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Review: Roses and Bullets by Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo

December 16, 2011

Roses and Bullets coverTitle: Roses and Bullets
Author: Adimora-Ezeigbo, Akachi
Length: 486 pages
Genre: Fiction, Historical
Publisher / Year: Jalaa Writers’ Collective / 2011
Rating: 1/5
Why I Read It: More Nigerian lit, it was nominated for an ANA prize, and I enjoyed the previous book I’d read from Jalaa WC.
Date Read: 15/12/11

Phew. Anyone who was on twitter on Sunday already has a taste of what I thought of this book – namely that it really needed an editor. It is rather unfortunate, really, as for some reason I feel Adimora-Ezeigbo could have done much more with this story. I have an inability to abandon a book because I keep thinking the best and that it will improve. This is a skill that I really must learn in 2012.

This book follows Ginika, a young girl in Higher School in Nigeria (as the book says, “The Higher School students – as girls in Higher School were called in her school” ). She is away at boarding school when the war starts between the newly independent country of Biafra and Nigeria, closing her school and causing her to be taken home to live with her father and step-mother. She meets a young man, they fall in love, and the book follows them.

Ginika as a character was incredibly spoiled and bratty. Consider how the book starts: her father comes to take her home from her aunt’s house, where she has gone after school without his permission, and so she screams the entire drive home. Because she’ll show him… I cannot even imagine – I can tell you for sure my parents would not have stood for this!! Yet she is always upset with rules and thinks that she is being treated unfairly. Throughout the entire book she shows a ridiculous lack of empathy or care for anyone but herself. There is no character growth or development as even at the end of the book she is exactly the same as she was. She talks about how she has changed after going through so much, but her actions show her to be exactly the same.

Although I said above that the book follows Ginika and her love interest, Eloka, in reality almost nothing actually happens. We have characters going through life but it never seems real, and there is never much to keep the reader interested. When the big ‘twist’ comes about 3/4 of the way through, and that causes all of the ensuing drama, you could see it coming chapters in advance and I was just hoping that it wouldn’t go there… but the author did, and of course it causes exactly what one would think, with general victim blaming abounding.

We see what life can be like living through a civil war, and what that means, but yet nothing happened. So we have flat characters with no character development and a general lack of plot and action, but all of this was really caused by the lack of editing I believe. The book could have been cut in half by the removal of unnecessary words and sections that did nothing to move the plot forward but just added too much detail (like the quote above about Higher School). Some other examples and quotes:

Through the book for the most part the book was written in very flowery speech, very wordy and showing off a very thorough knowledge of the English language and thesaurus usage. But ‘common’ was often used for ‘come on’.

“She liked how he looked – his jet black skin, his big eyeballs” (I’m guessing the word that was meant here was simply eyes? It goes on to say how her school mates called such big eyeballs ‘romantic eyes’.)

“soon she felt his tongue all over her face and neck after which it sought her mouth again” (Is this a thing? To lick people’s faces in the heat of passion?)

“Reassured and comforted, Ginika let him into the core of her womanhood and anchored him” (Again, during a steamy scene. Is this really steamy? I just thought it sounded awkward.)

“He boiled with anger and cut his finger with the knife which Uzo had sharpened the previous day against a stone at the back of the house.” (He is angry and accidentally cuts his finger… do we really need to know who sharpened the knife and where and when? This is an example of unnecessary details that really do nothing to move the story forward.)

But yet… I kept reading waiting for improvement. Sadly it didn’t come in this book, but I do think that the author does show potential. I was surprised, however, to see that the author has written and published a large number of works to date and that she has won awards for it. In fact, this book received second prize in the ANA/NDDC Ken Saro-Wiwa Prize For Prose, which I must say confuses me, as above I show how terrible I really thought the prose was (Twilight at Terracotta Indigo which I reviewed last week came in third. Lola Shoneyin won with The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives). So perhaps I have it completely wrong and the book is, indeed, fantastic. Personally I wouldn’t recommend this book as I found it painful to read, though I do really want to discuss what I see as a completely absurd and ridiculous ending. So if anyone else can get through it, I’d love to discuss.

32 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2011 12:36 pm

    Ok, the bit about the big eyeballs and the face licking had me giggling. This book sounds utterly terrible! I can remember a few time that I read a book that really needed an editor badly, but this one sounds like it might have been better if every last scene and sentence was edited! Wow, what a train wreck! I admire you for sticking to it, Amy. I would have put this one down fairly early, I am certain!

