THE PLOT: ‘Dazzling’ by Chikodili Emelumadu is a literary novel about two Igbo girls who are bound together by folklore and traditional “magic”. When Ozoemena’s uncle dies, she becomes the next leopard – protector of their family and village. But she rejects it, unsure if she even believes, and goes to boarding school determined to be normal. Conversely, Treasure’s family has lost all their money and status after her father’s death. Determined Treasure hustles and begs until she meets a spirit at the market. She makes a deal with the spirit and her family come back into fortune. But magic always comes with a price and the legacy of both girls’ fathers tie them together in unexpected ways.
RATING: This is an incredibly unique and special debut novel by a Nigerian author. It’s not easy to neatly summarise the plot but the core themes are sisterhood, tradition and folklore, and family legacy. These are bound together by poetic writing, with the use of magical realism and pidgin English. Although the term magical realism is usually reserved for South American writers, I think this author is drawing inspiration from that tradition and creating an African magical realism that is worthy of the title. I loved how belief in folklore and myth was woven into the novel seamlessly. This is not an easy book to read but I’m so glad I waited until the right time to pick it up. It’s four and a half stars from me, and I’ll definitely read future books by this author.
GOOD BITS: The dual POV and dual timeline is executed well and works to a premium dramatic effect. I thought I guessed the twist but it surprised me and I had to go back to the beginning and look for clues. Of course, these were subtly planted from the start and I loved how the folklore and magic was integrated and accepted by all of the characters. Overall, Treasure’s sections were my favourite. Her pidgin might be difficult for a western reader to follow but I found the cadence and rhythm of her speech spot on. Such an unlikeable but compelling, understandable protagonist.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: While I enjoyed this book, I started reading it several times over the past few months, only to put it down again. I think I was waiting for the right time as this is a book you need to be in the mood for and sink into. I also think it could’ve been shorter and sharper to pack more of a punch. A few times, I found myself drawn out of the narrative thinking “that line could have been trimmed” and the epilogue was wholly unnecessary. I actually think the epilogue spoiled a really good ending, which could have even set up a sequel.
OVERALL: I’d recommend this book to lovers of ‘An Ordinary Wonder’ by Buki Papillon, ‘Her Body and other Parties’ by Carmen Maria Machado and ‘Earthlings’ by Sakaya Murata. you like feminist themes, folkloric magic that borders on horror, and literary writing, this one is for you.
Thank you Headline for my #gifted copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. It’s available to order on my bookshop.org profile now.
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