Nwilo is not new to the literary circle. He has two books, Diary of a Bloody Retard and Diary of a Stupid Boyfriend under his belt and his stories have been published on Writivism and Brittle Paper. I was eager to read his latest book, A Tiny Place Called Happiness when it was published. As someone who has been following his writing for a while, I expected to see an improvement on the informal and conversational approach which he took to writing and in some ways, A Tiny Place Called Happiness delivered on what I had hoped.
From a houseboy dreaming about what it would be like to be wealthy, a girl who takes steps to give herself a nice burial, a weird experience with an itinerant preacher to the different attempts to steal fruits from a cherry tree, Nwilo delivers his stories with enough wit and humour to endear us to the characters and empathize with them as they go through different experiences.
A Tiny Place Called Happiness is not just a humorous piece; rather it uses laughter as a tool to deliver compelling vignettes about everyday life. If you take a deeper look at the stories, you’ll notice how Nwilo uses laughter to mask the emotional depth and social commentary of his “simple stories.” The sentences, though informal, are not poorly written. Instead, you can find such gems as “but estrange, why does it exists, that people who once knew each other closely would lose themselves and maybe never speak with them again” in “Like Filtered Cigarrete.”
However, for a collection titled A Tiny Place Called Happiness, most of the stories end unhappily. The first story, “Port Harcourt,” is a story of two lovers who reconnect after a while and go on a date at a local bar. However, they end up having an unexpected encounter with a thief, which I daresay is not the way the characters would have anticipated ending their day.
The other love stories in the collection, “Like Filtered Cigarette” and “The Smallness of Everything” both end in unhappy ways. “Like Filtered Cigarette” is about a relationship that falls apart, while “The Smallness of Everything” is about a long distance relationship which is not as wonderful as it seems on the surface.
It is hope, not happiness, which characterizes most stories in A Tiny Place Called Happiness. The third story, aptly titled, “Like Eyes Liquid with Hope”, is a peek into the mind of a houseboy who gets to imagine what it would be if he was wealthy like his oga. The story is written in pidgin which amplifies Nwilo’s characteristic humour. “Stars”, a story about the hopes and aspirations of a family as they anticipate financial success, and “Slum Diary”, telling of the grand aspirations of a street beggar, continue the hope narrative.
From the cover, Nwilo’s collection conveys a sense of DIY that has characterized most of his works. This collection, although not self-published, feels like it was. The cover of A Tiny Place Called Happiness is a photograph of Nwilo’s feet in flip flops. And some of the stories would have benefitted from an editor who did not have any emotional attachment to the work. This lack of rigorous editing was evident in the way some stories meandered about, an example being “Nothingness” a story which lost its focus as it tried to juggle the stories of a burial ceremony, romance and a failed relationship. Typos appeared too frequently and some sentences did not contribute anything by being there.
A Tiny Place Called Happiness can be called a collection with variety; this is because of the way it seems to accommodate readers across age boundaries. “Birth” is a story that engages a childish knack, telling of the birth of an infant through the mind of the older brother who is more interested about the “tins of milk and Bournvita” that would follow. But “A People of the River” takes a sharp contrast from the childish engagement of “Birth” in the way it presents Kwane’s initiation into manhood; a rather mysterious narrative, unlike how one can readily imagine an initiation story.
A Tiny Place Called Happiness may not appeal to sticklers for syntax and proper language but it would make a great read for anyone who wants to experience Nigerian vignettes told with humour and zing.