Prince of Monkeys by Nnamdi Ehirim
Publisher: Counter Point Press
Published: April 2019
Setting: Nigeria (Lagos and Enugu)
Rating: 2.5 Stars
Growing up in middle-class Lagos, Nigeria during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ihechi forms a band of close friends in his neighborhood. They discover Lagos together as teenagers whose differing ideologies come to the fore over everything from film to football, Fela Kuti to God, sex to politics. They remain close-knit until Ihechi’s girlfriend, is killed in an anti-government riot.
Exiled by his concerned mother, Ihechi moves in with his uncle’s family, where he struggles to find himself outside his former circle of friends. Ihechi eventually finds success by leveraging his connection with a notorious prostitution linchpin and political heavyweight, and earning favor among the ruling elite.
But just as Ihechi is about to make his final ascent into the elite political class, he encounters his childhood friends and experiences a crisis of conscience that forces him to question his motives and who he wants to be. Nnamdi Ehirim's debut novel, Prince of Monkeys is a lyrical, reflective glimpse into Nigerian life, religion, and politics at the end of the twentieth century. (Source: Book Blurb)
Ever read a book that screams ‘DEBUT! DEBUT! DEBUUUUTTT!?’ This is one of those books. Getting into it, you can tell the author was overly excited and had too many ideas that he wanted to put across, and at the fear and risk of only ever getting published once, decided to cramp up everything into this one book. It’s distracting, most times annoying and robs you of the joy of really enjoying the book.
Prince of Monkeys is Ehirim’s debut novel and tells the story of Ihechi and his group of friends coming of age in military ruled and politically charged Nigeria. The story begins with Ihechi and his friends locked up in a prison cell, Ihechi the narrator noting that this is not their first stint in a cell. The rest of the story follows his life and that of his friends – Mendaus, Pastor’s Son and Maradonna – and the circumstances that led the group back to sharing a prison cell, years later.
Ihechi and his friends are an idealistic lot. In their youth, they enjoy playing football, watching movies and attending concerts but when one of their friends, Zeenat, is killed in an anti-government riot, the close knit group is torn apart and Ihechi sent off to Enugu to live with his uncle. In later years, the group find themselves further torn by their political alliances.
The entire book reads like a commentary on Nigerian politics and whilst you can tell the author had solid ideas, none of these are really well explored – he introduces so many other themes within this book – religion, sexuality, sex and politics, traditions – none properly interrogated and none properly developed. It also did not help that the text is heavy laden with metaphors, similes, parables and very long and drawn out reflective statements that completely distract the reader.
To draw from a passage from the book, this is a book that contains ‘typical intellectual jargon, the sort that appeals to the pseudo-intellectual elites’.
Would I recommend this book? Only if you have nothing else on your TBR. 2/5 stars
*Thank you to Counter Point Press for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.*