Is blood thicker than water?

This is a question Ayo Deforge’s perceptive debut, Tearless, seems to pose.

Set in Lagos and Paris and a bit in London, it follows Lami and her dysfunctional family.

Through Lami’s narration, we find out that the past and the present are Siamese twins difficult to separate.

We also discover that because we cannot choose our parents and siblings, cohesion isn’t always guaranteed in a family and circumstances such as sickness and death often lead to schisms that cause irreparable damage  and everlasting pains.

In this beautiful read spiced with the right dose of suspense, we learn that “friends become family and family become strangers. It happens all the time. Family is important but you can’t always force it.”

Equally, we find out that even the choices we make of our own volition, such as who we marry, don’t come with warranties.

Lami’s father, the one she and her four siblings (Wale, Lara, Fola and Tutu) call Papa, has a tsunami-like temper which sees him constantly throwing their mother out from their flat after beating her up.

His nastiness increases when his wife becomes terminally ill. He fails to take proper care of her only to cry the loudest when she eventually dies.

He death does nothing to assuage his craziness thus leaving the family fractured.

Despite all, Lami finds a way to continue with life. Her study of French helps her in navigating life and with dear friends like Ada and Nico, she is able to find meaning in life.

The past, however, refuses to be dumped in the trash can. It keeps clouding her thoughts and dreams and insisting on being settled. Year in year out, things remain the same without any signs of closure.

The author’s switch between the past and present allows us to see how both are intertwined and how despite our best efforts, separating them, most times, is never successful. This literary technique also gives us context and necessary background to current happenings.

The author examines grief and how denial can be a coping mechanism for the grieving.

“Running changes nothing; it won’t make it go away. Face it, challenge it, change it if you can, accept it if you can’t,” Nico urges.

She also examines the role of family members in grief management, especially the mostly nonsensical advice they dish out. The politics of condolences is given ample space and the picture of how grief is exploited induces ache.

The story is, on another level, an exploration of how we miss and long for loved ones when differences keep us apart.

This is explored using the strained relationship between Lami and Fola, her younger brother with whom she used to wrestle for the left-over food in their mother’s food flask.

“I was thinking about my little brother, how close we used to be as children, and how far apart we’ve grown from each other now,” Lami tells Nico.

Deforge also x-rays darkness but not in the same manner as Jumoke Verissimo in A Small Silence.

Unlike Prof in Verissiomo’s book whose love for darkness is by choice, darkness overwhelms Lami and brings out what she prefers hidden. There are times sleep offers her respite from the darkness that comes with switching off the light.

It will not be out of place to say the book centres fatherhood, but in this case, the absence of proper fatherhood and how an abject father figure can leave a child in trauma all the way to adulthood. It also tells of how motherhood, when well-played, stays in the mind of children long after the mother is gone.

Ayo Deforge writes sweet, delicate and layered prose. Like a good painter, she makes her emotional scenes so intense a reader’s heart may pound so loud the person sitting close by could hear it and eyes may bulge and Adam’s apple bob.

‘Tearless’is, in some sense, a Lagos Island novel. It shows that part of Lagos in its glory and shame; the picture that emerges is that of heaven and hell situated side by side.

The author’s portrayal of places such as the Oluwo International Fish Market in Epe, Bar Beach shortly before it gave way to Eko Atlantic and Eko Hotel and Paris shows deft craft and a painstaking eye for details.

Her description of Banana Island’s roads with “no loose stone, no pothole, not one litter” and sundry details match my encounters with one of the world’s most-expensive real estate.

The boot that Makoko is on the Lagos cityscape also receives its due.

It also paints a sincere picture of the fall of Dolphin Estate once considered a posh precinct but now reduced to a slum in Eti-Osa, one of the richest local government areas of Lagos.

“Each block of flats had parking areas right in front, and instead of cars, rickety kiosks had been erected in many of thes paces. Women sold provisions, some sold foodstuffs and some sold cooked food. Others were shops for dressmakers, hair stylists, video cassette hire and shoe repairers,” the narrator observes.

This is also a Paris novel, with London making a cameo appearance. Deforge makes us “see Paris and die”.

With vivid diction, she makes us feel we know this city of love like the back of our palms. The overall picture that emerges is like that of Manhattan in New York, which is best experienced on foot.D

Deforge is a painter, but one that paints with words. She makes you see what she is writing instead of reading it. Her scenes can be felt because she takes you there with appropriate syntax.

Olukorede S Yishau is the author of In The Name of Our Father, Vaults of Secrets and United Countries of America and Other Travel Tales. His sophomore novel, After The End, is forthcoming on July 17 from Masobe Books.

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