This House is Not for Sale by E.C. Osondu- A Book Review

fullsizerender-7This House is not for Sale is a treat for lovers of literary fiction that draws from the oral tradition of African storytelling. The setting is an un-named Nigerian town which, apart from the modern conveniences of piped water and electricity, feel very much like a village. The story about a Family house- from the time it was built to the time it was demolished- is told by a young member of a large and wealthy family, headed by Grandpa. The narrative unfolds with the grand patriarch telling the story of how his ancestors came into possession of the wealth that enabled them to build the Family House. The young member of the family describes the interesting array characters that make up the inhabitants of the family house and the fluid nature of the state of occupancy by these various people.
Grandpa is the sole determinant of who is welcomed or kicked out of the family house and while he is often a fair and benevolent leader, he is also cruel and calculating. He is the arbiter of disputes and he has the power to seal people’s fates and to alter destinies. This he does by wielding his influence on local authorities and calling on favors past. His authority is unquestionable and his decisions are final.
In the story of Ndozo the market seller who lives in the family house Grandpa is portrayed as a cruel employer when she is accused of pilfering from the profits made from selling Grandpa’s merchandise. She is publicly humiliated as is customary to treat thieves and she disappears leaving her son behind. Grandpa, who holds the power in his hands to change the course of events for the woman does nothing to help her and her please for forgiveness fall on deaf ears. Not even the fact that she begs to have her son back softens his heart.
Uncle Aya the eccentric religious zealot entangles himself with a charlatan pastor who convinces people in the community that the end of the world is close and to sell all their possessions and give him the money. There is uproar in the community when the pastor disappears with their money and the Rapture does not take place. Threats to burn the Family House down are quickly quelled by Grandpa’s effective use of logic and a firearm. The crowd disperses.
Abule shoots two of his wife’s lovers, killing one and ends up in jail for a crime of passion. Thanks to Grandpa he serves a short term and is released. He relocated to the village and Grandpa, an astute business man takes over his house and converts it into shops.
The novel is arranged in chapters that read like complete stories each named for the central character in each tale. In each story Grandpa’s might is felt through his various interventions or lack thereof. He is like a temperamental king with the town as his kingdom and the people his subjects. The chapters are vibrant with the unique cadence of Nigerian (Igbo) English and folklore woven into the narrative and often delivered as responses to events in the Family House in the voices of the community.
When Brother Julius returns from studying overseas, for instance, the community opined:
– Now that the son has returned from abroad he will bring some civilization into the house-
– He will change things, even from the way he speaks. If you were in the next rom you’d think it’s a foreigner speaking-
– He should have gone to stay elsewhere if he was different. Since he returned to the same house he is part of it-
– Exactly what did he study abroad? Is he a doctor, lawyer or engineer?
– I hear what he studied is so specialized that no university in our continent offers it-
– We are still here. We are not going anywhere. We are watching. We shall see- (pg.81).
The hearsay and the mutated versions of the stories of what Brother Julius was doing with the men who attended his ‘salons” at the house are incredibly humorous:
– I heard that all those men who enter that room follow their fellow men. They go with their fellow men-
– Shhhh, hush, don’t say that. This world is live and let live-
– But how do they make money from this salon?-
– They say the salon is not meant to make money, it is discussion of ideas for the betterment of society-
– If it does not make money how can it better society?-
– You are asking me?-
– Who do you want me to ask; did you hear that I am a member of their secret salon?-
– Well all I can say is that if they cannot make the world better, let them not ruin the world, they had better leave it the way they met it- (pg.84).
Osondu has skillfully created a story that is not only about a house and the people who live in it, but about a community with all the social, cultural, religious and political issues that make up the fabric of communities all over the world. In this way he tells a unique but universal story of human frailty, our capacity for malevolence and benevolence, our desires, aspirations and struggles. He writes of music and mourning, feast and famine, birth and death, success and failure and does so in language that disguises the complex intersections of all these human facets with its simplicity. The house becomes a character in the novel and like Grandpa seems to interact with its inhabitants and the community as a deity might, spitting out those with whom it is displeased and welcoming the fortunate ones. The use of allegory, whether intentional or not allows the reader to insert herself into the narrative and glean from the story what they will. Its timelessness makes this work one that will be relevant for years to come.
This is an outstanding first novel and I am sure that there will be more such powerful stories from Osondu.