I worked in entertainment news for six months. I enjoyed a certain proximity to the people many call stars. I cannot say that it did much for me or my ego. Their resume’s weren’t so impressive that their names dropped from my lips at the first opportunity. In spite of my snobbery, there were a number characters I thought note worthy. Toke Makinwa was one of them. She said no to some scandalous segment I was planning. I can’t remember what it was exactly, but I know it was nothing good. It was one of those things that would have stoked a fire better left doused.
When I went about asking people about her, one said, “She’s the worst sort of social climber: one utterly without taste. A shameless social climber.” I have read this opinion and worse in the comments section of many a blog. However it isn’t a sentiment I could ever subscribe to. If people remained where they were when born then life wouldn’t be worth living at all. It would be an inconvenience; utterly without purpose.
It is this sort of thinking that inspired On Becoming, Toke Makinwa’s book. In the prologue she writes, “Welcome to a world of me, on a mission to find out who I am. I am Becoming.” It is this sentence that gives the book its agency, its definition, and its freedom. The vagueness it implies allows her to talk about almost anything.
We must never forget that we are her enablers. If we did not demand to know the sordid details of her failed marriage to Maje Ayida, then the book would not be the 4th best selling memoir on amazon.co.uk’s kindle store, or the 24th best selling memoir on amazon.com’s kindle store. Under the broader biography section which doesn’t distinguish between e-books and physical copies, it is in the top 100 of both markets. Furthermore the people that bought it love it. On amazon.com it is rated 4.9 out of 5 stars, and on amazon.co.uk it is rated 4.8 out of 5 stars.
In Nigeria, we have cultivated a culture of silence. The horrors of life are locked away in irretrievable boxes and forgotten. They repeat themselves with alarming frequency because we do not share or acknowledge that they happened. When they are mentioned, words that encourage endurance and continued silence follow. With this guidebook it is no wonder that we suffer many tragedies in silence and shame. Failure, Divorce, Mental Illness, Sexual Harassment, all swept under the carpet with one totalitarian brush.
This is one of the reasons why Toke Makinwa’s book is good. She talks about her relationship with clarity. You’ll read what happened, what she was thinking while it happened, and why she let it happen. The prose is not beautiful, and the grammar is dodgy, but it is not vindictive, or bitter, or hateful. You do not come out of it hating her ex-husband. It is far too introspective for that. There are parts of it that could have been left out. The revelation about her itchy nethers after sex with Maje was one of them. It distracted from the narrative and did nothing for the plot.
Even more note worthy is the fact that it is as much about her relationship with Maje as it is her relationship with God. In true Toke fashion it doesn’t come across as high handed. She never assumes the moral high ground. Instead she writes about her struggles with her faith while all of this was going on, and it makes for a compelling story.
However, the book is not without it’s problems. It could have been deeper. I do not believe that it is possible to condense two decades in a hundred pages. She leaves several story lines unexplained and unaccounted for. In the absence of detail readers have no choice but to speculate.
Its biggest failing is that it too is “becoming.” It is on its way to becoming a more complete book, but it remains a must read in spite of all its flaws and maybe even because of them. More often than not, it is a shallow look at the shallow marriage of a middle class working woman in Lagos. Be that as it may, it is the most honest Nigerian book about the failure of a marriage this year. It is the first sound in a world of silence and this is its most commendable feature.