Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away
By Christie Watson
(Other Press, Paperback, 9781590514665, 448pp.)
Publication Date: May 10, 2011
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Winner of the 2011 Costa First Novel Award
When their mother catches their father with another woman, twelve year-old Blessing and her fourteen-year-old brother, Ezikiel, are forced to leave their comfortable home in Lagos for a village in the Niger Delta, to live with their mother’s family. Without running water or electricity, Warri is at first a nightmare for Blessing. Her mother is gone all day and works suspiciously late into the night to pay the children’s school fees. Her brother, once a promising student, seems to be falling increasingly under the influence of the local group of violent teenage boys calling themselves Freedom Fighters. Her grandfather, a kind if misguided man, is trying on Islam as his new religion of choice, and is even considering the possibility of bringing in a second wife.
But Blessing’s grandmother, wise and practical, soon becomes a beloved mentor, teaching Blessing the ways of the midwife in rural Nigeria. Blessing is exposed to the horrors of genital mutilation and the devastation wrought on the environment by British and American oil companies. As Warri comes to feel like home, Blessing becomes increasingly aware of the threats to its safety, both from its unshakable but dangerous traditions and the relentless carelessness of the modern world. Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away is the witty and beautifully written story of one family’s attempt to survive a new life they could never have imagined, struggling to find a deeper sense of identity along the way.
Christie Watson trained as a pediatric nurse at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London and worked as a senior staff nurse and educator for over ten years before joining the University of East Anglia for her MA in Creative Writing. There she won the Malcolm Bradbury Bursary for her work. Watson lives in South London with her Nigerian Muslim partner and their large dual-heritage family. This is her first novel.
- Ezikiel and Blessing share a special sibling bond. How did it change when they moved from Lagos to Warri? Do you think there was anything that Blessing could have done to save Ezikiel?
Selected as one of CNN.com’s 12 Good Summer Reads
“A sure-footed debut narrated by 12-year-old Blessing, a girl growing up too fast in the troubled Niger Delta.” —People Magazine
“[An] assured, absorbing first novel…Watson’s cleanly told coming-of-age story generates real narrative momentum.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Watson is generous in her assessment of human nature, and her novel surprises even as its sense of danger is never truly at bay…[An] ultimately triumphant book.”—Miami Herald
“[An] impressive debut…Watson’s nuanced portrayal of daily life in Nigeria is peopled with flawed but tenacious characters who fight not only for survival but for dignity. Blessing is a wonderful narrator whose vivid impressions enliven Watson’s sensual prose.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“[An] absorbing first novel, told through the eyes of the bright and observant Blessing…a memorable debut novel about a Nigerian girl’s coming of age.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Confronting issues of race, class, and religion, this work ponders idealistic ignorance in a way that is reminiscent of Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease. Watson’s story will appeal to readers of African and literary fiction.” — Library Journal
“Through the lens of young girl’s coming-of-age, this breakthrough novel views the politics of contemporary Nigeria, portraying the clash between traditional and modern as it affects one extended family.” —Booklist
“A first novel that knows how to tell a story, concocting a voice that lures us. Perfect pitch is not reserved for musicians; some novelists have it, too. From the very first page of her very first book, Christie Watson proves she possesses it, creating a voice that tells a tale we can’t put down.” —Barnes and Noble Review
“An excellent novel. It takes the reader deep into the reality of ordinary life in Nigeria and is also funny, moving and politically alert.” —Giles Foden, author of The Last King of Scotland
“Christie Watson’s debut novel, set in the troubled Niger Delta, does what fiction does best, it captures place and characters so well that you feel you are also there. It is sincere, it is powerfully written, and it deserves to be read.” —Helon Habila, author of Oil on Water, winner of the Commonwealth Prize
“Watson has written an immensely absorbing novel. It is both heart wrenching and consoling.” —Chika Unigwe, author of On Black Sisters’ Street
“A fascinating, poignant story that had me laughing in places and deeply moved in others.” —Ike Anya
“Lyrical and beautifully drawn, a poignant coming-of-age tale, set in an Africa few readers will have experienced. A must-read.” —Lesley Lokko, author of Sundowners, Saffron Skies, and Bitter Chocolate
“The gripping, triumphant tale of a girl who chooses life over loss, in a sweet but savage world where oil is bled from the earth.” —Lola Shoneyin, author of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives