The Street Hawker's Apprentice

Author:

Kabir Kareem-Bello

Title:

The Street Hawker's Apprentice

Publisher:

Jacaranda

Nataka Books Reviews: 

The Street Hawker's Apprentice

When Temilola comes around, he finds himself in "a kaleidoscope of activities, people, colours, smell and sounds." This is an excellent opening for the novel which lays out what the reader is about to experience. The writing immediately puts the reader alongside Temilola in Lagos.


This is one of the best novels we have picked up this year with vivid characters, packed with underdog spirit the reader naturally roots for and has never-ending action which makes a hour seem like a month.

-- Review by Nataka Books

Nataka Books Full Review: 

The Street Hawker's Apprentice

When Temilola comes around, he finds himself in "a kaleidoscope of activities, people, colours, smell and sounds." This is an excellent opening for the novel which lays out what the reader is about to experience. The writing immediately puts the reader alongside Temilola in Lagos.


As the saying goes, "Lagos without Hawkers is like England without Iya Charlie." Iya means the mother of. For Temilola, his own existence and survival comes to depend on Lagos's street hawkers, specifically one Daniel who goes by the name of Vipaar. The chance circumstances of their meeting introduces the never ending action on the streets of Lagos which Vipaar calls his workplace and home. 


The writing of Kareem-Bello potrays situations as they are however brutal in some cases and so unbelieavable that some situations turn funny. The reader who is unaccustomed to local sayings and dialogue will enjoy it as much as those familiar with pharases like "the Oga at the top." Lagosian writing would be incomplete without a Yoruba proverb here and there. We learn early on that "he who is curteous is not a fool." Vipaar's smile to Temilola reminds him of Aesop's Fables about the lamb and the wolf. 


The demanding and fierce Vippar shows compassion to Temilola especially when it becomes apparent that Temilola's memory loss is not manufactured as most things said on the streets. The daily grind of life on the streets will not allow Daniel to be more kind; there is no time for it and it would certainly would not be a favour returned by others. Is Daniel or Vipaar's rock-like emotion manufacured or is there a mask behind it? There is a twist as we find out in the end !


Every event appears filled with jeopardy: bathing, eating, riding a motorbike or selling on the streets. Life appers to lean on the precipice and the only way Vipaar can exercise control is to be tougher than the streets. Light moments bring respite and allows the boys to be boys and enjoy being a child, if only for a moment. Temilola finds himself at school, thanks to Daniel. But long with this last? Will he be accepted so far from his home, lost and without memory of his identity?


Whilst selling various wares on the street, Daniel is pleased with Temilola's progress and how he has settled down to the environment he finds himself in. "You have to be strong and make sure nobody mess wid you", "Man rules circumstance, circumstance does not rule man", and various other insights are offeref by Daniel to his apprentice. The hawking streets being unforgiving and raw as they are, it is not long before tragedy strikes.


This is one of the best novels we have picked up this year with vivid characters, packed with underdog spirit the reader naturally roots for and has never-ending action which makes a hour seem like a month. The writer sets up the reader perfectly to be empathetic before realism strikes, and one feels, as life does naturally. The dramatic effects are employed to their full potential by Kareem-Bello.


Tragedy is never far away for Vipaar, Temilola and Alhaja. Unfolding events will place the precarious but indispensable circle of friends in danger. What we liked about this book is the constant expectation of what is about to unfold, the reader feels it but without knowing the exact turn events will take. 


The speed with which the book is narrated never stops moving forward whilst the reader enjoys the present drama. The balance achieved by Kareem-Bello is extraordinary since most books use pace to keep the reader engaged. Conversations between characters are engaging, pregnant with the meaning from what is unsaid and other emotions hover above the air as events unfold.


What will happen to Temilola? Will he regain his memory and go back home? What about the his fellow streeet hawkers Vipaar and Aminat whom he calls the Duchess? How will they cope with the brutality and trauma they have experienced?


A brilliant book taking in Nigerian politics, the struggle for resources, the waste of them, the impact on real lives at opposite ends of society but above all how lived experiences provide a different window to look the world through.


Some people like Temilola can live and thrive in both worlds. The circumstances have certainly not defined Temilola as he has sored above them. 


One of #My100AfricanBooks. 


A brilliant book which reminds us of the film 'City of God' but with its own streetlife rhythm and the same boldness.



-- Review by Nataka Books