#GSBBookClub: How Chika Unigwe’s “Better Never Than Late” is Exploring the Universal Yearning for Belonging
We are currently experiencing a japa wave in our country, where many young people are looking beyond our shores in search of a better life. However, what lies ahead is often shrouded in mystery. The allure of a new life in a different land can be enticing, but the reality of starting anew in a foreign country can equally be daunting.
Set in Nigeria and Belgium, Chika Unigwe‘s Better Never Than Late isa collection of ten short stories that explores the experiences of Nigerian migrants making their way in Belgium. Each story is unique and offers a glimpse into the struggles and triumphs of the characters as they navigate their way through new environments, cultures and people. The stories touch on a wide range of themes, including faith, family, love, cultural identity, the challenges of immigration, corruption, and so on.
Faith is important to an average Nigerian. Our faith and hope in a greater being can be a source of strength even in the most difficult of circumstances. This healing power of faith and hope are explored in The Transfiguration of Rapu.
Rapu is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, but despite the diagnosis, she remains optimistic and continues to hold on to her faith in God. But this faith is challenged when her illness begins to worsen and she finds herself on the brink of death. She is later visited by a mysterious woman who claims to have the power to heal her and decides to put her faith in the woman’s healing powers, against her better judgement. In Finding Faith, a woman trying to find solace in her faith in a new country but struggles.
Chika explores the complexities of immigrant life and highlights the challenges that immigrants face when trying to adapt to a new culture. At the same time, she explores the universal themes of loneliness, isolation, and the search for identity and belonging. In Better Late Than Never, Sisi, a Nigerian woman moves to Belgium with her husband in search of a better life. She is initially excited about the prospect of living in Europe but soon realises that adapting to a new culture is not as easy as she’d hoped. She struggles to make friends and connect with the people around her, and she is constantly haunted by feelings of guilt and remorse over leaving her family behind in Nigeria. In Cleared for Takeoff, Adannaya grapples with cultural differences and the challenges of being a single mother in the United States.
The struggle of maintaining one’s integrity in a culture of corruption is a Herculean task, fraught with emotional and psychological turmoil. What would you do if you found yourself in an environment riddled with corruption? Would you compromise your values and beliefs to survive? Chika Unigwe presents a nuanced and complex portrayal of this issue in Cunny Man Die, Cunny Man Bury Am. Okwuchukwu, a newly appointed government official, is tasked with investigating corruption in the government. Okwuchukwu is a man of strong principles and believes that he can make a difference in the corrupt system, but when he finds himself caught in a web of deceit and corruption that threatens to destroy everything he holds dear, he begins to question whether it is worth risking his life for a cause that seems almost hopeless.
Better Late Than Never addresses issues such as societal expectations, stigma, discrimination, and shame. In Love of a Fat Woman, Adaeze, overweight and constantly body-shamed by her family and friends, struggles to come to terms with her body size. But things change when she meets Ike, a charming and handsome man who is drawn to her wit and intelligence. In Everyone Deserves Grace, an ex-convict struggles to rebuild his life after being released from prison.
Whether she is shining a light on the inequalities that persist in our world or exploring the complexities of human emotion, Chika expertly weaves together words and phrases to create vivid and unforgettable images in the minds of her readers, allowing us (the readers) to visualise each scene, empathise with the characters and almost want to draw them into our embrace and tell them everything will be okay.
Better Never Than Late is a beautifully written collection of stories and Chika Unigwe is a masterful wordsmith. Period. This collection is a must-read for anyone interested in literature that explores the human experience.