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Review: Yellow-Yellow by Kaine Agary

July 8, 2011

Title: Yellow-Yellow
Author: Agary, Kaine
Length: 179 pages
Genre: Fiction, General
Publisher / Year: Dtalkshop / 2006
Rating: 3/5
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.

30 Comments leave one →
  1. July 8, 2011 2:56 pm

    The premise behind the book looks quite interesting, Amy! It reminds me in some ways of Natsuo Kirino’s ‘Grotesque’ where Kirino explores the theme of what it is to be the daughter of a European father and a Japanese mother. Sorry to know about the issues though. But it looks like the author is an exciting find because of the topic that the book deals with. Thanks for this review!

    • July 13, 2011 12:06 pm

      Hmmm adding that to my wish list now thanks Vishy 🙂 I think the book is definitely still worth a read.

  2. July 8, 2011 6:33 pm

    I;m not sure what to think about this one. On the one hand, the synopsis sounds interesting, but the fact that some of the issues seem forced really niggles at me. Sometimes a book doesn’t need to be packed with issues to be entertaining and thoughtful, you know what I mean? I still think I might look for this one, and the pidgin doesn’t bother me, but all I am saying is that I might also have reservations.

    • July 13, 2011 12:06 pm

      Yes I do know what you mean zibilee. I am hoping that further books from the author focus more on the story with issues coming up organically rather than being so forced. Still an interesting book though.

  3. July 8, 2011 8:32 pm

    Interesting that Zilafeya faces discrimination because her skin is lighter. I’ve often heard that in many cultures lighter skin is actually seen as preferable, due to a combination of old class biases and Western racism.

    Although a book aimed at an African (as opposed to Western) audience definitely intrigues me, Author Tracts sure can be annoying. I’ll have to think about it.

    • July 13, 2011 12:07 pm

      Yes, the fact that it is aimed at a local audience is fantastic EL Fay, though the forced issues detracted from that some. And yes, it is different for sure. I wonder if it is still as common…?

  4. July 9, 2011 4:28 am

    For a debut it could pass. The issue of mixed-race is common in town/communities with international companies/corporations. In Ghana it used to be common at the harbour cities, though it decreased but the discovery of oil in the Western Region (a harbour town) is likely to make it increase. The fact is most of these expats leave the children they father behind. Funny!

    • July 13, 2011 12:08 pm

      Yes exactly Nana. I look to more and better in the future from the author. That is sad really that so many of the expats leave their children behind without acknowledging them or helping out. And yet it is the women and children who face discrimination and punishment, never the men!

  5. July 9, 2011 5:56 pm

    this seems to cover a lot amy and the colour issue sounds interesting ,I ll mark this down as one to read at some point ,all the best stu

  6. July 10, 2011 2:07 am

    Sometimes books can really suffer from an author trying to cram in too much material. And I think the editing issue is only going to get worse as more people self-publish or use small publishers that perhaps don’t have the resources the do a more thorough edit. This sounds interesting though.

    • July 13, 2011 12:10 pm

      Yep, tis true Violet. Self-publishing is both a great and a worrying thing. Great because more voices can come to the table and more authentic voices especially, worrying because of the lack of editing though.

  7. July 10, 2011 5:41 am

    Sounds like an interesting book with some flaws:-)
    Skin preference cuts both ways. It could be a plus for the person concerned due to the society’s (misguided) preference for lighter skinned people. It could also be stimagtising as she pointed out – people would use her father’s non-traceable expatriate roots to flog her like it’s a cane. It is a complex issue though – there is some ambivalence and anger about ‘expatriate children’ in Africa.

    • July 13, 2011 12:18 pm

      I think the skin color and how it plays out in terms of it was good or bad would likely depend on where the character was, less positive in the village, more so in the city? And you are right Adura, definitely a complex issue and in interesting book!

  8. July 10, 2011 2:37 pm

    Sounds like a great story. Too bad it’s not 5/5

    • July 13, 2011 12:18 pm

      Perhaps the second book from the author will be celawerd 🙂 Definitely still worth a read but not perfect.

  9. July 10, 2011 7:17 pm

    I enjoy indie press books, but sometimes the editing thing would get troublesome…

  10. July 13, 2011 9:11 am

    Glad you at last found your way reading this and I understand your issues raised in there. Wonderful review.

    • July 13, 2011 12:19 pm

      Thank you Geosi, and thank you especially for bringing it to my attention!

  11. sarah obi permalink
    March 27, 2012 7:02 am

    A nice novel meant for every nig. I enjoyed all the issues discussed but they are too numerous.thanks

  12. May 17, 2012 8:21 am

    Agary lets us into d fictonal story of ziLAYEfa,an exceptional IJAW belle;however Kaine also implores Radical Literature to expose d socio-political imbalances in d Nigerian society.Nice one.

  13. Agev Joseph Terlumun permalink
    May 26, 2012 9:15 am

    Agary has through the lenses of Zilayefa availed the readers of this novel to the multi socio political malaise of the Nigerian State. From abandoned mix bloods to oil spillage in the Niger Delta region, Kaine Agary without taking sides has left us bothered on whether to approach the novel from Eco critical or Feminist method.Even with the few issues of editing, Agary is bound for greatness

  14. paul clare permalink
    June 20, 2012 5:21 pm

    The book yellow yellow is very interesting and fascinating..

  15. Ushie Titus permalink
    September 28, 2012 12:58 pm

    Agary has really dug beyond my imagination. the more i read the more i feel its in my hood

  16. March 18, 2013 2:41 am

    Knowing that the book is rich in political, social and economic interests of the region and the nation and the way it picks out the anomalies in the system that even in the present the issues still exists shows that the book worths 5/5 in scale. a story that depicts truth and in a bit flashes on issues that limits the major character is a masterpiece and not to be seen at the surface level. No doubt it is a debut novel but as a child of yellow skin in the region I could attest of the story as true representation of the realities we face and note also that it is organic in reality of African style of story telling and should not be considered in western patterns. This is why it is an African novel and also an African literature.

    • May 11, 2013 8:31 am

      Yes Bobby17, it is definitely a part of the African literature cannon – but I find it insulting to authors (African especially) who write such fantastic books to argue that they shouldn’t be critiqued in terms of character development, flow, editing, and etc used to critique literature worldwide. That isn’t to say that they shouldn’t use it in their own way – thinking for example of Dambudzo Marechera who takes the English language and completely turns it to his uses in a way that I’ve not seen any North American / European author even attempt. We don’t judge literature anywhere else based solely on the story line, because too be a great story, it has to also be told well – stories like this one can be told well, and the African literature cannon deserves nothing less than great stories told well. Agary in this book showed great promise and I suspect that the next books will be even better, which is what any author should aspire to – improvement.

  17. December 9, 2015 1:25 pm

    The writer’s use of pidgin language shouldn’t bother anyone. And we should stop having this mentality that only africans make errors in their text. I have read foreign books filled with grammatical blunders and also the little use of their local dialect.
    Kudos to the author!

  18. August 25, 2016 10:32 am

    Yellow-Yellow by Kaine Agary

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