You Should Read “The Year of the Sun” by Esther Ifesinachi Okonkwo

Esther Ifesinachi Okonkwo (Credit: Isele Magazine)

First off, it’s been like a decade since I updated my On & About series. Life is showing me pepper. I am currently experiencing sorrow while maintaining beauty. But if feels good to be back, to ramble about the things I find interesting.

This week on On & About, I will be talking about “The Year of the Sun”, a short story by Esther Ifesinachi Okonkwo (published by Isele Magazine in July, 2020). Now, this story was very huge last year. It was all over my Twitter space and a lot of people gushed about how good it was (including the Booker-shortlisted Brandon Taylor). I knew I had to save this story for a special moment to read because who no like better thing? And because I propose and my mind disposes, I finally got to read this beautiful story last weekend after a year of opening it on my browser. FYI, this is not my first introduction to Ms. Okonkwo’s work, I have raved about how amazing “Professor Anita Baker” is on Twitter.

The opening paragraph of “The Year of the Sun” is tinged with the familiar and nostalgic descriptions of precolonial Igbo communities. Palm trees, gods, the oracle of the gods, etc, something we have Buchi Emecheta, Chinua Achebe, and Elechi Amadi to thank for. Regardless that this story is “a blast from the past”, the prose is still fresh in every sense of it and not a regurgitation of the pionners. From the very first line, Ifesinachi makes the reader aware that she is not here to play, she has an important story to tell, and she is going to be thorough and delicate about it.

“The Year of The Sun” has tragedy at its core. A man was murdered in cold-blood, the gods of Akpulu have released pythons to roam the nook and cranny of the town to show their displeasure, and justice (whatever we see this as) must be served. Ms. Okonkwo weaves an intricate tale about love, lust, desire, jealousy, heartbreak, and the limits the aforementioned can push us to. With each new layer the writer reveals in this story, we begin to understand (or not understand) the protagonists Agu and Ezuruonye; their choices and complex personalities. It is evident that Esther Ifesinachi Okonkwo is not interested in portraying her characters as either one-dimensional goody-two-shoes or monsters. The roundness of the characters, their ability to keep the reader alternating between rooting and not rooting for them, may be this story’s greatest strength.

I am trying so hard not to give a clear synopsis of this story because I want first-time readers to feel everything I felt while reading this, sans spoilers.

In the few conversations I’ve heard with fellow readers about “Things Fall Apart”, we’ve always arrived at one conclusion: We cannot overburden Chinua Achebe and his magnum opus for not carrying the entire weight of historical African narratives (whatever this means), especially in centering women and queer characters. What we can do, however, is to tell these stories ourselves. This is why “The Year of the Sun” is such an essential read as it centers the narratives TFA completely missed out. Despite the tragedy at the core of this story, Ms. Okonkwo effortlessly captures and centers a queer narrative in the most organic of ways that put all the “our ancestors do not use to do geh” hot-takes to shame. This is a story that will stay with me forever and a testament of how literature continues to reclaim the narratives of people we choose to forget.

On & About is a weekly thingy by me where I basically bore you with my sedentary life. You can sign up via email in the box below.

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