A look at Nigerian society
Three women love and lose
Written by Katja Simbritsky
08/28/2022 10:57 AM
Living in pure luxury, Funmi takes care of her paralyzed husband, Initan, who has just divorced. In “You’re Always a Friend” Tommy O’Barro talks about an unequal trilogy of women, a rebellion and a huge wedding. But her debut is much more than a romance novel.
A novel about female friendship? This doesn’t sound like a groundbreaking thing at first. But you shouldn’t pass by Tommy O’Baro’s “Freundin bblst du immer.” And in fact, this is not possible, because the color-coded cover of the book published by Hanserblau immediately catches the eye. The cover photo shows a stylized image of a black woman wearing a festive hat and eye-catching earrings.
The book also has a lot to offer in terms of content. In her first novel, Obaru, who works as a cultural editor in the United States, tells the story of three Nigerians who met during their studies in the 1980s and saw each other again nearly 30 years later. But it’s not just a story of friendship: the book offers deep insights into daily life in Nigeria and its culture.
Initan, Funmi, and Zeynep are practically “sisters,” although the origins and life paths of the three could not be more different. Enitan grows up strictly Christian. Studies give her a chance to escape her mother’s celibate love. After graduation, she married a white missionary and followed him to the United States.
As reserved as Enitan is, Funmi is bold and exuberant. She loses contact with her family, gets pregnant, and her relationship with a political activist ends in tragedy. Zainab is described as the most beautiful of the three women. It comes from the home of a Muslim academic. Wearing a headscarf more than usual, she dreams of writing plays and falls in love with a man who is vehemently rejected by her father.
In 2015, the three met again for the first time since graduation. The occasion is the wedding of Destiny’s daughter Funmi. Funmi now lives the life of luxury in the mega-city of Lagos, but she doesn’t know how Yinka, her questionable husband who is still staring at his smartphone, is making all the money. Destiny’s wedding is set to be one of the big social events: a designer party that lasts for several days with pomp and great cost, at which the family can show off their wealth. But Destiny – who studies medicine but actually prefers to take pictures – seems unhappy with the role of the bride.
While Funmi is under planning pressure and doesn’t want to see Destiny’s appearance filled with quiet rage, the two other friends arrive with their own fears. Zainab takes care of her husband, who is paralyzed after suffering a stroke. On the other hand, Enitan just broke up and brings her 19-year-old daughter Remy with her. It’s her first time in Nigeria, surprised and rebellious at the same time. Just in time, she sees Makoko, one of the worst slums in Lagos, passing by, shortly afterwards surrounded by servants in Funmi’s stately kitsch house and casually asking: “What does Uncle Yenka do for a living?”.
Arc of suspense and heart
Like the characters, Obaru uses her book’s two timelines—college flashbacks and reunions—to weave the many aspects of Nigerian society together. For example, readers learn not only of the cultural backgrounds of Hausa and Yoruba women, but also of the political turmoil of the early 1980s. At the same time, the author has repeatedly let the dark side of Nigeria spill over, for example when the bus that Zainab took to Lagos is hijacked.
The fact that Obaro tells the story alternately from the perspective of the three friends is of course the perfect prerequisite for an audiobook version. Abak Safaei-Rad, Alina Vimbai Strähler and Denise M’Baye give their heroes an unmistakable special touch and transform the novel into a polyphonic listening experience.
Even if the character of fate ultimately creates the arc of suspense, the heart of the novel remains the friendship between Zeynep, Funmi and Enetan – which Stephanie Uchelle translated into an unsentimental and charismatic German. The three women have to deal with the blows of fate, love and loss, but their relationship remains unbreakable over decades and thousands of kilometers. In the end, your finely detailed photos—whether as a book or an audiobook—make as impressive an impression as a beautifully designed cover.