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Home truths about a Caribbean youth
All Over Again
A-dZiko Simba Gegele
Blouse & Skirt Books, 2013
Capturing the consciousness of young people’s voices in literature is no easy task. Many child-centred narratives seem either awkward or pretentiously composed, indicating that most adult authors seeking to convey the inner lives of children spend little time with the focus of their stories. It’s an unexpected treasure to find a strong, convincing narrator at the core of A-dZiko Simba Gegele’s debut novel, All Over Again, published in 2013 by Blouse & Skirt Books (an imprint of Jamaican independent press, Blue Moon Publishing). A Jamaican-Nigerian spoken word performer, Gegele’s writing has been featured in several anthologies, including Iron Balloons: Hit Fiction From Jamaica’s Calabash Writers Workshop and Jubilation!: Poems Celebrating 50 Years of Jamaican Independence. A past participant in the Cropper and Calabash Writers’ Workshops, Gegele recently completed a residency at the Yaddo Artists retreat.
This first fiction offering from the author is nothing if not fiercely ambitious. Gegele conducts the story in the persistently tricky second-person narrative voice. The narrator of the novel is a young boy, on the cusp of beginning his teenage years, who recounts events both mundane and remarkable in his everyday dealings. Never referred to directly by name, the narrator grapples with the uneven affections of his oft-Draconian father; the anguished disappointments of his mother and the very bane of his existence: his five-year-old sister, Mary Janga. Conducted in lively Jamaican vernacular, the reader accompanies the narrator on his schoolyard romps; his first flutterings of romantic esteem for the comely Christina Parker; his exultation on the day of an important football match. Under Gegele’s guidance, the intricacies of a preteen boy’s inner world are revealed, in onion-layered style, for our scrutiny and our inevitable nostalgia.
Though striking closer to the particular mores of a traditionally-raised young Caribbean man, the story reminds and reveals home truths about what it means for everyone to have gone through the crucible of youth. Gegele’s prose is buoyant, infused with the confident lyrical verve one might expect from the spoken word genre. Occasionally, the cadences, unstoppable lilts and tilts of the story run a bit too riotously on the printed page. There are passages that must be reread, carefully (and perhaps cautiously), for the fullness of their meaning to be taken. The non-conventional rhythms of the novel’s style may prove vaguely cumbersome to certain readers, though meticulous attention to the story’s unique sounds more often offers greater rewards than not.
Giddily energetic, Gegele’s narrator is nonetheless brought to frequent pause by serious events both within the personal orbit of his life and outside it. On the eve of his cousin Delroy’s departure to Toronto, our narrator muses, “…and then you think that some problems in life are hard, hard as living with your mother or your father. This is not the kind of maths they teach you in school and you don’t think you could get it to add up. You couldn’t get it to add up because there is a take away in it, and if there’s one thing you do understand about maths it’s that when things are taken away sometimes nothing is left.”
Decrying the obstacles posed by rote academic learning, Gegele’s narrator privately thinks, “You are good at climbing trees and swimming in rivers and making bingys and you can hit a cricket ball right over the school fence and you know where to find sweet guavas and you can catch lizards and rats and you can do three back flips in a row and still end up standing straight on your feet.”
All Over Again provides a precious portrait in which several juvenile readers will be delighted and vindicated to see their own reflections. This is a moving testament to the resilient nature of underdogs and daydreamers everywhere. Young boys and girls whose thoughts frequently carry them off the beaten track can relate to the narrator’s anxieties and dilemmas pitch-perfectly.
An endearing, enduring paean to youthful joys, All Over Again resonates deeply, picking up on the solitary, creative heartbeat of every child who has felt unseen in a crowd. These episodic chapters tackle burning insecurities and dance without shame to personal accomplishments, riding a feel-good crest that’s told in highly stylised yet ultimately fulfilling prose.