Book of the Month: 29 Steps
Author: Ebele Mogo
Publisher: The Jeli Stories
Page Numbers: 69
“29 Steps” is a short story which, in my opinion, just so happens to coincide with this month being black history month. The contemporary fiction tells the story of a young girl, Chidubem Igwe, or commonly as her alias, Dube, who has to come to terms with the unexpected death of her father, which leads to a fate she hasn’t ‘designed’ for herself.
Whilst browsing for short stories to read, the title of the book caught my eye, before the short summary. The significance of the “29 steps” isn’t hinted at all until the final stages of the storyline; its significance not exactly ‘poetic’ but still holding a lot of weight on the characters, especially Dube and her mother.
The story is set in Nigeria, which is the birthplace of Mogo who stayed there for 14 years before emigrating to the US, so of course, her culture was embedded into the plot. I am from the same country so I was able to relate to the “taboo for anyone to see a woman’s menstruation blood”, heard about those who use “juju” (witchcraft) for their own motives, and felt ashamed to read that I was once the naive and timid “city child”, that Dube would’ve disliked. Most of my own family resides in Nigeria and I’ve only visited them twice in 18 years (tickets are very expensive!) but I do remember the awkwardness of being a 9-year-old who had to go and collect clean water, instead of using the tap. Now, just like Dube, I dislike how naive I was, but, unlike her, I understand that just like the “city children”, I was in an environment I just wasn’t used to, which led me to have an immature but hostile attitude towards the place. Thankfully most of that awkwardness for embracing my culture has gone – visiting Ghana, (Nigeria’s neighbour) last summer, was amazing! There were some instances where characters were speaking in their local language, Igbo, which suggested to me that Mogo is from the same tribe – unlike me, so translation was needed!
The use of third-person narrative allows the reader to explore the lives of the secondary characters who had relations with Dube. The consistent use of flashbacks provides insight into her mindset as a young child, her almost sexual relationship with her childhood friend, and the loving environment in her family home. Not all of the past narratives have relevance to the overall plot, however, the reader gains context of certain characters, which otherwise would’ve been overshadowed, or not included in the main storyline.
The theme of unexpected occurrences in the story illustrates to the reader that although you may have your future mapped out in the next one, five or ten years, the future is only time regarded as still to come. Nobody, as seen through Dube in this book, can ever truly plan their future as unexpected occurrences are mostly likely to happen. Too often I am just like her. I hope for this or that succession by the end of this school year, after my 4-year degree, and during the rest of my life. As her friend, Eze, rightfully pointed out, “there is no script”. What interested me, at that point in the book, was Eze’s religious point of view. As a Christian, I’d argue that God holds the script of everyone fate, even those who were “killed by Boko Haram”. Does that mean that one of my relations was supposed to be killed by those terrorists? That’s debatable. The theme also made me wonder about the author’s stance on fate. Did she ever fathom how it would be to leave her home country and move to a totally different culture and society? Did Mogo ever have her thoughts of how school would be, becoming an author, and eventually the president of the ‘Engage Africa Foundation’? Was she met with obstacles, or did life go very smoothly up to where she is now in the United States? The latter question seems very unlikely.
Overall, the storyline was a great read. I felt as if I could relate to Dube’s outspoken personality, as well as her vulnerability as a result of a tragedy. The consequence of her father’s death on her future reminded me that there will always be things that we don’t fit into our map of our futures which may, like Dube’s case, provide alternative and new pathways in her journey to her ambitions in her life. I’d recommend this story to readers who love a more Western African, particular Nigerian, cultural approach to a storyline surrounding grief and its aftermath.
“What do you mean by ‘gossips like a girl’? He gossips like a boy.” – Dube
If you have any recommendations for me to read, then let me know! Comment below, and I’ll check it out!