Title: Red Sun
Author: Dolapo Lawrence
Publisher: Outskirts Press
Red Sun is a story of the travails of war and the triumph of love; the essence of peace. It is a fictional recreation of the inter-ethnic war in Darfur (an “independent sultanate for several years” before it was “incorporated in Sudan Anglo-Egyptian forces in 1916&rdquoand other historical events such as the Sudanese north-south war that lasted over twenty years, the NAF911 crash of September 26, 1922, the raid on Haskanita African Union mission ground station, and the peacekeeping efforts of the African Union and the United Nations in Sudan at large.
Red Sun is a literary effort to “sound again the gong and call attention to the need to step up measures to end the war in Darfur.”
The story is woven together in a somewhat intricate but properly connected plot. It is, as earlier stated, a creative refraction of the war in Darfur narrated from the experiences of Ranya and Haitham, the peacekeeping soldiers on the one side and Dapo and his telecommunication project in Sudan on the other side. It has two major settings—Lagos, Nigeria, and Darfur/Sudan.
Ranya (the heroine) and her children are representatives of the average people of Darfur who are engulfed by the cruelty created by the genocidal war. Ranya, a widow, is forced to relocate to the internally displaced people’s camp in Kalma (with her two children—Ahmed and Mayadah) for safety. The camp, however, could not save her from the horror of the war as she and other women in the camp are gang-raped by the Marauders (a rebel group). It later turns out that Ranya, a hitherto helpless and weak woman join the Movement (the rebel group fighting the Janjaweed soldiers) and eventually become the Movement’s leader—the Amirah.
Meanwhile, Mayadah, Ranya’s only daughter falls in love with Mubaraq, the son of Haitham, the leader of the Janjaweed soldiers. Both lovers defy the artificial boundaries (created by the rebels) and consummate their relationship. It is a nasty and destructive encounter when Haitham and Ranya eventually meet in the village where the lovers (Mubaraq and Mayadah) reside. The war claimed both lovers’ lives leaving the “lion” and the “lioness” (Haitham and Ranya) utterly devastated—they both pay profoundly for the war.
Meanwhile, the UN has finally approved to intervene in the war and changed the more or less fruitless peacekeeping mission to peace enforcement operation in order to “save the people from self-destruction” and “preserve the essence of humanity.” The effort of Dapo in the story is also significant as he empowers the people (who would have taken to self-destruction) through his company’s corporate social responsibility.
Haitham finally opts for peace. Ranya also embraces peace as she symbolically names the one-day-old daughter of Mayadah and Mubaraq “Salma”, which means peace.
The story is well narrated, written in a well-handled omniscient point of view. Despite the gripping imagery of horror encountered in almost every chapter, the writer consciously and creatively neutralises the mood with several love nets, e.g. Biola versus his (first) girlfriend and Candace, Femi versus his wife and Zaynab etc. and some dose of fairly effective humour. The narrative holds the attention of the reader until s/he turns the last page. Nobody, I presume, will read the novel without having the conviction that it is a product of deep research. Though the chapters are not of the same length, they are well linked and blended.
The story basically has two plots—one main plot and a subplot. The two plots, crafted in a parallel mode, are well connected and in the end, the conflict was convincingly and effectively resolved.
Assessing the techniques
The beauty of a literary work lies in the proper deployment of literary techniques; hence, the need to review closely some of the prominent techniques adopted in telling the story and highlight their strengths and weaknesses. Starting from characterization, the character portraiture is very graphic and detailed. There is virtually no character (particularly the major ones) encountered in the story that the writer does not take time to remark on his/her past (descent), present, and also explores their thought processes. He describes the characters graphically and explores their thoughts flow (particularly the main characters) to the extent that the reader could at a point say “I trust Ranya, she couldn’t have shot Major Femi deliberately” even before the narrator sheds light on it.
Nevertheless, there seems to be too much similarity among the male adult characters in the story that seems to be more programmatic than creative; this is the sexual part. Nearly all the male characters are described as being sexually powerful. The writer seems to be carried away by the effort to emphasise the love issue so that the revulsive atmosphere induced by the harshness of the war can be counterbalanced.
