I met Shukrat Belgore before reading the book. During our short encounter, she made an inviting recommendation of the book. I moved the book up my list out of curiosity as my inquisitiveness got the best of me. While the author did a good job promoting the book, she did a better job by sustaining readers’ interest in the book.
The ‘Pandemic Blues’ reflects the societal struggles and vices in the face of the pandemic. The COVID-19 inspired story shows some families’ plights during the pandemic. It chronicles the beginning of the lockdown and how couples, growing apart due to the demands of their jobs, were made to stay indoors.
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The book was published in 2020 and reflects the realities in several Nigerian homes regardless of the high walls families have built to shield themselves. It tells the stories of some Nigerian families through the eyes of Aliero and Vince, a young couple from different cultural backgrounds who were blinded by love.
Love, the central theme of the book, seems to be the best thing to have happened to the young successful family as is typical of several homes. Soon, the love subtly turns sour as the spark that ignites passion in the couple wanes. Gradually, due to the demands of motherhood, family upkeep and other responsibilities, the couple grew apart. The hole in their relationship was widened with the pandemic. The lockdown was the last straw that broke the camel’s back as the two strangers could no longer take cover with their works and responsibilities. They are forced to stay indoors which unravelled several things they have failed to notice.
The book showed what some people went through, especially domestic violence, which is not limited to physical hurt but also emotional and mental abuse. The losses incurred by Vince, an entrepreneur, as is the case with some business owners during the lockdown, who could not go on with his business due to the lockdown, flipped him over turning him to a monster.
Belgore was able to capture how marriages suffered during the lockdown. She did it so well that she did not leave out much details as the book started from the disbelief that greeted the government’s announcement of a lockdown.
The author did well with her descriptive abilities, typical of a lawyer, by painting a vivid picture of the Aliero and Vince’s family from their daily routines to their work and relatives. With this, she was able to explore the flaws of the patriarchial Nigerian society where the husband does nothing but return home, eat and sleep till the next day to continue same routine.
Aliero, as some Nigerian women, carters for the family with her time, talent and treasures with little or no appreciation from Vince. The book shows a system where women are responsible for the upkeep of the children, husband and the home. Women are made to cook regularly and reprimanded when the food is served without the husband’s desired pieces of protein even if he fails to provide money to buy it. Women are burdened with work, school run and returning home to chores, sweating and labouring to ensure the husband’s favourite meal is served before he returns home.
‘Pandemic Blues’ captures a society whereby some women suffer in silence as it was with Aliero.
Belgore was also able to weave in kidnapping, love around the pandemic. Aliero was later kidnapped.
Who would have thought that kidnapping would be a liberating factor? While also manifesting another reality of insecurity in the country, Belgore weaved it seamlessly that one might commend the kidnappers for rescuing Aliero but for her children. Several people have been kidnapped in Nigeria and what the author did with the book was to show the implication of the lockdown which led several people to resort to crime. People who live from hand to mouth from touting at bus stops and other places had nothing to sustain them, thereby resorting to kidnapping and other crimes.
The kidnapping of Aliero changed her perspective about her husband and the marriage. For her to have found rest in the kidnappers’ den despite being bound and starved widened her horizon. She made the decision to either stay or leave the marriage while being tortured and starved by her captors.
While Vince’s struggle in the absence of Aliero was saddening, it also provided comic relief.
The author was also able to demonstrate how people have lost touch with neighbourliness. The hitherto family compound has given way to corporate family where people live behind high walls and big gates unconscious of their neighbours’ struggles. Who would have thought that a neighbour would become the hero?
Belgore made readers echo Aliero’s choice to either stay or leave the abusive marriage and she kept readers glued until the last page where this question was answered.
The call for unity in diversity by the author was pronounced. She was able to bring together several cultures and make them work perfectly. She maximises the potentials of the three prominent cultures and showed how Nigerians can live in peace regardless of their background. Vince, an Igbo, was married to a Yoruba girl while Alhaji Garba from Kano risked his life to help his ‘distant’ neighbour. At a time that the country is bedevilled with agitation for secession, Belgore’s Pandemic Blues is a call on Nigerians to see strength in our diversity.
Pandemic Blues also reveals corruption in the Nigeria Police Force when Vince was made to pay before a missing person complaint could be filed and repeated visit to the police station did nothing in unravelling the situation.
Belgore’s job, though interesting, was quite difficult as she was faced with telling a story that most Nigerians are familiar with. As such, she has to tell it in a compelling manner that captures the reader’s attention and ensure they did not stop flipping through the pages until it ends.
She did this in a spectacular manner and was also able to let readers into the past events of the characters without losing touch with the plot. Obviously, her professional training enhanced her descriptive abilities and succinct attention to details.
In her 12-chapter book, the author related the story with a blend of Pidgin English, Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa languages though with apt translation. The language is simple which would be to the admiration of young readers. From the beautiful cover design that captures the crux to the fine print, the Pandemic Blues could also be handy to marriage counsellors and couples.
Though writing is an art which could be left at the discretion of the writer but young readers might be confused on the use of proper nouns in the book. While it could be seen as her style, but using same words in different form on the same page shows lack of conformity as seen on page 93.
Other instances are on pages 42, 95, 97, 100, 107, and 108. Also, the use of foul word on page 115 might not appeal to young readers.