Review: Yellow-Yellow by Kaine Agary
Author: Agary, Kaine
Length: 179 pages
Genre: Fiction, General
Publisher / Year: Dtalkshop / 2006
Why I Read It: This book was read and recommended by Geosi.
Date Read: 20/06/11
I have to say that I am quite conflicted by this book. I really liked the premise of the story and loved many of the issues that it raises (about race, stereotypes, female sexuality, abortion, etc), but felt that it was lacking in the delivery. Because of the issues it raises I rated it a 3, but on format and story itself I don’t think I would rate it so highly.
This book tells the story of Zilafeya. She is raised in the village by her mother and is called Yellow-Yellow, or just Yellow, as a slur on the fact that her skin is lighter due to her father having been Greek. Through this parentage Agary explores the issue of transient visitors / workers in Nigeria and the children the father and then leave, and the ways in which these children suffer because of that not only by being raised by single mothers (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing or portrayed as being a disadvantage, simply that the women and children are stigmatized sometimes because of it) but also because of the difficulties they face due to their skin color. It was interesting especially to see the generational changes in terms of this situation.
Zilafeya’s mother is shown to be both controlling and domineering, always wanting the best for her child. She works extra hard in order that Zilafeya, or Yellow, can go on to university as university is everything, they believe. Even though she is a single parent she is doing everything she can for her daughter to succeed. Although she can be controlling and is always pushing her views onto Yellow, Yellow is shown as not really having any plans of her own so it isn’t necessarily a bad thing that her mother is always pushing her to succeed.
One frustrating thing about the book was the way in which issues were brought up and described which sometimes seemed forced. Examples include petrol shortages, cheating and bribery in university examinations, differing views on the Niger Delta oil issues, and more. It wasn’t that the issues didn’t fit into the story, it just felt almost clunky sometimes because of the way it was done (there was definitely more telling than showing). In an interview with the author by Geosi she mentions that she wrote the story to highlight issues and I think that focus on issues can be seen a little too strongly while reading. That being said, for anyone unfamiliar with Nigeria it does bring up a lot of interesting points.
One example of this is Yellow’s thoughts on page 75 about people’s reaction to her skin color:
It did not matter what people thought of me because of my complexion. I had to accept that I could not change the attitude of every person who saw my colour and judged me before they knew anything about me.
There were also some minor mistakes with the wording / grammar / etc. The book could have used one more pass by an editor I think. I thought I had marked some of these examples but going back to my notes it seems that I didn’t. Nothing serious, just the almost right word in a few places. When looking up Dtalkshop online I can only find one site which seems to be a consulting service that doesn’t mention literature at all, so I’m not sure if they published the book because Agary runs that company / program, but it is confusing to me. This might explain some of the editing issues as self-editing can often be tricky.
The book is also definitely targeted more at an African audience (which is not a bad thing! One of my frustrations with some African fiction is how clearly marketed toward a North American / European audience it is.). Just as a word of caution though for those who aren’t from the area, there is quite a bit of Pidgin English in the book. Pidgin English is still close enough to be able to pick up on what is being said, but it is something that might be good to know going in to the book especially for readers here who have no experience with it or who haven’t read anything based in the area.
Overall definitely an interesting book and I will be looking out for future works from the author. My issues with the book are typical issues one finds in debut fiction so it isn’t surprising and I definitely wouldn’t recommend that anyone avoid the book – just realize going in that there are some issues.