The Real Presence by Ron Singer te. Demographics are important. The Real Presence takes place mostly in Nigeria, the most populace country in Africa with over 200,000,000 inhabitants. The continent has a population of more than 1.3 billion. I point this out because even though Africa has gained a foothold in the US curriculum, still I would wager that American knowledge of this part of the world, its people and its stories, remains superficial at best.
Ron Singer has long drawn attention to this part of the world. In Uhuru Revisited he showed a number of ships of state struggling to right themselves and make headway toward democratic systems of government. This novel humanizes the challenges by depicting the lives of a brother and sister who try to make their way in life just like the rest of us, only with the severe disruption of the Biafran War just as they are entering their most productive years.
Lydia Ejikeme-Ogochukwa, her brother Jerry (variously named Felix Olubunmi or Jeremiah Obiajolu Ogochukwa) and an America Bob Shepard tell the story in distinctive and convincing voices. Their forthrightness in showing their vulnerabilities strengths, ambitions, achievements and longings makes them easy to identify with and care about. Lydia, in particular, is such a lovable character that I was sorry to part with her.
Ron makes a few gutsy, unpredictable moves in how he tells their stories. At the end of the first section, he pulls out and gives us the voices of four important (and nonfictional) leaders including Wole Soyinka, who could very well be speaking to contemporary Americans when he says, “My conviction is that moral regeneration will take place by the people taking up arms, speaking figuratively – by acting in a way that makes it quite clear that business cannot continue as usual.”
A second telling digression is a short story by Bob Shepard about a character named Ben Shepard who goes on a quest to a fictional African country. The last retreat from the three voices is Jerry’s retirement party, where the guests all have thought bubbles over their heads.
This was a book I couldn’t put it down. It conveys something I felt on my two trips to Africa: the very particular warm-heartedness of African people.