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A review of The Place that Gave, a novel by Emem Uko

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The Place That Gave is the fifth novel by Emem Uko. The story is set in USA and Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. Theana Green, a beautiful young lady is the brand ambassador and public face of Health Trix, a healthy snacks brand. Idolized by the public, fame and fortune flows in for the young lady till a secret is revealed: unknown to her, Illegal additives are being added to the snack she is promoting. The news gets into the public space and she falls from grace to grass, becoming the fall guy for the company. Her boyfriend, Lionel chooses the same period to break up with her, taking her back to the familiar phase of poverty and heartbreak. Theena flees to Nigeria to clear her head and start life afresh.

Popular Nigerian-American musician and Playboy, Ramsey Edet leave the United States of America for a short vacation in Nigeria to avoid the bad press in the wake of his brother’s death from drug addiction and to work on a music project with some local artistes. A chance meeting in a bar in Akwa Ibom brings Theena and Ramsey together and sets the stage for a whirlwind romance that will either make or break them.

The Place that Gave explores the themes of heartbreak, loneliness, reconciliation and adventure. The author being of Akwa Ibom origin, with her picturesque descriptions markets Abak local government area to the reader and makes the reader want to visit.

emem uko
Emem Uko

Theena and Ramsey are two polar characters with conflicting personalities as Theena states on Page 107, “I went to college so I could become a writer. My mission in life as you have falsely stated isn’t to be the centre of attraction or in the limelight”.

But Ramsey lives for the limelight and his opinion of Theena on Page 147 is quite blunt, “I think you’re too stiff. You’re young and should learn to just live. Breathe a little and be spontaneous.”

As you turn the pages of the novel, you get to see the conflict between Theena and Ramsey building up to a climax that would either bring them together or cut them apart.

The relatability of the characters is one of the strong points of the novel. Many a man can identify with Ramsey’s honest declaration on page 331, “I know I am not the best man out there. I’m trouble, and being with me is going to be difficult: the media will get involved, the paparazzi will stalk you, the rumours of my cheating on you will be endless, but I’ll sleep better knowing that I have a woman who knows me and who loves me very much”. Similarly, the troubled marriage between Frank and McKenna will resound with married folks.

The novel has 337 pages and is divided into 24 chapters all titled with words beginning with the letter ‘E’. From Exploded to Entwined to Exaggerated, the author keeps the reader hooked as the story progresses.

Although some of the characters in this book have Akwa Ibom names, it is evident that the book is written for the American audience. I couldn’t help but sigh at the italicization of Nigerian words and places. Akara is described on page 72 as “an oily, spicy, shapeless pastry-like thing in a nylon bag”.

This description will not sit well with any Akara lover as it downgrades the delicious everyday Nigerian cuisine/snack. Similarly, Abak, Akwa Ibom, Annang, Uyo are italicized in the novel while western meals and American cities are not italicized. From a pan-African perspective, one wonders when we Africans will stop having to explain ourselves to the west in our literature and allow them to make the effort to figure out things for themselves.

A love story with its steamy scenes can become very predictable and monotonous but that is not the case here as the author cleverly introduces a supernatural theme in the plot, weaving a narrative of the villagers in Abak digging the grounds for a mysterious and elusive item which they are desperate to keep secret from Ramsey and Theena.

Aside from a few confusing scenes, The Place That Gave is beautifully written and makes for a good holiday read.

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