    • December 19, 2011 8:26 pm

      Yep it definitely ruined the romantic mood for me zibilee, but it was still interesting in some ways… I just don’t know why I stuck with it though.

  2. December 16, 2011 1:17 pm

    Blogging taught me to stop reading when the book got too frustrating. Before, I would finish every book I started, believing that not to do so was to not give the book a fair chance. I am much happier now that I can put a book down; although, I do still get a slight twinge of guilt at the moment I stop reading.

    • December 19, 2011 8:27 pm

      Maybe it will teach me the same some day Trisha. I can only hope 🙂

  3. December 16, 2011 4:05 pm

    Oh dear! Like you, I have to learn to quit a book when it appears that It’s quit me. We need editors and we need writers to listen to editors. The examples you provided are atrocious. In Ghana, some folks will comment on the size of a person’s eye, though:).

    • December 19, 2011 8:28 pm

      I am really glad to know it’s actually something that is said there Kinna! I often wonder when writing reviews if what really bothered me is actually just a cultural thing, but never really know. So that part can stay 🙂

      And yes, more editors would be great, but learning to ditch books we aren’t enjoying would also be great!

  4. December 20, 2011 5:34 am

    Reading your review, I could feel you talking to me physically about how bad the book is. Thanks for saving my time. I would not be in a rush to go in for this. I am partically interested about how prizes are awarded to writers. Did you say this book came second in ANA/NDDC Ken Saro-Wiwa Prize For Prose?

    • December 20, 2011 7:49 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed Geosi, though you may enjoy the book…. I wouldn’t say definitely don’t read it but it certainly wasn’t for me, that’s for sure. And YES! It did come second in that prize! I don’t know how… :S

      • Engr. E. C. Nnamdi permalink
        January 26, 2012 8:47 am

        Please I have red this book, this is one of the best Novels in the world. Maybe you lack understanding, need somebody to put you through when reading or explain to you. I will encourage friends to get a copy of the book, just read a copy for your self it will add meaning to life.

        • January 27, 2012 11:53 am

          Thanks for the kind words E.C.. Perhaps just every book has it’s own audience. No one book can be loved by everyone! Glad to hear that you enjoyed it though.

  5. JOY O. permalink
    January 28, 2012 10:09 am

    Roses and Bullet is one of the most exacting war novels of this century.It is spontaneosly,appealing ,enlightening, frightening and most entertaining.Big up! Akachi.
    Best regards
    Joy O.

  6. NOFIU Jide. permalink
    January 28, 2012 11:08 am

    Akachi indeed is a prolific writer with an evergreen lightening wisdom,who has been highly successful in refining cultural norms and traditions.A renouned author with a great literary exellence.In ROSES AND BULLET Akachi retells folktales with a blend of her innate experience to depict cultural myths and heroic tales from familiar cultural communities.This makes her a domesticated and dimensional genius among her contemporary literary figures like Lesly Ogundipe who has been cannonized as a liberal feminist of her time.
    In the nearest future,Akachi’s ROSES AND BULLETS will be reckoned with as a literary piece beyond herself… Her facts about war life brings the pictures of her readers along as characters in her work.Her portrayal of contrasting cultures and traditions of the African society,particularly the Eastern Nigeria{Biafra} is like reading a travellers lounge with ahigher force,especially in a warbling situation.
    BRAVO! Akachi.
    NOFIU Jide.

  7. N Justin permalink
    January 29, 2012 6:05 pm

    I find it difficult to believe that this is a review of the same book I read. To make this sadder, I noted that some people have taken these review comments as gospel truth and decided not to read the book because of this. I think this is a pity and would like to encourage everyone to get a copy of the book themselves, read it and form their own opinion.

    I’d like to respond to some of the specific comments that were made. The reviewer referred to Ginika as being bratty because of her behavior at the beginning of the book. I do not agree that this describes her character. She was simply an adolescent who was being treated like a child by a father who she did not have much of a relationship with; and she wanted to assert herself and her individuality. Ginika throughout the book was portrayed as a young lady growing into womanhood with all its attendant issues. She was a loving and considerate sister and friend. Though she was from a family which could be said was relatively well to do, she mixed with girls from other social classes. She was intelligent and excelled in everything she did; including military training, for which she was recognised and subsequently asked to train new recruits. Ginika was also a good wife. I think it is not true to say she showed no empathy and cared for only herself.

