This review was also featured on Twinkl in their blog Top Interesting Books by Nigerian Authors.
Author: Jerry Chiemeke
Year Published: 2020
Book Reviewer: Uduak-Estelle Akpan
Sometimes, there is a misplaced expectation about short story collections; that to make sense, the stories must maintain a recurring theme or some semblance of balance typical of a mosaic novel. This presumption holds for many a collection, but certainly not Jerry Chiemeke’s full-length work, Dreaming of Ways to Understand You. With a gimmicky title, the 187-page book is a delicate, character-driven collage of fifteen short stories, energized by an itinerant setting that sees its characters enduring the bustling city of Port Harcourt, chaotic outskirts of Warri, or the Piccadilly circus that is Lagos.
Chiemeke is known mainly for his music and art reviews. He has great accomplishments such as being the winner of the 2017 Ken Saro Wiwa Prize for Reviews. Therefore, he writes with the sure-footedness of one who not only understands how to immerse readers in his art but to marry them with adaptability. The collection imitates the intensity and variability of his Notes for Nnedimma and The Colours in these Leaves. Its stories underscore themes of intricate human relationships that fit for engaging beer parlour banter, forming part of the syllabus for a history class, or kickstarting deep reflective thoughts.
The even-toned collection ensures ease in transitioning from story to story without the abrupt feeling of the ground shifting from under one’s feet. One minute, the reader is contemplating the pun embedded within the bizarre turn of events in the first story, Not for Long, and its opening line, Wizkid’s “I want your boy sleeping in my bed...” The next, they are drifting through the sedate, yet soulful On Moshalashi Street. Again, through piece like Ugborikoko, one rendered in Warri Pidgin, readers experience Chiemeke's exceptionality and his deserving of applause increasing pidgin language's consciousness in and beyond the Nigerian literary space.
The book delivers in sterling prose and an array of undeniably important themes. The Blankness I wouldn’t let you see, a piece that acquaints one with Yetunde, the queer woman struggling with commitment is appropriately followed by On getting around to confidently taking my shirt off, a story about body image. Cheerful as it may seem, What am I supposed to say to you? bravely addresses the weighted topic of intimate partner violence.
Dreaming of ways to understand you, the piece from where the book derives its title explores the overlooked intricacies of mental health, and The River Brought us Here is a heartbreaking yet important reminiscence of the 1803 Igbo Landing Mass Suicide. While one may argue that the last piece, Confetti, could have used an extra development in its plot, it can be agreed that no story seems misplaced in the collection. Where one lacks in information, it makes up for, serving a full belly laugh.
Chiemeke’s consummate writing, stylistic use of words, and deliberate creation of a playlist of some sort is very commendable. Even though one who is not inclined to music may find the occasional reference to songs, a distraction, it is still a colourful addition to the work. It created a relaxed ambience for the stories and to fuel the reader’s imagination. Ultimately, if Dreaming of Ways to Understand You were to be judged by one thing, it would be, its proof that literature isn't always only about words; it is as much sounds and sight as it is a skillful blend of words.
3/2/2021 08:44:56 am
I read quite a handful of short stories last year and I loved them. 2 years ago, short stories never resonated with me, as the stories always ends abruptly and keeps your mind wondering “what if”. I hope to purchase the hard copy of this Short story collection as soon as it is made available in Nigerian bookstores. This review is very compelling.
4/2/2021 07:19:41 am
Engaging! That's how I'll describe this review. The writers flirts seamlessly from one story to the other, giving so much but enough to make one thirst after Chiemeke's Dreaming of ways to understand you.
6/2/2021 09:32:27 pm
I really enjoyed reading this review, and I can't wait to purchase this book
25/2/2021 07:23:22 am
The best reviews I have read on this platform have been writing by the Martin Amis of Sprinng, Uduak-Estelle Akpan. Hence it comes as no surprise that this review of hers is beautifully articulated and compelling. Merely reading this review has pushed the button of my quest for the book reviewed. I love the way the reviewer employed her compelling diction to highlight the highs of the book yet not sparring the lows as appropriate, achieving balance in the process. Her review tick all boxes of a good review in that touches virtually all elements of a work of fiction - setting, themes, and what have you. And providing information about the author excellently does the job of endearing potential readers to the book even before its perusal. Thank you Uduak-Estelle for the wonderful review.
26/2/2021 11:26:37 am
The review reminds me of "what happens when a man falls from the sky" by Lesley nneka arimah. Can't wait to read this.
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