Blaft recently published an English translation by Aliyu Kamal of this Hausa novel. Quite besides the merits of the book itself (and I enjoyed it) what I’m really excited by is what it represents to have an Indian publishing company commissioning and publishing Nigerian genre fiction. There’s already a lot more south-south collaboration than a lot of people are aware of (apparently Bollywood is an influence on Hausa literature, though I don’t think that’s so much the case with this particular novel), and I’d be even more thrilled if someone would publish translations directly from, say, Hausa to Hindi. But I’ll take English too.
From last weekend’s Left of Cool column.
Judging by past example, when a form of literature becomes associated with a particular place it’s probably not going to be spoken of in the most flattering of ways. In the eighteenth century, Grub Street in London was famously associated with literary hacks and news writers – some of whom were probably perfectly good writers, though you wouldn’t think it to hear some of the more respectable contemporary writers on the subject.
In Nigeria in the 1980s, the label “Kano Market literature” began to be applied to Hausa language popular fiction, also known as Littattafan Soyayya, or “love literature”. These books, apparently, have often been condemned – for corrupting young minds, for being too heavily influenced by Bollywood, for being vulgar, or formulaic, or trivial. The usual complaints, in fact; particularly since this is now a field of literature dominated by women. Early critics of the novel made similar arguments (though maybe not the Bollywood one), and even now the same arsenal is regularly brought out to criticise the romance genre, another field dominated by women writers. Which isn’t to say that some of these criticisms aren’t true.
Indian publishers Blaft recently brought out Sin is a Puppy That Follows You Home, a translation by Aliyu Kamal of the soyayya novel Alhaki Kuykuyo Ne… by Hajiya Balaraba Ramat Yakubu.
At first glance, this is clearly a novel of wish fulfilment. Rabi is the virtuous wife of Alhaji Abdu, a prosperous man who despite his wealth hardly gives her enough money to pay for the household goods to feed herself and their nine children. Matters get worse when Abdu takes another wife, who fights with Rabi. Soon, Rabi and her children have been kicked out of the house with no means to support themselves other than the help that Rabi’s and Abdu’s horrified families can give them. Despite this, Rabi prospers, setting up a successful cooking business, sending her oldest son to college, and finding a wealthy husband for her eldest daughter. Meanwhile, things rapidly go downhill for Abdu. His wife is unfaithful to him and his business fails when a fire in the market burns down his stall and most of his stock. In the end, destitute and remorseful, he is forced to come back to his wife, hoping that she will take him back.
In her introduction to the book, Balaraba Ramat states that she’s purposely writing against men who treat women “as a sort of slave to be bought or sold at the marketplace”, “[believing] her to be completely worthless”. Yet although the book’s primary impulse is against treating women as discardable, as a woman I sometimes found it an uncomfortable read. In the world of the novel, women are constantly pitted against one another in order to better their own positions. Rabi’s situation at the beginning of the novel is bad enough, but it’s the presence of the new wife, Delu, that makes it intolerable. And then there’s the marriage of Rabi’s daughter Saudatu to Alhaji Abubakar, who has already discarded his two quarrelsome previous wives, after beating up one of them. What seems to be a happy ending for Saudatu thus has an undercurrent of unease. At the beginning of the book Rabi consoles herself with the thought that at least Abdu “didn’t marry and divorce his women friends at will”. Saudatu has been the perfect wife and daughter-in-law, but is she really safe from the same fate as her mother’s?
There’s also the discomfiting situation at the end of the book, when Rabi states repeatedly that she does not want her husband back (and why would she?) but is pressured into doing so by the men around her. Power has shifted drastically within the household, but Rabi is still in a marriage that she does not want, and it’s clear that the novel recognises this. And it’s at moments like these that Sin Is a Puppy That Follows You Home leaks out of its formulaic structure and becomes something darker and more complex.