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If you’re not one for down-on-their-luck protagonists, then stay away from Unoma Azuah’s Edible Bones. However, if you are one for a novel that explores America through a new set of eyes, as well as looks at the individual’s struggle with change, Edible Bones is just right.
Azuah presents a modern day America viewed by illegal Nigerian immigrant, Kaito. While, as an American, it was difficult to acknowledge the truth behind such harsh treatment of an immigrant, Azuah effectively captures the fear of finding oneself in a new place as well as the difficult transition from one culture to the next. The pressure of parental expectations pervades the novel. Unfortunately for Kaito, nothing seems to go right for him. Whether it be finding his contacts in America, earning enough money to sustain himself and send to his parents, or staying out of trouble in general. His helplessness remains until the breaking point at the end of the novel.
A clear longing for home and tradition emerges as a theme of the novel. While Kaito yearns to be an American success, America never quite feels as good as his childhood and early adulthood home. Azuah is able to detail this conflict through the symbol of food. It becomes almost obvious toward the middle of the narrative that Kaito cannot cut it in America due to its harsh and unforgiving nature as well as his major character flaws, specifically his lack of self-control. She utilizes this seemingly mundane commodity to foreshadow the necessity of Kaito’s return to his homeland through the consistent remarks from Kaito comparing American to Nigerian cuisine.
Aside from chronicling Kaito’s individual dilemmas, Azuah explores the corruption and race for wealth within Nigeria. She emphasizes connections and such connections leading to a more prosperous life, the ultimate connection, of course, being finding a connection to someone in America and being able to remain in America and gain American wealth. The only reason Kaito was able to get to America was an old friend of his uncle. While looking at the corruption of Nigeria, Azuah is able to mirror this corruption with the convoluted systems of America. The abuse of power, through Kaito’s bosses and the prison guards, is present even in the country of hope. In bestowing upon Kaito many troubles in America, Azuah warns her fellow Nigerians about what truly awaits them if they so choose to cross the ocean and make a life for themselves in America.
Despite the fact that the themes of Edible Bones are very much related to other works of Nigerian literature, Azuah is able to go a step further by not only commenting on the shortcomings of her own place of origin, but also dispelling dreams about America by pulling apart of the fabrics of hope’s induced denial. Within this novel, the reader truly finds out that all that glitters is not gold.
Overall, I would recommend this book. Unlike other Nigerian works I have read, I was able to fully imagine the America Kaito was living in, and, so, was drawn into the harsh lifestyle Kaito was thrown into. Even though it is difficult to swallow the realities of my own culture, Azuah was able to show her audience how those around them perceive them. Her straightforward nature of storytelling was appreciated and, while I did not necessarily sympathize with Kaito personally, I was able to connect with the immigrant’s struggle as a whole. This novel was very enlightening and should be read, especially with the rising political issue and debate over immigration.