Concerning the language, the story is fair. The writer really exhibits proficiency in apt description which is one of the hallmarks of a good fiction writer. Simile and metaphor are the great facilitating elements of a graphic description which the writer amply uses. What also adds substance to the diction is the writer’s use of appropriate technical jargons/terminologies. The fitting and sufficient use of terminologies in the military expedition, project management, telecommunication projects, and so on adds grandeur to the narrative. Besides, the use of some local words and expressions identifies the story as a good sample of modern African fiction as advocated by Chinweizu et al in Toward the Decolonization of African Literature (Volume 1). Examples are “Alhamdulillah”, “Takalam Arabia/ Naam Takalam Arabia”, etc.
The writer also makes use of symbolism very well. My main focus here is the title of the story itself—”Red Sun”. Let me digress a bit by saying that encountering sun again in the title of a novel will (to a good reader of African fiction) recall the much-acclaimed novel of Chimamanda Adichie titled Half of a Yellow Sun, a novel about the Nigerian civil war. Half of a yellow sun is a pictorial/symbolic capture of the gradual setting of the glorious sun of the dream Republic of Biafra. In the same way, Red Sun (which shares the title with a Western movie produced and directed by Ted Richmond and Terence Young respectively) is a symbolic reference to the catastrophic violence being unleashed on the people of Darfur/Sudan—due to the inter-ethnic strife. Plainly, red sun is said to be as a result of pollution in the sky along with a combination of CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) when it reached its peak. If it is a larger one, it could possibly shut down electrical systems for months, causing power breakdown—no running water, no communications, no traffic lights, etc. It is this state of atmospheric disorderliness that the writer deploys to symbolize the state of hopelessness, sadness, misery, dejection, depression, gloom, etc. which (the) war causes.
The metaphorical/symbolic tag of the heroine and the villain as “lion” and “lioness”, the “birds of prey” and so on, are examples of other symbolic elements in the story.
The story is equally doesn’t lack humour, even though it is about war. The humorous aspect is brought in through the love experiences and sarcastic speeches. It lightens the tensed mood, provokes laughter, and provides amusement. It serves as a kind of comic relief to ease off the tension that might have been generated by the strings of dreadful activities encountered in the narrative.
At this juncture, it is noteworthy to make comment about some textual interrelationships observed between this story and other stories. This is technically called “Intertextuality”—the shaping of a text’s meaning by another text. The first instance is the scene where Dapo observes the peaceful co-habitation among the weaver birds, particularly the two lover birds. This creates a sharp contrast with the chaotic human world. This contrast is the main theme of William Wordsworth’s “Lines Written in Early Spring” where the poet-persona ponders about the harmony in the animal world and laments about “what man has made of man”. Another instance is that of the reference to the Western media. The Sudan telecommunication company’s technical officer asserts that Sudan is not as chaotic as is painted by the Western media. This also resonates in Esiaba Irobi’s play Cemetery Road where the acronym BBC (that is, British Broadcasting Corporation) is rephrased to mean “British Blackmailing Corporation”. The most apparent is however found in the resolution of the story’s conflict. It shares a significant resemblance with the play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Nonetheless, the writer treads carefully not to make the story’s ending a mere prosaic re-writing of the Romeo and Juliet. He artistically swerves—the birth of Salma is the point of departure from the play. The birth of Salma symbolizes hope and optimism after the dehumanizing war.
This is really an expository story; the one that seeks to expose the genocidal war in Darfur (in particular) to the public so that the appropriate bodies will come on board and stem the tide of the war. It attempts to enlighten the people on the brutishness of war and appeals to them to embrace the culture of peaceful co-existence. It is a story that seeks to preserve “humanity” from “against” as Soyinka puts it in his recent essay titled “Humanity and Against” written in reaction to an attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya which claimed the life of Kofi Awoonor (the Ghanaian acclaimed poet) by a group of terrorists affiliated with Al-Shabaab militant group on September 21, 2013.