A look at Nigerian society
Three women love and lose
By Katja Sembritzki
28/08/2022 10:57 am
Funmi lives in pure luxury, Zainab takes care of her paralyzed husband, Enitan has just divorced. In “You’re always a friend” Tomi Obaro tells about an unequal trio of women, about rebellion and a mega-marriage. But her debut is much more than a novel about friendship.
A novel about a female friendship? That doesn’t sound like anything groundbreaking at first. But don’t pass by Tomi Obaro’s “Freundin bblst du immer”. And that is hardly possible, because the colorfully designed 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 debut novel, Obaro, who works as a culture editor in the US, tells the story of three Nigerians who met during their studies in the 1980s and see each other again almost 30 years later. But it’s not just the story of a friendship: the book offers in-depth insights into Nigeria’s daily life and culture.
Enitan, Funmi and Zainab are “practically sisters”, although the origins and life paths of the three could not be more different. Enitan grows up strictly Christian. The studies offer her the opportunity to escape the crushing love of her single mother. After graduating, she marries a white missionary and follows him to the United States.
As reserved as Enitan is, Funmi is brash and impulsive. She loses contact with her family, becomes pregnant and her relationship with a political activist ends in tragedy. Zainab is described as the most beautiful of the three women. She comes from an academic Muslim family. She wears the hijab more out of habit, she dreams of writing plays and falls in love with a man who strongly rejects her father.
In 2015, the three met for the first time since graduation. The occasion is the wedding of Funmi’s daughter Destiny. Funmi now lives a luxurious life in the mega-metropolis of Lagos, but doesn’t know how Yinka, her dubious husband who keeps staring at his smartphone, makes all the money. Destiny’s wedding becomes one of the great social events: a choreographed, multi-day, pompous ceremony, where the family can show off their wealth. But Destiny – who studies medicine but actually prefers taking pictures – seems anything but happy in the role of bride.
While Funmi is in planning stress and refusing to see Destiny’s silent rage eyes, the other two friends arrive with worries of their own. Zainab takes care of her husband, who is paralyzed after a stroke. Enitan, on the other hand, has just divorced and is taking her 19-year-old daughter Remi with her. It is 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, pass by, shortly after, she is surrounded by servants in Funmi’s kitsch palatial house and casually asks, “What does Uncle Yinka do for a living?”.
An arc of tension and a heart
Like the characters, Obaro uses her book’s two timelines – university retrospective and reunion – to weave together the many facets of Nigerian society. In this way, readers learn not only about the cultural backgrounds of Hausa and Yoruba women, but also about the political unrest in the early 1980s. At the same time, the author repeatedly floods the dark side of Nigeria, for example when the bus taking Zainab to Lagos is kidnapped.
The fact that Obaro tells the story alternately from the perspective of the three friends is of course the ideal condition for an audiobook version. Abak Safaei-Rad, Alina Vimbai Strähler and Denise M’Baye give their respective protagonists their own unmistakable touch and transform the novel into a polyphonic listening experience.
Even if Destiny’s character eventually creates the tension, the heart of the novel remains the friendship between Zainab, Funmi and Enitan – which Stefanie Ochel translated into unsentimental, catchy German. All three women deal with the blows of fate, love them and lose them, but their bond remains unbreakable for decades and thousands of miles. Ultimately, your nuanced portraits – as a book or as an audio book – leave just as dazzling impression as the beautifully designed cover.