Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away
Christie Watson
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Buy *Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away* by Christie Watson online

Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away
Christie Watson
Other Press
448 pages
May 2011
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Blessing and Ezikiel are lucky children. Theirs is one of the few Nigerian families to live comfortably thanks to their parentsí professional jobs. They live in a comfortable apartment and go to an excellent private school. Ezikiel plans to become a doctor and they both study hard, isolated from the poverty and strife most Nigerian families face each day.

All that changes when their parentsí marriage breaks up. They are forced to leave their apartment, school and city and move out to the rural area with their mother, who has to move back in with her parents in order to survive. It is a huge culture shock for Blessing and Ezikiel:  instead of special foods meant to alleviate Ezikielís allergies and asthma, they eat country fare, much simpler and full of foods they have never eaten. There is no electricity, no air-conditioning, no plumbing or running water; no money for new clothes and books. The only school is a primitive one where the children are beaten regularly. Ezikiel is determined to make the best of it all, but Blessing is lost and confused.

Their relatives, who they did not know before, become the most important people in their lives. Their grandparents have not spoken for years to their mother, as they disapproved of her marriage. Their grandfather is a proud Muslim man, an oil engineer who has never been able to work at a job that uses his training. The grandmother is the local midwife. Soon after they arrive, the grandfather takes a second wife, Celestine - a loud, brash woman who is naÔve and ignorant but quickly starts having babies. These strangers are now people it is important to form relationships with. Blessing becomes a midwifeís assistant and helps her grandmother deliver babies, the one positive in this strange new life. She loves the job and the way she is able to help form new families.

Their mother rarely sees the children, working long hours as a waitress for the white men employed by the oil company. The oil company is the force behind everything. It takes the oil and energy resources, but the people of Nigeria get none of the benefit. The government gets payments, but none are used to improve rural life. Energy spills and environmental disasters foul the water and air and make growing crops difficult. Few of the Nigerian men are employed as the workers are all white men who are brought in from overseas and live segregated lives in gated communities guarded by security forces.

Things get worse when their mother falls in love with one of the oil workers. At first, the children believe it is simply a financial arrangement - he provides money to make their lives easier - but it also brings strife. Ezikiel quits school and becomes estranged from his family, making friends with the gangs that call themselves freedom fighters. As it becomes apparent that the man and their mother are in love, Ezikielís behavior becomes more belligerent as he refuses to admit another man into his family.

In Christie Watson's stunning debut novel, the characters are bold and full of life, the coming-of-age dilemmas the children face exquisitely portrayed. The part the oil company plays in everyday family life and the Nigerian country with its strife and poverty is explained convincingly. This book is recommended for readers of family sagas and for those interested in how families can overcome difficulties to remain close.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Sandie Kirkland, 2011

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