Christie Watson’s debut novel “Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away” is the story of Blessing, a child whose life is up-ended dramatically in Africa.
When their mother catches their father with another woman, twelve year-old Blessing and her fourteen-year-old brother, Ezikiel, are forced to leave their comfortable home in Lagos for a village in the Niger Delta, to live with their mother’s family.
Watson shares that her upbringing was different than Blessing’s, but shared some common experiences. “My u[bringing was very different from Blessing’s,” says Watson. “I grew up in a working-class family, on a council estate surrounded by poverty and violence…From a character point of view, Blessing is very much like my Nigeria step-daughter, who is also wonderful, intuitive, intelligent. It was easy to get in her head, and imagine her thoughts. Really, Blessing is a mixture of all the people I know and the experiences I’ve had.”
No running water or electricity, Warri is a nightmare for Blessing. Her mother is gone all day and works suspiciously late into the night to pay the children’s school fees. Her brother, once a promising student, seems to be falling increasingly under the influence of the local group of violent teenage boys calling themselves Freedom Fighters. Her grandfather, a kind if misguided man, is trying on Islam as his new religion of choice, and is even considering the possibility of bringing in a second wife.
Blessing’s wise grandmother becomes a beloved mentor, teaching Blessing the ways of the midwife in rural Nigeria. Blessing is exposed to the horrors of genital mutilation and the devastation wrought on the environment by British and American oil companies. As Warri comes to feel like home, Blessing becomes increasingly aware of the threats to its safety, both from its unshakable but dangerous traditions and the relentless carelessness of the modern world.
Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away is a beautifully written story of one family’s attempt to survive a new life they could never have imagined, struggling to find a deeper sense of identity along the way.
On shelves June 14th 2011 by Other Press (first published May 10th 2011)