Title: Grandma’s Sun: A Childhood memoir from Africa
Publisher: University of Calabar Press
Year of Publication: 2000
Reviewer: Olutayo IRANTIOLA
This piece is of an ingenous biography
written in the character name of Olu Yaro. The book opened in an interesting
and high-catchy way that would make the reader read further. This book can be
understood if followed with thorough concentration on the sub-themes and
reading beyond the formal vocabularies that span across the script. It has ten
chapters that discussed his life from his primary level of education till he
wrote the final letter to his daughter.
The Analysis of the Chapters
Chapter One is an expose of the
the primary school mischief of Olu Yaro’s schoolmates. He earned the nickname
as a result of the
arthritis that he suffered from. He eventually had to liberate himself, a bit, by
fighting Soji. The fight attracted the attention of the grandparents of both
boys and it was settled in the usual communal way of the elderly and the
Chapters Two is humourous in
nature. Olu Yaro and his cousin, Ronke Fakuade, discussed on varying subjects.
The most significance of the interlocution was the childish belief that Egypt
and Jerusalem are heavenly cities that do not exist on the earth, It also has
another contrary belief or expectation, the way of eulogizing in Yorubaland
made Olu Yaro assume that a minister must be tall, hefty, strong etc. but he
was surprised to see a lanky, young man as a minister who came to his
He discussed how regarded &
esteemed teachers & headmasters of his age were accorded. He condemned the use
of English as the instructional language whereas teaching would have been aided
id the mother-tongue is used. This chapter discussed his teachers and their
Chapter Three is on his life as a
youngster who does not want to be drafted into the labour force that will
ensure the continuity of poverty. His thirst for education was stressed. He was
offered admission into the University of Lagos, just like every episode in
life, his university education finished. He then proceeded to the San Dokito
University, America. Some of the sub-themes in this chapter are the essence of
creative writing against the critics. Creative writers are known but not the
critics; the state of Africa tracing it since the advent of the Europeans till
leadership was handed over to Nigerians.
Chapter Four informs us of the rumours
the protagonist had over the years. His mother was rejected when she conceived,
out of wedlock, but nature made it impossible for his paternity to deny him because
of the resemblance. The sub-themes in this chapter includes the commercialization
of royal thrones, democracy-turned “democrazy,”
the exodus of people from the
country in search of greener pastures. The story continues with his departure
to live with his parents uncle’s family.
The arrival, in winter, in New York, where he
mistakenly registered in another school after gaining admission in another
school; eventually, he did the other half of his study where he belonged. The quest
for scholarship in America made it compulsory for him to spell words in the way
Americans does and not in the British style of writing that he was trained with
Chapter Five is on the new status
he just acquired; an elite and a scholar. He came to Nigeria after four years
in America to reunite with family members for summer. Rumour mongers became
active, there were diverse summations; he might have committed a crime in
America. He might not have left Nigeria and other idle talk. He left
immediately after summer. The chauffeur asked him questions at his arrival in
the US, students continued with wrong mentality of Africa. When he dressed in
African attire, a student ranted, “I love your Pyjamas.”
Olu Yaro did not like the
treatment meted out on him when he when he was a petrol station attendant and
also working at a barber’s shop. At the completion of his Ph.D, he was given an
appointment at the University of Ilu-Erin. He extensively described the origin
of Ilu-Erin, the rulership, the religious and artistic tilt of the town.
In the University of Ilu-Erin,
the first point of conflict was his hair and office. He was seen as looking
more American than African. His close associates were Chally Mann and Bade. Olu
Yaro intervened in a situation involving Jemilla and another America-trained
lecturer. This was the beginning of his relationship with her. He had
differences with her regularly but resolved it over time till they married. The
last threat to the consummation of marriage was the rumour that he had wives
and children in Europe. The support of his father in-law made the marriage
possible. Another problem he faced was the spine-pain he had that he had to
travel out of the country for medication but it was said that he was conducting
researches in America. After treatment, he had a daughter, Foyinsayemi, he
insisted on returning home, ultimately, he left for San Dokito.
