The Miracle of Friendship

By Veronica Elias Ugian 


  • Title: The Square Pegs
  • Author: David Obasa
  • Publisher: Parrésia Publishers Ltd
  • Number of pages: 190
  • Year of publication: 2016
  • Category: Fiction

David Obasa’s The Square Pegs is a novel that spans the journey from childhood through adulthood to old age of three protagonists.

Olu is the son of rich parents. He loves the arts but is forced to study engineering. However, he does not give up his love for the arts, always attending art-related events, going to the theatre and becoming part of the art and literary conversations on campus. He is also a talented writer as well as an activist, and he uses his skills to stir up controversy. Despite all this, he eventually graduates with a first-class degree.

Tombra is from a humble background and has to fight his way out of rural poverty in Rivers State to graduate with an upper second-class degree. He does so with the help of an engineer who repairs his father’s canoe. The third protagonist, Felix, is an orphan and a dropout who returns to school after being denied a shot at what he considers his due as a result of his lack of a university degree.

The novel follows the lives of these three ambitious young men as they strive to make a mark amidst the debilitating forces of corruption and the dream-extinguishers in their country, holding on to friendship as their only cloak. Olu acts as a mediator between the other two. He detests his discipline and only finds satisfaction in writing and advocacy. Tombra is deeply steeped in science and studies hard but never does well in his examinations; he is presented as anti-social. Felix is more of the ‘hustler’, financing his education with a side job, full of youthful exuberance and struggling to balance his money-making enterprises with school.

The author successfully uses these lead characters, along with a host of minor ones, to dwell on the salient issues of unemployment, misplaced priorities, cultural and societal demands, the value of friendship, love, desire, certificate and ‘sabiticate’, and parents who attempt to influence their children’s career choices regardless of their abilities.

Friendship, human sympathy and concern for one another are portrayed as vital to overcoming the challenges presented by society. Tombra is saved by his neighbour, who finds him lying almost lifeless on his bed after overdosing on sleeping pills and rushes him to the hospital. The need to bear one another’s burden is highlighted throughout the story, from the lecturer who helps Tombra develop his self-worth to Olu as the burden-bearer despite his own personal struggles. Olu is able to navigate between his passion and his discipline which gives him an edge over his friends, in spite of the round hole into which he, a square peg, has been placed. Through Olu’s help, Felix is able to progress in his career and obtain a loan to shoot his first film, with which he makes his mark on the global stage. Tombra, on the other hand, gets a recommendation to work abroad on his project but is unable to take up the opportunity because of problems in his own country, hence his attempted suicide.

The story ends with the lead characters rejoicing over being nominated for an international award that is rarely ever won by people from the same country let alone graduates of the same university.

While the novel meditates on the importance of friendship and the need to keep hope alive, the prose feels somewhat rushed and the transition between events poorly handled. The author also relies too heavily on reported speech.


Photograph: ‘Ensemble nous sommes forts’ by rogiro


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