Author Joe Osi
Title Silent Whispers
Genre Faction (Lantern Literary series)
Published 2015 by Lantern Books (a division of Literamed Publications (Nig.) Limited)
Silent Whispers is a literary critique of unquestioned beliefs in superstition rampant in Africa, particularly Nigeria the setting of the novel. Superstitious beliefs are not restricted to Africa alone, they are found in almost every culture of the world. What however borders the author is how Africans over the time have refused to subject the validity of these beliefs to empirical investigation. “One should not ask questions about some of these things, for there are mysteries and wonders surrounding the earth…” (Silent Whispers, page 8), this is the commonly held opinion on superstition in Africa.
The novel starts with an inquisitive young boy, Amaechi, the son of Engineer James Ugwu, a staff at the Ajaokuta Steel Company, on a mission to unravel the mystery of Sefinatu, the spirit that is believed to be behind every good and misfortune that befalls the people. His motivation is from a poem titled “Elfinatu” written by Henry Fletcher; Fletcher’s poetic depiction of Elfinatu is very close to the superstitious belief in Sefinatu.
With many intertwisted sub-plots, the story moves on to focus on the family of Ezra Pam whose daughter, Talatu (11 year old) is admitted at William’s Specialist Hospital. Confused and impatient, Ezra Pam seeks to take her daughter from the hospital on grounds that Talatu’s illness is the handiwork of Sefinatu and thus, could not be cured by modern medicine. Following her secretary’s advice (against her wife’s to go to Mai Karfi, a priestess), Ezra takes Talatu to People’s Miracle Church for spiritual healing. He later follows the wife’s advice when nothing is achieved at the church. Mai Karfi, the priestess, asserts that Talatu is “one of the seven little spirits of the river”. Others have died and then it is Talatu’s turn. Unfortunately, Talatu dies before Ezra could get the prescribed materials for sacrifice which Mai Karfi wants to use to save her life.
Meanwhile, not only Talatu dies from this disease. A lot of people suffer the same fate. In fact, the death toll reaches above 300 within months. And to these people, Sefinatu is the cause.
However, Doctor Momodu William’s report shows that Talatu has high fever and symptoms of viral infection (Talatu’s laboratory test result is not out when his father comes for her compulsory discharge).
Later, with the unrelenting effort of Dr Momodu Williams, the BBC report, and the investigative reportorial effort of Sam Duruoke, a veteran journalist, it is discovered that the cause of the rampant deaths is not Sefinatu but an outbreak of Lassa fever.
What is interesting to know about this novel nonetheless is that it does not give an outright verdict on whether or not superstition is true/real. It seeks to throw up critical discussions on it. Through Silent Whispers Joy Osi charges Africa/ Nigeria to do research on her catalogue of superstitions so that the valid ones can be promoted and the invalid discarded.
The story is set in between two Nigerian states—Benue and Kogi. It has its main actions at the rural areas where majority of the superstitious beliefs are still very much alive and religiously followed.
The language style adopted by the author is literarily rich (simile, metaphor, imagery, etc.), simple, and at times, journalistic. Despite the fact that Silent Whispers is categorised under Lantern literary series for advanced readers, there is no doubt that young readers can also read, understand, and enjoy the story.
Silent Whispers touches a lot of issues bordering Nigeria as a nation. Some are; superstitious beliefs, leadership problems, religious fanaticism, lack of research/data keeping culture, brain drain phenomenon, etc.
Due to its multi-dimensional nature, Silent Whispers is highly recommended for students who wish to know more about their culture/ country; journalists who wish to be more enlightened about the art of investigative reporting, medical practitioners who care about learning new things so as to improve their professional expertise, and the general readers who seek to know more about the mirage of superstition. In all, Silent Whispers is an enlightening novel.
Silent Whispers is available on www.lantern-books.com