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Kachi A. Ozumba's The Shadow Of A Smile is a story of corruption, judicial incompetence and prevailing injustice in Nigeria, lightened by the humour he mixes with the pathos. Zuba, the naive and honest victim, moves from initial complacent trust in the legal system through amazement, disbelief and despair to a realisation that he cannot expect the judicial authorities to treat his situation seriously or with fairness. The police and prison authorities are shown as corrupt but perhaps no more so than the rest of this society.
Against the background of incarceration and hierarchical prison ethics, he paints a picture of a country still at war with a major portion of its citizens. The conflict with Biafra is a constant strand running through the novel and displays the underlying tribal nature of the Dark Continent, showing, with subtle insights, why prejudice is both harmful and pointless, wherever it may manifest itself.
Kachi paints his characters as real people undergoing real events. The details of daily life, education and the prison system in Nigeria suggest he has experienced all three; if not, his research methods are extraordinary. He also raises questions about the nature and value of religious faith, perhaps hinting that it is of greater value to the desperate and ignorant than to the hopeful and educated.
The love story that develops along the way will satisfy romantics without antagonising any pragmatists who read this very well written novel. And the themes of the true value of friendship and loyalty are carried well by the developing relationship between Zuba and Ike as they battle their way through the maze of contradictory evidence responsible for their incarceration.
The dreadful Mr and Mrs Egbetuyi wreak vengeance for a situation entirely of their own making, blaming Zuba and refusing to accept any responsibility for the circumstances in which they have placed themselves. Their utter selfishness and lack of concern for the ruination they visit on an honest man is a potent statement on the modern trend in which winning at all costs is an acceptable aim. This is a novel I happily recommend.
Word of the day: pantomime – a dramatized performance of a story with singing, jokes and horseplay; figuratively – outrageous or absurd behaviour. ‘You wouldn’t believe the pantomime he made of putting out the flames when his beard was on fire.’