Reviewed by Joseph Omotayo
Season of Crimson Blossoms grippingly depicts the vagaries of life. It bares realities and its intricacies. It examines the moral rules we live by. Humanity could be confusing; the same rigid laws that guide us, snuff us out. In the manner characteristic of Victorian literature, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim explores a puritanical society. Interestingly, he portrays well the fragile veneer masking strict morality. The society portrayed in Season of Crimson Blossoms is typical of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Binta Zubairu and Hester Prynne share a striking similarity in their woes. This is how a puritanical society works: freedom is rejected for adherence; practicality is celebrated over sheer pleasure; the human will is heavily influenced by prescriptive religious mores. With that prescriptiveness, society turns against itself in its constant moralistic sanitization. Humanity is seen striving for divinity, and there lies the evil that ravages it. Humanity is humanity. The Supernatural is the Supernatural. When humans long to be preternatural, many things give. In Season of Crimson Blossoms, Binta Zabairu gives; Hassan ‘Reza’ Babale gives, and everything that surrounds their stormy relations.
The novel is the story of love (lust?) in unexpected places. Like life, other things follow this. Binta is at the centre of a complex commotion that trudges to a dampened climax. In Binta’s self realisation, she constantly battles with her society. Nobody wins an African society easily. Ask Ezeulu in Chinua Achebe's Arrow of God. An African society heavily relies on the Ubuntu philosophy where personhood is only realized in communality. You are nothing outside the approval of your society. Binta breaches societal and religious norms, and the consequences are overwhelming. Beyond the travails Binta suffers and the boisterousness of San Siro are Nigerian politics and the consequent ethnic-religious crises. There is Senator Buba Maikudi, a roguish politician oozing grimes and candies from the same side of the mouth. The book uses riveting yet subtly dark humour to capture the entity called Nigeria. Yaro’s, Zubairu’s, and Fai’za’s parents’ lives serve as a counter-narrative to popular perspectives on the many ethnic-religious crises in the North. Season of Crimson Blossoms is a complete debut of everything wrecking a closely knitted society as ours. Above all, it lauds an individual’s will to rise above the conventional. Binta wills freedom here:
“She wanted it to be different. She had always wanted it to be different. And so when he nudged her that night, instead of rolling on her back and throwing her legs apart, she rolled into him and reached for his groin. He instinctively moaned when she caressed his hardness and they both feared their first son, lying on a mattress would stir.
What the hell are you doing? The words, half-barked, half whispered, struck her like a blow. He pinned her down and, without further rituals, lifted her wrapper. She turned her face to the wall and started counting. The tears slipped down the side of her closed eyes before she got to twenty.” (pg. 54)
The above is not just sex. A woman’s soul is being gruesomely wrenched off. Sex in her home is following through duteous motions. One would have to understand the kind of society Binta is in to well appreciate the bravery Binta summons there, as she mounts her husband. Hers is a society driven by strict religious dicta: a society that normalizes the objectification of women; a society where you fuck your wife and she does this:
“When he’s done, always put your legs up so his seed will run into your womb.” (pg. 51)
You will cry here. No wetness. No pleasure. And Zubairu, Binta’s husband, just rams her on:
“…when he was tossing and turning on the bed next to her, she knew he would nudge her with his knee and she would have to throw her legs open. He would lift her wrapper, spits into her crotch and mount her…She would count slowly under her breath, her eyes closed…And somewhere between sixty and seventy – always between sixty and seventy – he would grunt, empty himself and roll off her until he was ready to go again.” (pg. 53-54)
I love the way language is used in this book. Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s use of language impresses. In fact, before you get yourself into the story, language hooks you first. In showing the way Binta breaks free, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim paints it well here:
“Hajiya Binta Zubairu was finally born at fifty-five when a dark-lipped rogue with short, spiky hair, like a field of miniscule anthills scaled her fence and landed, boots and all, in the puddle that was her heart.” emphasis mine (pg. 3).
You will love the poeticity of his language. Meanings are compressed and left to swell in your mind. Check this:
“After growing wings through indiscretion, Hajiya Binta, contrary to her expectation, did not transform into an eagle, but an owl that thrived in the darkness in which she and Reza communed.” (pg. 123)
My favourite in the book is how this everyday teenage act is simply shown:
“…the girl was already up, wiping sleep from her eyes with a cotton ball dipped in facial cleanser.” (pg. 33)
Everything in this novel reflects the postcolonial. I like this. The postcolonial always aims to deconstruct and break hegemony of discourses. Characters in this book de-stereotype societal held norms. There is a subtle attack on societal negative ancientness. Binta breaks Patriarchal power in many ways. An instance is the way she perpetually scorns Mallam Haruna’s proposition. Characters triumph in their complexities to challenge pigeonholing. Reza may be a street rogue and bestial political tool, however, the orderliness he enforces in San Siro shows an unconventional intellect at play. The lord of San Siro, a place where street scums trade in the illegal, Reza’s humanity shines off nevertheless. His soft spots for Binta and his familiar trauma are the two sides of him he struggles to manage.
However, some of the many deconstructions in this book are not without their faults. In the overreaching attempt to stab stereotypes, Abubaka Adam Ibrahim seems to desperately over essentialise characters and incredulity stings you in the face. Some characters in this book shove unbelievable intellects into your face. The book takes it far when Reza sees the need to get Leila a book while in his captivity:
“I found this on my way back yesterday at a second-hand bookseller’s. I thought you could do with something to read. Keep you company, you understand?” (pg. 284)
It is Reza! Not Fai’za and her friends, who we know to love books. I find the passion Binta shows towards literary works unnatural. I see it as a belaboured attempt to elevate this character into something she is not. This is an imposed intellection, another place where deconstruction terribly fails. Consider this:
“While dusting the small pile of books shelved on the little cupboard in the corner, her eyes fell on Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. But Binta picked out a Danielle Steel novel instead and tossed it on the couch…” (pg. 34)
At a time in the book, she is seen philosophising about the old man’s struggle at sea, relating it to her own life. That part of her marvels me! What an intellectual!
You should read Season of Crimson Blossoms. There are so many things to love the book for.
First published by Critical Literature Review