic or religious stereotypes in particular. Others tend to go the other way and are overly biased, likely because they are tailored towards specific audiences. Writing about them in this balanced way helps to bring the discussion to the forefront of national discourse and hopefully, helps to make such differences less important than nation-building.
SD: Which one of the characters, if any most reminds you of yourself?
NN: Again, the work is fictional and I don’t want to give anyone ideas about how true some of the writing is (laughs), but probably a little bit of Elechi and Jude.
SD: Can readers/fans expect more novels from you in the future?
NN: Yes, I have started developing the idea for my second novel. I hope to tie in a significant Canadian element into this one as well.
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