Chapter Six opened with Jemilla’s
face off with her supervisor during her Master’s degree. Olu Yaro had to take
the matter with some resilience. He described people in the faculty like
Chally, Chief Lajubi, Sibina Akingbeja, Baba Adewiye, Dr Dayo Egunjuwa, Niyi
Chapter Seven is a narration of
hurts he suffered from childhood. His friendship with Yinkus Junbo, the many
slaps from his mother and the transfer of aggression from Aunty Edith. He got
one from his wife and this made him react by beating her up, he confessed, “I
beat you up today, not only because of you, but as a final response to the
festival of slapping contest on my face by women in my life since I was a
He went further to lampoon very
religious Christians; he believed one’s religion should be his or her
character. Other writers who had diverse childhood experiences are James
Baldwin, Richard Wright, Alice Walker, Marya Angelou (American national poet
laureate) and Merle Woo (a second generation Korean American).
Chapter Eight is about the
confluence of elites and intellectuals in Ilu-Erin. The meeting place is find
pond; various delicacies are served there, most especially on the menu list is
pepper soup. A paradoxical interlocution on Nigeria took place at the place
involving these intellectual friends. The problems, efforts made and the
situation of the country was analyzed there. Some of those present that night
were Olu Adefemi, Albert Anji, Chally Mann, Segun Ola, Balogun Chike-Obi and
Ade Oba. The agitation for change by these people had been done by people like
Olaodah Equiano and Frederick Douglas.
Such places like fish pond in
other parts of the world that the writer knows include Dux Maggots, Dome,
Boulevard Germaine and Le Flore Café. Some intellectuals who frequented cafes
at London were Alexander Pope, Dr John Arbuthnot, Thomas Gray, Addix and Stele.
Others include Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hermingway and Jean Paul Saittre.
Chapter Nine is about Sonoma-Napa
valley that Olu Yaro visited. Yaro had a dream bringing him close to his roots
and reminded him of somethings in life that guided him on to Santa Rose where
Joan McMurray-Ketzez would host him.
The concluding chapter is about
his family life. The advent of his daughter when he least expected. Olu Yaro
performed a very essential parental role; he answered all the questions that
she asked him. He wanted her to believe in her fatherland regardless of her
citizenship and sojourn in America.
The attempt to have another child
was difficult coupled with the economic hardship of the season. Kako-Olukumo
eventually arrived seven years after Foyin has been born. His naming ceremony
and his feature at birth was adequately described. There were the sub-theme of
the death of his doctor friend, Clyde St Hill, and the eulogy presented at his
burial and also the death of Pa Gabriel Omonigbeyin and the attendant behavior
of his siblings.
He concludes the script by
writing a letter to his daughter, telling her of her ancestry, some events that
had happened in his life, his siblings and he admonished her.
The language of the novel is for
the intellectual and academia. It is of the Wole Soyinka style of writing as
the ability to discourage those out of the humanities and academia from
reading. The overall language of the text is for the high learned elites.
Also, there is a reflection of
Nigerian languages in the test. Yaro
is a Hausa word for boy, words like abi
ka na da kudi on
pg. 150; Yaya dai
pg. 151 were used.
There is also the sufficient use
of Yoruba language and its shades. Yoruba words like amure
pg. 49; loun loun
pg. 81; kayiji
pg. 125 and others.
Proverbial expressions like aja ti o sonu
ko ni gbo fere ode; igbagbo koni k’ama soro ile
pg. 49; b’omode ba mo owe, aa ba agbajeun
pg. 96; bi a ba n ja bi ti k’akuko
pg. 101 etc.
There is also the use of
transliteration most especially when incantations were made. He made efforts to
translate sufficiently. Wrong pronunciation due to phonological
differences, defects or illiteracy was depicted. Words like Giresi which is Grace, in English; Minista for Minister; Tishas for teachers; Shifu for Chief; Unifaity for University; Sayensi for Science; tekinoloji for Technology. There is also
a fuse of pidgin into the script that makes it relevant to the environment of
occurrence, Nigeria in Chapter Two and nobiso
Some noticeable typos are seen in
the text both in Yoruba and English: “Oorun”, which should read “oorun”; ae
which should read “are”; “you”, which should read “your”; “ro” which should
read “to”; “hat” which should read “that”; “cut” which should read “call”; “Higbazti”
which should read “nigbati”.
The use of personal quotes that
start each chapter has spiced it up and it added a lot of meaning to the text.
