Sunday , July 14 2024
Sangoyomi - Cover of Masquerade

Book Review: ‘Masquerade’ by O.O. Sangoyomi

O.O. Sangoyomi

Masquerade is the debut novel of Nigerian/American writer O.O. Sangoyomi. Long before either  Europeans or Islamic armies tried to impose their laws and borders on northwest Africa, there were thriving civilizations and cultures there. However, like their contemporaries in Europe, the kings of West Africa dreamed of expanding their empires.

As Masquerade opens, the main character witnesses the final steps in the occupation of her home city of Timbuktu. Ododo, along with everybody else in the market that day, gathers around a wooden stage and sees the general of the city’s troops executed and its governor accept the king of Yorubaland as his ruler.

Ododo lives in a compound with her mother and the women whom she always referred to as “aunties,” even though they aren’t related. What they do have in common is that they are all blacksmiths and metal workers. While smithy work was essential – what army didn’t need arrowheads and spearheads? – the women who did the work were treated with equal parts fear and scorn. The ability to shape metal with fire and water was deemed to be witchcraft, and its practitioners witches.

On the same day she witnesses the death of the general, Ododo is accosted in her compound by someone she assumes is a vagrant. While the man is charming, there is also something about him that disturbs Ododo. However, she soon has far more disturbing things to worry about.

Soon after this encounter she is kidnapped and taken by nomads across the dessert to the capital city of Yourubaland, Sangote. She eventually finds out that the vagrant she met was in fact Aremo, the Alaafin (king) of Yorubaland – and he wants her for his second wife.

To be snatched from home and family is bad enough. To be thrown into the world of a king’s court with all the intrigues and plotting that go on behind the scenes only makes it worse. As Ododo learns how to navigate the twists and turns of life as part of the Alaafin’s household – including dealing with his jealous mother and the first wife – she realizes she has exchanged her freedom as a blacksmith for life in a gilded cage.

In Masquerade Sangoyomi has created a vivid and detailed description of life in pre-colonial West Africa. For those who still have a hard time getting their head around the fact that there were vibrant cultures and societies throughout the continent long before Europeans arrived, this book will be a rude awaking. 

Not only has Sangoyomi detailed the ins and outs of daily life – the class systems in place and the hierarchies among tribes – she also gives us insights into the different religious practices and beliefs followed by the various peoples. Even more impressive is how she weaves the information into the story without its devolving into teaching moments.

Sangoyomi has created a wonderful book filled with fascinating characters whose actions are propelled via an intricate and intriguing plot. If, along the way, some eyes are opened to the real history of northwest Africa, that can only be considered a bonus.

About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of three books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion" and "Introduction to Greek Mythology For Kids". Aside from Blogcritics he contributes to Qantara.de and his work has appeared in the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and has been translated into numerous languages in multiple publications.

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