‘Tell the truth and shame the devil’, is the adage I grew up with as a child, and in reading Okey Ndibe’s Arrows of Rain, I thought of it again, as I read the line ‘Stories never forgive silence’ as a man weighs up the cost of his silence against the cost of speaking the truth.
A young woman, a prostitute, runs into the sea and drowns after she is raped by military soldiers. Bukuru, a drifter, tries in vain to save her life. When he is later questioned about what happened, he makes some shocking revelations about the country’s despotic head of state, which result in him facing charges for the rape and murder of the woman.
Arrows of Rain is set in the fictional country of Madia, a rather thin disguise for post-colonial Nigeria though in fairness it could be any other post-colonial African country, as the themes are rather familiar. Amidst tales of moral and political corruption, the novel features two detective stories, one of a young journalist, Femi Adero seeking to discover the truth of Bukuru’s story and the other being the truth about his own identity. Somehow, these two seemingly distinct stories intersect to a stunning conclusion, which may seem to some to be a bit contrived but given all that goes before, it somehow works. It is a painful honest story, in which one of the main characters, Bukuru is not a hero, but a man held captive by fear and his guilt until he makes the decision to walk away from all that he has known in the hope that he will be finally be freed. But it is not until, history begins to repeat and his past catches up with him that he realises his folly in believing that his silence could be forgiven and his later offering of the truth could be redeemed.
I first read this novel about six years ago and at the end I remember thinking ‘Wow’. Re-reading it now and being prepared for the twist, I was still like ‘Wow’. Such is the power of a good novel. Arrows of Rain is beautifully written and examines the pain and sorrow of not only individuals facing the truth of who they really are but also of a nation on the verge of collapse. Although a familiar tale of post-colonial African corruption in all its ugly forms, there is something quite unique about it, perhaps the narrative structure or the language, I can’t quite put my finger on it. Perhaps another re-read will help me decide. But it is safe to say, Arrows of Rain is definitely on my favourites list.