The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney
Tiny Sunbirds Far Away is the story of twelve year old Blessing whose life is turned upside down twice, first when her father leaves her mother for another woman and Blessing exchanges an air-conditioned apartment and a place at the International School For Future Leaders in Lagos for the poverty of a traditional village in the Niger Delta.
It’s an enormous culture shock but it’s just the beginning of the changes that will define Blessing’s coming-of-age. Soon there is no money left, even for the village school fees, and Blessing joins her grandmother as a birth-assistant, travelling to isolated communities and confronting the reality of genital mutilation. It’s a harrowing read in places. There’s a particularly difficult scene where a woman who has been circumcised and then almost completely sewn up in childhood is cut open to enable her to give birth and suffers a prolapsed uterus.
The second great transformation in Blessing’s life is when her mother takes a white oil worker as a boyfriend and then announces that they are going to get married. This decision provokes a crisis in the life of Blessing’s family with shocking consequences.
Despite the sometimes difficult subject-matter, Tiny Sunbirds Far Away is often extremely funny, much of the humour revolving round the figure of Blessing’s grandfather, a man obsessed with his status as the head of the household. It is also incredibly vibrant, the descriptions of the market stalls in Lagos or the wedding feast in the village singing off the page.
Above all this is an optimistic book. It is clear that the author loves the world she writes about and she manages to convey her passion and the intensity of her vision in every word of this novel.