So for last week, I had up The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okoroafor (Book) and Ruined (a play) by Lynn Nottage. I finished and enjoyed The Shadow Speaker but I felt that it fell short of being truly remarkable. The scenery and imagination of course were fantastic, but the use of names from different African cultures was a bit jumbled and Ejii as the main character failed to pull me in.
Ruined on the other hand made me cry and made me think. Theater doesn't get better than Ruined I tell you. The story dealt with Rape as a weapon of war but the underlying message apart from the politics is that many of us are ruined in one way or the other. How do we allow this to shape our present and our future? Below are reviews that best capture what I thought about both.
THE SHADOW SPEAKER (Review by Donna Freitas)
Despite a story that begins with tragedy and drama, that has a fresh and interesting setting and follows two main characters, a girl and boy, on the cusp of events that will change their lives forever, “The Shadow Speaker” can be difficult to enjoy and even more so to finish. The writing is polished till it gleams, but unfortunately, no amount of good writing can hide the fact that something essential is missing. The story and its characters lack emotional pull; they feel flat on the page. Even when it looks as though Ejii has died — her new powers overwhelm her, and she succumbs to the shadows — it seems like just another event among many.
Still, there are creative touches here that fans of fantasy will not want to miss, like the book’s unforgettable scenery. Following Ejii and Dikéogu’s journey through the parched Sahara, they cross into Ginen’s Kingdom of Ooni, where plants grow into houses and where a room might smell like lilacs and have “bright blue spiders, transparent-skinned geckos, lizards with long metallic-looking nails and all sorts of beetles,” even “a tiny red-orange monkey clinging to the ceiling.” And there is magic too in the character of Queen Jaa: when she speaks, “a red flower with glasslike petals” falls from the sky to accompany her prophetic words and war-mongering tactics.
This novel — like the author’s first, “Zahrah the Windseeker” (2005) — leaves little doubt that Okorafor-Mbachu’s imagination is stunning and that she can lay the groundwork for a successful fantasy. But ultimately a novel must captivate, wrenching us from our world into its own. On this level, at least, “The Shadow Speaker” falls short.
RUINED (review by Belinda Otas)
...Written with great sensitivity, Nottage truly brings the plight of the Congolese women to the forefront of her play. Sophie’s account of what was done to her is so moving, you wonder how we as human beings can inflict such pain on each other, forgetting the victims carry the scars for the rest of their lives, no matter how much they want to forget. Salima’s monologue, as she narrates the five months she spent in the forest with the militias who tied her to a tree like a goat, passed her from one man to the other and turned her into a sex toy is so enthralling, you have no choice but to imagine what the women who live their lives in fear, day in and day out, knowing such evil is lurking in their land feel. She informs us that she was torn to pieces and left raw and then she asked, ‘how can men be this way?’ It is one of the most thought-provoking moments I have seen on the stage this year.