    The book – Roses and Bullets depicts the everyday lives of people during the Nigerian Civil War. It sought to tell the story of the effect of the war on the lives of ordinary people. It is not a story of the warfront, neither is it meant to be a thriller. I was therefore surprised that the reviewer said there was no action. I also wonder why the reviewer said there was no character development and that Ginika was the same at the end of the novel. I totally disagree with that. At the end of the book, Ginika was obviously a more mature person. This was a woman who was raped by two Nigerian soldiers and yet she did not harbor any resentment against them. As for the book being predictable, I also totally disagree with that. In fact, I guessed at many ways the book could end, but never guessed the actual ending. I thought that the book would either end with Eloka coming back from the warfront and living happily ever after with Ginika; or that he (Eloka) would die in the war and leave Ginika behind, heartbroken and mourning him. However, both guesses were wrong. I would recommend that you read the book and find out how it ended.

    For me as a young Nigerian (though I did not witness the war) the book and the events in it seemed real. I have been told stories of the war by my parents and have also read other books on the war and the book – Roses and Bullets is very believable. In addition, I found it to be a very interesting and moving book. I could hardly put it down until the end and I was moved to tears in a number of places.
    I agree that the writer, Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo, describes some scenes in detail. However, I believe this was not overly much. I think this is the style of the writer and she has adopted this style to help the reader paint a graphic image of the scene in their minds.
    As for the reviewer’s comments on the “steamy” scene and the fact that it was awkward; at the risk of sounding too repetitive, I do not agree. The author in describing this scene has been metaphorical; which perhaps is different from the norm in most contemporary writings; however, that does not make it awkward.

    Overall, Roses and Bullets is a novel I greatly enjoyed. I found it interesting and it was a moving story. I believe the book deserves any awards it has won or will win in the future and I say KUDOS to the author – Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo.

    • January 30, 2012 3:45 pm

      I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed the book so much, though it is indeed the same book that we read. No book can work for everyone and I’ve heard a few others mention that they couldn’t get through this one and had to set it aside as they found it too boring and annoying. But I’m happy to hear that it still has its fans N Justin. Thanks for your views.

    • Raji s permalink
      February 3, 2012 2:37 am

      You have really said it all Justin, am glad to hear dat. I think d reviewer dnt take his time to go 2ru d book well because his understanding of the book is contrary to the message of the book. Akachi did a good job in enlightining d readers about war.

  8. Papa Jydo permalink
    February 5, 2012 11:31 am

    I think those who are fawning over this book are just being unneccessarily protective of Akachi. She’s a lousy writer! Add all her books together and you won’t get one solid book out of it. She manages to win all these awards for some other reasons that are not exactly literary. Roses and Bullets is one of the worst boooks I ever read. It made me sick. I had to jump over pages hoping to find one sensible thing but I didnt. She needs to stop writing. or rather, she should write only for people who cannot read. That’s it.

    • February 7, 2012 8:18 pm

      Heh, glad to see someone else willing to state they weren’t a fan of the book Papa Jydo. I still don’t understand the love for it??

  9. Adaobi Muo permalink
    February 5, 2012 5:07 pm

    Is this the same Roses and Bullets I could hardly put down till the last sentence? This was my immediate reaction to the review above. I am really sorry for anyone who reads the review before the novel because such may be deprived of an opportunity to communicate directly with one of the best novelistic accounts of the Nigerian civil war. My opinion is quite different from Amy’s.

    Generally, by all standards, Roses and Bullets is a compelling narrative. Adimora-Ezeigbo is a quintessential story-teller and this novel is another evidence in favour of this position. Particularly, I find it very difficult to endorse the reviewer’s judgement on Ginika, the principal character. Ginika is everything but “incredibly spoilt and bratty” and selfish. Is it the same Ginika who adored her only brother, went out of her way to care and protect Udo, shared the pains of her Aunty Chito, tolerated the many excesses of her parents-in-law and loved Eloka without reservations? How then does she lack empathy and care? naturally, dissidence is the direct result of dictatorialism. Ginika’s father is a dictator. He even ravaged her private part once ironically in a bid to keep her chaste. Ginika’s verbal response is perhaps inevitable just like Nwoye’s and Jaja’s in Things Fall Apart and Purple HIbiscus respectively. The author realistically invented a human being, not a saint in Ginika.

