Author: Othuke-Clifford Ogholi
Title: The Foreign Factor
Genre: Literary / Historical Fiction
With a hint of humor and the rhythm of an African folk tale, this short novella brings the complicated perspectives of foreign involvement, help, and “meddling” in Africa to life through the story of Oghale, a modern African woman who falls in love with the son of an American senator.
When she returns home, her parents are shocked, as she knew they would be, but her father proves harder to convince than she anticipated, even going so far as to push her toward marrying the son of a local chief instead. The ongoing obstacles she and John face illuminate new and different reactions to “white man’s actions in Africa,” enriching the story while driving the narration forward.
The setting is primarily a remote kingdom within Nigeria, where the cultural life of chieftains and warriors continues, and this seems to represent the idea of the past encountering the present in a more direct way than is normally possible—at least to judge from the fact that the Kingdom of Odoga doesn’t seem to exist in modern times and from the author’s indication that the book is both literary and historical fiction.
At times, Oghale appears to stand for every woman as she navigates her parents’ disapproval of the man she wants to marry, and John, her American fiancé, seems equally representative of how Americans might view Africa—with admiration and concern.
The illustrations are colorful and somewhat stylized, underscoring the folk-tale feel of the story. Similarly, the descriptions are vibrant but quick, redirecting the focus to the characters’ actions rather than the place itself, and even Nigeria isn’t mentioned by name, to where one feels this could be any number of places in Africa.
Overall, the characters are presented less as real-life persons and more as symbolic examples of reactions to foreigners, from her father’s “never work with them or accept them” stance to her mother’s cautious approach toward forgiveness and giving them a chance. The chief priest seems to advocate patience, while the kingdom’s prince urges the nation to accept what “white men can offer them”—money.
By the end of the book, one is left with a variety of perspectives but no clear indication as to which attitude is the “correct one,” leaving readers to sort out their feelings themselves. The book could use some more editorial polish in places but is very readable, to where the grammar errors are few and easy to overlook. One area where the book might benefit, though, would be from adding an afterword to help modern readers know where real life ends and fiction begins.
The story provides a history and cultural lesson while looking to the future and noting the pitfalls that could lie ahead. Balanced and nuanced, this book will appeal to readers who want to understand how Africans view foreign involvement, as it beautifully fleshes out the various sides of the situation in a touching and human way. The author is passionate but unbiased, urging greater understanding without pushing a particular agenda, and readers will appreciate both his candor and the immersive nature of his narration.
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