There is a fusion of many
cultures in the script: English, Yoruba, Hausa and pidgin. The book described
some rituals that are usually carried out in Yorubaland; the betrothal of a
lady to a man; the isoye
rituals; the naming rituals.
This also concluded the use of incantations. Names of materials mentioned
leaves, mariwo, palm-nuts and kolanuts.
The locales evident in the text
Nigeria: Igbotako, which is the country
home of Yaro pg. 26.
Igede-Ekiti where he had his
secondary school education.
Lagos where he stayed with his
uncle’s place and the University of Lagos where he had his bachelor’s degree.
Ilu-Erin: He worked in the
University and met his wife, Jemilla, there.
Other places out of Nigeria
include: San Dokito where he bagged his Masters and PhD degrees. Switzerland,
Yugoslavia, Britian and Austria (Yaro and Jemilla traveled to these locations
before marriage). The two main classifications would do Africa and Europe.
The life of Olu Yaro started with
rumours of his paternity. He also experienced another set of rumour when he
came home after a four year sojourn in America. The traditional belief that
people would stay there for a minimum of seven years before coming home with
full academic laurels; people assumed that he must have committed a crime to be
home. The misinformed American also asked questions about Africa and the black
His stay in the University of
Ilu-Erin was also full of rumours which include his marriage abroad; his conduct
of research while he was on a sickbed; his involvement in the cruelty unleashed
on Dr Dayo Egunjuwa, a staff in the same department. Another rumour about his
life was his impotence which made female students flock around him. Jemilla’s proven
affair that caused rift between the duo.
The book also has a lot of
humours. The first example was the religious discussion about Egypt and
Jerusalem; the minister and his stature. The registration at different schools
in San Dokito; the barrage of slaps he received and his reaction; the pyjamas
comment passed on his African attire; the barber’s shop episode and the
analysis of Nigeria at the fishpond.
This is a text that is thoroughly
descriptive, has a good touch of narrative tour. It also employs dialogue that
enlivens the book with an equal addition of superb analogies. It is a script
that combines many qualities reflecting the Nigerian environment and the
American settings effectively.
There are a lot of characters in “Grandma’s
Sun” but this review will reflect those who made significant contribution to
his life. This will be grouped
Grannies: The controversial
conception of Olu Yaro made his grandma adopt him. He was with his grannies
till he left for secondary school. She was his defense a lot of ways by
fortifying him; told him his ‘story’, she went to Soji’s grandfather. She is an
epitome of motherhood.
Olu Yaro: The protagonist, he is
at the centre of the creative piece. His
quest for education; his informal traditional training spiced up the book. He moved
from childhood to adulthood and was lucky enough not to be involved in many
tragedies but had a rollicking time with rumours. He had a good grasp of both
English and his mother-tongue, Yoruba and he eventually became a literary
Bade and Chally: These were Olu
Yaro’s allies at the University of Ilu-Erin who updated him with the latest
rumours about him. Bade was the person who made him realize the rumour about
his foreign marriage.
Dr Clyde St. Hill: He did not
feature prominently in the book but he played a vital role in the life of Olu
Yaro since their days at the University of California and at San Dokito. He
hlped Olu Yaro in becoming a citizen of the US ans stood by him when he was on
admission in the US.
Jemilla: The daughter of a
British-trained man who married Olu Yaro after a lot of storms as a student.
She bore two children for him; she is described as firm, in Olu Yaro’s words, “she
is strong lass, a lioness, a typical Amina of a woman.” Pg. 100.
Chief Fosile and Aunty Edith:
Chief Fosile and Aunty Edith (a white woman) are a couple. The husband is a
politician and the wife a homemaker. They adopted Olu Yaro and helped him
through his university education in Lagos and helped him to proceed to the US
for his postgraduate education. He received a slap from Aunty Edith but
generally they are good spirited folks.
These are some of the characters
in the text.
The book is a whole is
entertaining and it is an elitist version of the African Child by Camara Laye.
As an alumnus of the University of Ilorin and a student of Arts; despite the
modifications of the names of Olu Yaro’s allies, I am conversant with original
names; heard some of these stories, however I did not meet Prof Olafioye in the
school. This memoir is a great faction.
First published in the Herald
newspaper, Ilorin December, 5 and 12, 2008