A Vigorous Nod to Existence
- Title: Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun
- Author: Sarah Ladipo Manyika
- Publisher: Cassava Republic Press
- Number of pages: 118
- Year of publication: 2016
- Category: Fiction
Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s short novel, Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun, centres on the elderly Dr Morayo Da Silva, and is a considerate meditation on life’s daily triumphs and setbacks. Our moments and actions accumulate into years and stories that are embodied in a lifetime. As a former English professor, Morayo is deeply attached to books. However, as one discovers more about Morayo’s life, there is a realisation that this deep attachment is a form of solace, and not just solace but also a way to seek control over the meaning of death and betrayal.
In the weeks leading up to and after Morayo’s 75th birthday, the reader becomes a viewer of Morayo’s last stand, of her fight against the frailty of old age. Morayo defies the massacre, which is how she describes old age, and is unwilling to yield to senescence or the loss of her independence. She is aware that the old people’s home where she resides for some time, after a fall, is where she may spend her final years, completely reliant on others. Is this how it should be, to go out with such a whimper? It does not accord with Morayo’s vibrant personality, especially after her struggle to become the woman she is. She went from being the naïve young girl to being the docile wife of a diplomat to becoming an independent professor. She has been to many places and made a lot of friends. Yet, it is not enough. Here and now, in the continuous act of living, she has to meet new people and have new experiences, to affirm her existence. She cannot rely solely on the make-believe of books.
In Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun, the reader does not depend on the omnipresent narrator or on the character herself to tell us who the character is. Instead, the author has several characters narrate their encounters with Morayo. Through these multiple voices that are, or have been, a part of Morayo’s life, we get to see how others perceive her. This is quite an astute way of developing the character, and it lends a certain richness to the reader’s encounter with Morayo. The author is skilful in the tones she gives the different voices.
However, some characters are more effective than others in revealing more about Morayo and in advancing the plot. For example, the character Dawud, the Palestinian shopkeeper, who takes the stage in just one chapter, would probably not be missed if he were not in the book at all. On the other hand, Caribbean-born Reggie, who makes an appearance later in the novel, in a few chapters, is explored in greater depth, and through him we learn more about Morayo. But then, this is just like life: some encounters, some people, lasting and more important.
A most enjoyable device employed by the author is the gradual revelation of details about Morayo’s life. At first, things can be inferred but the reader cannot be too sure. Chapters later, those same things are explicitly stated. In this way, the novel is an onion bulb with a tang that allows the reader better contemplate the life of the central character. And, none of the characters have endings. We witness certain moments in their lives and move on. It is as though life continues, as it should. This is quite apt for a book that explores, quite effectively, everyday life and all those things that must be conquered, regardless of ethnicity, class, or age.
Photograph: ‘Donkey’ by David Melchor Diaz
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