‘I’ve always considered how some stories will never get told. It’s the way it is, Ireti. Silence is where we go to listen to those stories. Sit in silence and listen. Silence tells stories too, you know.’
In a corner of Lagos, Prof, newly released from 10 years in prison, returns to a house that he shrouds in darkness and silence. He refuses to turn the lights on; he refuses to admit his best friend, Kano, and his mother too. Both return repeatedly to knock on the door and beg to be allowed in.
Desire, a university student, lives nearby with her friend, Remilekun. A chance encounter with Prof when she was a young girl was a catalyst for Desire’s love of reading. Now, she is fascinated by Prof’s return. Dared to knock on his door by Remilekun, Desire returns each night and eventually is allowed into Prof’s house.
Desire’s life is further complicated by her relationship with student union presidential candidate Ireti, who looks similar to Prof, and Remilekun’s relationship with a man only referred to as Mr. America.
A Small Silence considers what happens in the gaps, in the dark, in the stories that aren’t spoken aloud. Whether that’s in families, in relationships or in prison. It considers the consequences of toxic masculinity, particularly domestic violence and cycles that persist. Absent fathers abound.
Desire reflected on how society placed so much emphasis on family, yet there was more dysfunction than normality.
There is hope, however, as characters’ support for each other leads to quiet revelations and new perspectives. Verissimo’s occasional use of relating a scene from both Desire and Prof’s perspectives allows her to create an unexpected, satisfying and fresh conclusion. A thoughtful accomplished novel.
A Small Silence recently won the 2020 Aidoo-Snyder Prize for Best Creative Work by the Women’s Caucus at the African Studies Association. It is published by Cassava Republic, a small press founded in Abuja, Nigeria in 2006 and with an office in London since 2016. They also published one of my all-time favourite books, Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika. You can buy all their titles directly from them on their website. They are currently running a pre-order campaign to support the publication of their forthcoming Spring 2021 titles. More information here.
The copy of A Small Silence I read was my own purchase.