Olawale and Oluwole are dreadlocked Yoruba lawyers, minority human rights activists fighting for a better Nigeria. Bisexual and closeted, Olawale has spent his adult life protecting and defending his charismatic, more evidently homosexual twin; but when the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act becomes law, they, their family, and the women who love them are caught in a savage spotlight that threatens to wreck all their lives. In the midst of this Wole and Wale must deal with an estranged convict father whose unexpected reappearance brings dark and troubling family secrets to light.
Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever celebrates the enduring power of love, desire, faith, patriotism and human rights struggle in the face of political oppression and religious prejudice in Nigeria today. It extends the literary conversation begun by Jude Dibia and continued by Chinelo Okparanta.
This book was incredible. Although largely aimed at an African audience, I recommend this book for the LGBTQI+ community; its supporters, human rights activists, and readers who enjoy moving, compelling, and resonating narratives that leave inspired conversation. The content in this book covers strong political, social, cultural, and religious oppression and life-threatening situations that contradict the early to late 2000s following the pass of the SSMPA (Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act) in 2014 time frame that the book covers.
It is impossible to fathom some of the information the author reveals about the treatment of members, supporters and suspected LGBT individuals in Nigeria, but the accounts are real. Yet, so intricately woven in between these scenes are Wole and Wale, two queer brothers who actively use their skills and connections to push a wave of hope and peace to the otherwise vastly secretive gay community that is forced even further into hiding following SSMPA.
I have mentioned before how first person narration was not always my favorite to read, but with some of the books I have read recently, I am beginning to believe that it is not exactly true. Just with the prologue discussing the attack on a gay club in Nigeria and the criminalization of the victims, the reader is given a small glimpse of how regressive, from a Western point of view; a majority of the country is still today.
With that said, it is important to note how well the author delivers not only the political and religious perspectives of ‘traditional’ Nigeria, but also the progressive, forward thinking and widely read opinions of the population. The author does not offer the stereotypical narrative of closeted homosexuals or queer men who are constantly afraid of speaking out, pushing back or fighting for what is right.
Even with the threat of danger ever present in this book from beginning to end, Nnanna Ikpo presents his readers with the most realistic and relatable account of contemporary, queer Nigerian men doing what they can to make a difference for their community in the best way they know how.
Told mainly through Wale’s eyes, the reader experiences a strong complexity when it comes to the gay community because his character is bisexual. Wale stands behind his and his brother’s cause and work, but seems to often find himself struggling with his sexuality because on a deeper level he feels he’s a hypocrite. While at the same time knows that if he does not play the role of the heterosexual male just fighting for human rights of Nigeria’s minorities, real change may never come.
It is also clear that Wale is motivated by his love for his twin brother, Wole. Though focused on Wale, the author does a wonderful job of painting the clear lines that distinguish the two brothers, regardless of how forward thinking and similar they both are.
Wale seems to have a stronger resolve throughout the narrative than Wole about their decision to keep their sexuality a secret, but at times the author gives the reader a small glimpse of the sadness that lies just beneath Wole’s upbeat and outgoing personality that Wale is always attuned to. Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever: Heaven Gave It To Me, presents a story about love, family, life, hope, equality, community, politics, religion and culture that is so immaculately structured it was difficult to put it down.
One of the moving things about this book, and I could have interpreted it wrong, was there seemed to be a theme of forgiveness with this sense of determination to keeping forward projected with Wale’s perspective. Almost an ambiguous way of expressing that love and perseverance will eventually win-out over hate.
Each chapter opens and closes with a letter or an email and closed with a poem that signifies this ever-continuous foreboding sense of optimistic love and loss that pulls the reader into the chapter.
Like me, I think readers will fall in love with the way Nnanna Ikpo keeps the discussion on human rights consistent and open throughout this book. Connected to Wale’s deep love and pride for being Nigerian, a Christian, and a bisexual man who even, in the end, holds on to the possibility of a better future where there will be change leaves us all hopeful.
First off, thank you so much for allowing this brief Q&A. I deeply appreciate it. Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever is a truly wonderful book.
Thank you. I am glad you enjoyed it.
Please correct me if I am wrong, but the title itself, Fimí sílẹ̀, which is referenced in the book, roughly translated from Yoruba means “leave me alone.” What was your inspiration behind the title?
Your translation is in order. The first inspiration for the title was the popular hit track ‘Olufunmi’ by my all-time favourite boy-band Styl-plus, and reflects a longing to explore my Yoruba roots.
I guess my next question counts as a broad, creative writing process question in regards to the book. One of the key shifting points in Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever was the passing of the SSMPA in early 2014, so was that when the concept for the story came to life or were you already writing the book? If so, how long did completing the book take?
The basic premise of Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever came early in 2013. In my initial thoughts, the story would, among other things, be written predictively to show how ugly things could get if the bill became law. Months into writing the first draft, SSMPA was enacted. My anger at this hugely affected the rest of the writing and rewriting process. Our final draft of Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever emerged in December 2016. Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever took roughly four years.
How were the poems at the end of each chapter inspired?
While pieces like ‘Eka aro my love’, ‘Beni Perhaps’ and ‘Oremi Alhaji’ were inspired by personal experiences of real people and places, occasionally even scenarios from Nollywood films, others arose from the independent evolution of the plot and characters in Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever and their interaction with each other.
Do you have a favorite character or scene from this book? Or a least favorite?
This is a difficult question. The plot and characters in Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever were carefully crafted to capture and evoke multiple symbols, ideas, thoughts, dreams and places both real and imagined. All the characters have their merits (and demerits) and are not in competition with each other – and should never be made to be so. Every part of Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever was thought out and deliberated upon by me and informed by others, some of whom were unconsciously part of the creative process. As such I do not have a favourite character, scene, or least favourite one. They are all important parts of Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever’s big picture, and I think necessary.
The book is so rich with character depth and complex narrative layers that keep the reader emerged in the story as the layers slowly unravel. Therefore, I was curious about how much inspiration you took from real life for some of the characters and the strong discussions that take place in this book, i.e. the discussion that takes place at K.U. between the faculty members and Wale and his students for example.
Thank you! Real people and their dynamics in learning and working spaces may differ in form but are substantially similar everywhere, so in Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever, I simply dragged all these people from the several real spaces I have had access to, dropped them into fictitious classrooms and offices and let them deal with each other. Creativity, imagination, editing and rewriting helped me to layer and colour debates.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring Nigerian writers or just writers of the LGBT community who might want to share their stories and continue to bring awareness to the rigid system struggle they are battling?
It is often tricky to advise other writers, even when our primary aim is the same or similar. We have our varying methods, contexts and journeys, and often are strangers to each other. What I have is not so much advice but a salutation, and cognisance of the fact that our work is important and more than that, necessary. And because our art is mostly ‘queer’ and therefore subversive, it may attract more hostility than acclaim. It may not change the world – at least not hugely – but it will not leave it the same, inshallah.
Nnanna also runs a personal blog, Letters To My Africa here and you can also follow him on twitter.
This book was truly amazing and even with this review, I do not think I give it enough justice. It is highly recommended. Thanks so much for stopping by and checking out my review for Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever: Heaven Gave it To Me.
Until the next post,