It’s uncanny how, in many ways, Eghosa Imasuen’s Fine Boys is the story of me, from many lifetimes ago.
After reading it, my first reaction was surprise – by the tears in my eyes and the realization that I’d been ambushed into a therapy session I did not know I needed. Then, in an epiphany, I fully empathized with the lyrics of “Killing Me Softly” (a song I never really liked despite several versions).
However, there’s plenty to like, no, plenty to love in Fine Boys.
First, it works as a story because Eghosa Imasuen is a skilled storyteller (and not a wordsmith trying to show off). Fine Boys is a haunting and darkly funny story about the real Lost Boys, characterized by Ewaen and his friends in their early years in university in the 90s, where they vainly struggle to escape the influences of campus gangs and a military dictatorship, while trying to have as much fun and as little responsibility as possible. It appears to be a simple coming of age tale, but that is a con. The genius of the story is in its multiple layers, and its saving of an accurate snapshot of our history (lest we are all afflicted by the particularly Nigerian curse of forgetting or airbrushing it).
There is a proud and pleasing element of Nigerian English in the writing. In proper Nigerian English, distances are measured in NEPA poles, NEPA “takes light”, we “branch” to see our friends, who then “escort” us to various places; we describe people as “yellow” or having “open teeth”, and guys “gist” (not gossip). Fine Boys is also a startling reminder of the beauty and power of our Pidgin (that criminally unappreciated and easily-ridiculed language). For example, how many English words would one require to explain the full meaning and range of jaguda; or can ‘buttocks’ or ‘arse’ ever be as powerfully rude as yansh?
Yes, there seems to be an autobiographical slant to Fine Boys, but in my view this only adds to the authenticity of the tale.
If anything, Eghosa Imasuen has written the biography of our generation (and this, I suspect, was his intention all along). Writing in glorious, vivid, HD (and even complete with the nostalgic soundtrack of the time), he has exposed the foibles of a generation which, arguably, is one of the most scarred in post-war Nigeria. A generation which lost years of academic life to strikes (for example with no ‘extra year’, I completed a five-year course in seven years). A generation that remained blind to the irony of bravely protesting against the tyranny of military dictatorship, while having no compunction about doing mindless violence to members of rival confras. A generation which cursed corrupt leaders and elders, but cheated in exams. A generation which, incredibly, deludes itself still, that it is better, nobler, than the rest. Fine Boys is not just our story – it’s our ode, diatribe, lamentation, and our what-the-hell-happened-to-us.
Like I said, I cried after reading Fine Boys. My tears were for my wasted youth, scars that will never heal, lost friends, and the death of innocence.
And when I dried my eyes, I thought: Eghosa Imasuen, guy, you sabi write sha.
Chimeka Garricks is the author of Tomorrow Died Yesterday, published by Paperworth Books in 2011.