“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” - Seneca

Basil Opurum’s novel ‘A Widow’s Silhouette’ is a historical fiction set in Nigeria. Spanning more than three decades, it mainly tells the story of its two protagonists living an extraordinary life amidst trying conditions. John and Jane fall in love and get married but they never get to settle down for long as various civil unrests and difficulties always seem to keep them apart. But their love is such that no force on earth is able to keep them apart for long.

It’s set amidst major real developments like the Biafran War, civil and religious riots, and the gradual growth and changes in the Kaduna area and Lagos city in Nigeria. The story here is more like an autobiographical narrative of one woman and several important events from her life; each a dramatic piece; combination of which narrates the tale of an ordinary life lived in extraordinary circumstances. But it’s also a heartbreaking and an endearing tale of a couple and their children whose lives are made topsy-turvy by social, political and cultural incidents happening around them. Their lives go from being gentle and well-settled one minute to being on the run for their life amidst absolute chaos and destruction.

A lot of research and observation seems to have gone into the book’s preparation. This can be evidenced in its mentioning of the intricate details of various local traditions. You really get a feel of the people’s food habits, their transportation woes, their trade and businesses, and religious beliefs. The book offers a good vantage view into the happenings and workings of another culture. But it never stops to glorify or criticize its practices and traditions and these simply form the background to the story told. This is both charming and erudite at the same time.

The character development is spot on and you can really sense the emotional and mental growth of the characters as the years go by. Jane is the book’s backbone in more ways than one. She goes from being an innocent, sweet and almost naïve young lady to a seasoned woman who has experienced life at its best and worst; becoming a true matriarch of her big family by the end. This sort of change can be seen in John as well, his initial softness giving way to a hardcore ideology and aggression and then in the latter part of his life becoming a passive family man trying to keep everyone happy. The book has a host of other characters who will leave a lasting impression on you irrespective of the amount of time they appear in the narrative. Leonard and Michael are two such characters that come to mind.

The biggest strength of the book is the fine emotive writing and the equally strong characterizations. It keeps you involved in the proceedings from page one. Definitely recommended!

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