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Romeo and Juliet Meets Robinson Crusoe Meets House of the Spirits—in Africa

Kidnapped, brutally beaten and left for dead in the ocean, a young African man washes ashore somewhere off the coast of Nigeria, unconscious, on a deserted island far from home. The lowly peasant boy had had the temerity to win the heart of a wealthy young woman. For this love, her other suitors—wealthy and powerful men—had conspired to destroy him. But not only is he still alive—so is the love he holds for his beloved, now hundreds of miles away. But she has been told that he is dead.

In his debut novel, a retelling of an old Nigerian Yoruba folktale, Nigerian-American author Felix Adeoti Oguntoye tells the story of Remi, a simple farm boy in love with the beautiful Aderonke. Remi goes against the power structure of his village to claim his love…learns to survive, alone and with no prior skills, in a completely alien place…turns his island exile into a shrine to Aderonke and composes love songs to her…and with the help of a singing parrot, a shaman on the mainland, and the power of telepathy in dreams, shows Aderonke how to find and rescue him.

The book has three distinct narratives:

  1. Remi’s long courtship of Aderonke, set in the context of a small but busy coastal Nigerian village some decades ago—and full of fascinating details about life in Africa before it was altered by Western influences.
  2. His solitary life on the deserted island. Arriving severely injured and with no wilderness skills and no tools, he must learn to construct shelter, to feed himself, and to make peace with a life that might not ever include another human being—but does include a parrot he adopts as a baby, who turns out to have magic powers.
  3. The arrival of the rescue party that reunites Remi with his beloved, and the weeks of preparation for the days-long traditional Yoruba wedding that follows. This section is so thoroughly described, it could be used as a cultural anthropology text.

Along the way, we get glimpses of everything from the class structure of this Yoruba village to the role of shamans.

The Parrot Matchmaker is grounded in the very popular genre of African multicultural fiction (authors like Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, and Chinua Achebe. Add in a big layer of magical realism of the sort you might find in writers like Isabel Allende or Jorge Luis Borges.

It won a prestigious Ippy Award for multicultural fiction.

Brimming with the visual beauty and exotic culture of Africa and offering a unique and detailed look at coastal Nigerian village life before it was westernized and modernized, this book would make a great movie.

While the universal theme of love across class differences and surviving outside hostility has made thousands of bestselling books and hundreds of blockbuster movies, The Parrot Matchmaker offers the extreme twist of Remi not even knowing where he is and having no way to communicate—and Aderonke being told that he has been killed. Think of it as “Romeo and Juliet meets Robinson Crusoe meets House of the Spirits.”

The book should appeal to many audiences: fans of star-crossed romance…lovers of multicultural fiction…the African Diaspora community…anyone interested in Yoruba, Nigerian, or African culture…college classes in African fiction…libraries, book discussion groups, and live audiences for visiting author programs.

Published by Asalako Press

ISBN: 9780989163026 (paperback), $15.00. Also available for Kindle.

Shel Horowitz is the Editor of Global Arts Review

Disclosure: Felix Oguntoye is a client of the writer.

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