Blasting rhythms fill my veins
my face my limbs encounter
in the living waters
of that Tremendous Lover
who makes my eyes dance.
[Mark Nwagwu (2010) My Eyes Dance. Ibadan: BookBuilders, p 339]
My Eyes Dance! Not exactly, for they actually spin and wobble in the divine and mundane interlocking of Mark Nwagwu’s latest novel. Chioma Ijeoma in the real essence of her name is guided by her good chi (personal god). This great granddaughter of Akadike of Okosisi is propelled by Love in being and doing Opus Dei (Work of God).
Although My Eyes Dance is independently original, nonetheless this sequel to Forever Chimes (2007) by the same author captivates as well as enthrals. Using the mythical expression of the Igbo civilisation, Nwagwu weaves a story that breaks the bounds of space by crossing the Atlantic. Chioma the protagonist is the ideal fictitious character. She is an artist, a confidant of her great grandfather and the one who inherits the staff of her lineage – which was given the name Uzo.
Yet this same Chioma falls into the amazing web of teaching African Spirit in Georgetown University, US. In a play of events, this ‘Investigator without Bounds’ who had only wished to complete her thesis on The African Spirit: Unlimited in Time and Space, finds herself encumbered in developing a course from nothing. Totally petrified, Chioma warmed up for her first class, and unfortunately did not make a mess of it. Rather, it catalysed a chain of events that leaves the reader gasping for breath. Not only did she win the respect of her students, but also the admiration of the dean of faculty and president of her university. In time, her students wanted a trip to Okosisi in order to drink from the fount of Chioma’s chi which perennially featured in her lectures.
The details of the trip are better read than explained. Nonetheless, Chioma does not stop at being just another young woman, full of ideas and expounding gust. She suddenly calls off her engagement to Bia and dedicates herself to God as a numerary of Opus Dei (an institution of the Catholic Church). What makes her self-giving rather novel is that it does not fit the mould of the original ‘religious’ attire – for she’s no nun – yet has a full time job and still lives celibacy.
But in simple language, Nwagwu crafts out Chioma’s odyssey of love. She gets involved in the life of her friends. Her ex-boyfriend (Bia) puts her student (Nkemdi) in the family way. Chioma gets them to marry and by so doing, saves Nkemdi from the disgrace of being kicked out of the university. Her Opus Dei continues and thrives in the ordinary which is elevated to the supernatural. Ms Ijeoma abstracts the dense philosophical concept of Eros and teases it out. Or else, how can one explain the convoluting reconciliation of Chioma’s friend Suputa with her run-away husband, Mike. In a rare expression of the cruelty of infidelity, Mike has to re-establish a place in the memory of his wife, who can no longer recognise him.
What triggers the originality of My Eyes Dance is the beauty of African traditions. Using the Igbo of Okosisi, Chioma tells her own story. And by doing so, wins disciples who in turn get entangled in the love of the continent. Ms Ijeoma shows that there can be no contradiction in love for ones past and infusion into the present. For man is not just an accident of history but the portal of memory. Chioma’s work shows that in a globalised 21st century, the communion of saints can be better appreciated with communion with the ancestors.
This does not mean that My Eyes Dance is flawless. Perhaps the author could have made most of the explanations – religious and philosophical – brief. One often gets the impression of reading an academic journal and not a novel. Nonetheless, for anyone interested in savouring traditional philosophical thoughts of the Igbo’s, then this novel will certainly satisfy that craving. In addition, to catch a ‘true’ glimpse of what Opus Dei really is, then the amazing story of Chioma is worth the while. Though fiction, yet it is grounded in the truth. My eyes not only dance, but my spirit rises to the filament, for Nwagwu’s My Eyes Dance is simply sublime.