I Saw the Sky Catch Fire

Whether one calls it a novel or a collection of interrelated stories, I SAW THE SKY CATCH FIRE is an interesting and artful blind of fact and fiction, history and fabulation. Its narrative pretext is deceptively simple. The night before the narrator, Ajuziogu (Ajuzia), is to leave Nigeria to study in the United States, his grandmother, Nne-nne, tells him a series of tales, village anecdotes, and local history, which he considers a “deathbed confession” but which the reader comes to suspect is her way of filling him with enough of the native culture to sustain him during his time abroad. Relinquishing the narrative spotlight to Nne-nne proves more than a mere narrative stratagem, for her stories all concern “oho Ndom, the Solidarity of Women” and focus on the 1929 Women’s war against British colonialism. Unlike the village men, who are either acquiescent or corrupt and almost always bullying, the women are on the one hand patient, faithful, and dutiful and on the other fiercely loyal to one another and to their culture (clitorectomy included). The men become mesmerized by the white man’s “magic”; the women rebel, refusing to be counted in the census (necessary for taxation) or to accept the unfair prices the white traders offer for the palm oil upon which (thanks to the colonizers) the local economy now depends. Though many will pay with their lives, the women are the ones who possess the real “Ebube, the aura of power.”

Except for its...

(The entire section is 404 words.)