In the run up to the hotly contested November 2016 general elections in the United States of America, a running gag among some supporters of the Democratic Party candidate, Hillary Clinton was that they would move to Canada in the event of a Republican Donald Trump victory. This boast wasn’t made singularly because of the geographical relationship that both countries share- a border connects the two countries.
Because of the promised upheaval anticipated by a Trump presidency- he was going to build a wall and make America great again- Canada was seen as the next great liberal hope. The closest space to America where freedom is worshipped and anyone arriving from any part of the world could make it.
For Adebiyi Bamidele – the principal character in Resemblance, the debut novel by Afolabi Opanubi, and his family, living in Port Harcourt – Canada once represented such an ideal. Bamidele is a stand in for the thousands of Nigerian trained medical professionals who make the move to the West annually.
After being frustrated from his place of employment in a government hospital, Bamidele becomes convinced that a move to Canada would give his family a much needed refresh and the platform to start all over. He does everything humanely possible to facilitate this move only to discover that the streets of Canada aren’t exactly flowing with the clichéd milk and honey.
Written in accessible, uncluttered prose, Resemblance opens many years in the future and is narrated mostly from the point of view of Abosede, the eldest child of the Bamidele clan. She is a successful photographer, and a beneficiary of the Canadian dream, which her father once imagined for his kin. She is also haunted, not only by the psychological detachment of living in a foreign country, but also by a family tragedy which happened sometime in the past and broke the cord binding the once close knit family, perhaps irrevocably.
Abosede takes up the responsibility of picking up the pieces that was once her loving family. Her father, Adebiyi has recently been let out of a Canadian jail, for a crime which he cannot even remember, having lost his memory following years of incarceration. Abosede convinces herself that the only route to healing and hence, closure for the entire family, is to unlock the memories hidden deep in the recesses of her father’s mind. Opanubi then takes readers to the past, to Lagos and to Port Harcourt, to provide context for the events of the present.
Readers are guided, through Abosede and the other family members – her parents and sibling – to uncover the tragic disintegration of a Nigerian family. Opanubi does not just dwell in the microcosm, he is equally interested in the larger picture. The social and psychological factors that African immigrants deal with on entering new environments, the dissatisfaction that drives persons to seek greener pastures elsewhere, the bonds between fathers and sons, and the limits people can go to protect the ones they love.
It is an interesting tale Opanubi spins and his writing is finely observed having spent some of his young life as an immigrant in Canada. The plot is engaging and layered, surviving a snail paced beginning and moving unhurriedly to a credible, if ambiguous ending that keeps faith with the story.
Published by Craft in March this year, the biggest drawback with Resemblance is with the editing. Lesser known publishers have a hard time staying in business for obvious reasons but the attention to detail demonstrated in Resemblance’s first run is not exactly of the minimum standard. This isn’t the case of easily dismissive typographical errors, and they are copious, but harder to forgive issues like improper page arrangements and a grammatical blunder or two make the reading process quite tedious. All of these fixes of course, can easily be applied in further editions.
Resemblance does a good job highlighting the psychological effects of leaving home without being unnecessarily heavy handed. African literature may be heavily involved in immigrant stories – too involved to the minds of some critics – but Resemblance does a pretty good job of making its own case.