    Next, is there really no character growth and development in Ginika? Very surprising, considering that Ginika is initially introduced as a flourishing untouched flower but ended up as a mortally wounded maiden. Ginika passed through the rough and smooth roads of joy and grief, pain and pleasure, rejection and acceptance, love and hate, life and death, blood and tears. – She saw it all! Her horrible experiences robbed her of her innocence and ignorance but also made her mature and more sensitive. Her double rape, Eloka’s rejection, Mother-in-law’s hostility, etc forced Ginika to grow up very fast. Ginika’s growth and development is indubitably remarkable. Ginika’s obvious growth and development infuses into the novel certain bildungsromanic elements that enhances its quality.

    Adimora-Ezeigbo’s portrayal of Ginika-Eloka love scene is “absurd.” Is it? For me, that episode is realistically dramatic. In fact, at the risk of sounding mischievous, the author, in that, expresses a more-than-ordinary interest in the subject of love and relationship. She also boldly looks directly at a key aspect of life.

    In addition, how can one see “what life can be living through a civil war” in a book in which “nothing happens?” The novel realistically portrayed events of the civil war both in the war front and at the home front. it lucidly depicts the war and its physical, economic and psychological impacts on individuals, families and the society. the novel has one of the most unpredictable endings I have encountered in war novels. Adimora-Ezeigbo pulled the carpet off the reader’s feet in that avoidable conclusion.

    I vote ‘yes’ in favour of Roses and Bullets and unequivocally add that the “book is indeed fantastic” and interesting. I don’t share the view that it is “completely absurd and ridiculous”. I will rather say that it is realistically a compelling picture of the civil war painted in bright colours. Roses and Bullets tugs at the strings of the heart. I wept and smiled. intermittently at man’s capacity for destruction and endurance.

    Perfect work? How many works are perfect after all? There could be areas that require improvement, that is normal.

    Lastly, I must say that I did not regret reading the book for once. In this period of blatant provocations and avoidable bloodshed, one needs to read such books to be reminded of the lasting consequences of injustice, corruption and unmitigated violence.

    Very long response! Just can’t stop my fingers and I am glad they (the fingers) acted.

    • February 7, 2012 8:18 pm

      Maybe they published a different version on Kindle Adaobi. Or maybe we just have different reading tastes. Perhaps you should start a blog to review the books online as well, ensure more people hear about it. I certainly can’t share your enthusiasm for this one though.

  10. Lhanrhay permalink
    February 6, 2012 3:37 am

    The novel is very interesting. I luv it.

  11. Raji s permalink
    February 7, 2012 7:00 am

    That was harsh infant am left with no option than to believe u re a layman,well since you think you re d bst then start by writin ur own book i wil b glad to review it

    • February 7, 2012 8:21 pm

      I’m no author Raji, simply share my opinion on books that I read. As a reader, I do feel very qualified to do so. You’re welcome to review the book yourself on your own site, however. One doesn’t need to be an author to critique books.

  12. sandra permalink
    October 20, 2012 7:01 am

    All of this debates Ąπϑ reviews just makes me all †̥ђε more interested in †̥ђε book… U guys have just given †̥ђε †̥ђε super urge dat I need to get a copy Ąπϑ read it… I am curious Ąπϑ I’ve got to read it personally to satisfy my curiosity… Thanks guys!

  13. June 26, 2013 7:46 pm

    Yea,I don’t rily think the book and its content is genuine.No offence anyway
    Ur review was helpful

  14. Uche permalink
    January 31, 2014 2:59 am

    Your critique is absurd, absolutely absurd! Can you imagine the parameters used in the analysis of the book – so unprofessional. You’re complaining about details or unnecessary details? Go and read Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe or The Lord of the Flies by William Golding, you’ll see detalis at its best. I suggest you go learn how to do proper analysis of texts ’cause you need it.

  15. Halimat Magaji permalink
    November 30, 2016 7:08 am

    i just think you are a racist and you have the audacity to mock her diction or choice of words when you spelt spoilt as “spoiled”. The book is splendid and a representation of the Nigerian history, it teaches the Nigerian youth in an entertaining manner about our history and culture and Akachi did an amazing job. The book was amazing enough to be nominated for ANA prize.


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