A Box Full of Darkness: The Language of Trauma in Jumoke Verissimo’s Debut Novel
Through her narrative of trauma, Nigerian poet offers a debut novel that presents readers with a paradox: how darkness can both heal and enslave the mind.
Jumoke Verissimo’s first novel has it all — poetic language that gushes gracefully from page to page, the intelligence of a scholar-writer casting a retrospective gaze on the politics of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, the undulating rhythms of love and sex conditioned by patriarchal affectations, a subversion of cultural norms, as well as a poignant engagement with trauma as an affective experience too visceral for words to embody.
A Small Silence is a timely invigoration of the canon of African literature that serves to show the aptness of the novel genre to articulately engage with the Nigerian condition through the privations of private memories. Here is a sublime reflection by a first-time novelist on an important aspect of Nigeria’s political history that is organized around the traumatic — as a terrifying and disturbing site of psychic abjection and personal alienation.
With evocative narration and poetically descriptive language that brings real spaces to life, Verissimo creates characters whose troubling histories intersect with the agonies of a postcolonial state traumatized by memories of political oppression. The trauma of a failing state is made to signify at an individual realm in which singularities render visible the antinomies of communities weighed down by the dark burdens of disillusionment and despair. Despite these, the novel is a solid reiteration of the hope that emerges from the rudest loins of darkness if light is let in.
Originally a poet, Verissimo’s experimentation with the novel as a literary form offers her a platform to gift personal memories of trauma and pain to an extensive imaginative form. She is the author of two collections of poetry, including I am Memory, and The Birth of Illusion. The greatest accomplishment of both texts is their lyrical presentation of a conscious stylistic temperament, with the first collection engaging the reader’s ears while the poet seeks to affect the eyes through clever reiterations and staging of the poetics of African oral traditions in The Birth of Illusion.