I added Dele Weds Destiny to my #20booksofsummer22 reading list in the hope it would fill in the many gaps in my knowledge of Nigerian culture and way of life.
The narrative abounds with references to Nigerian food, clothing and the traditions that accompany weddings. There’s some fabulous detail about a practice called aso-ebi where all the guests make their wedding outfits including headdresses from the same fabric, one chosen by the couple.
It also comments on the country’s less attractive features:
…the persistent threat of violence was just a fact of life in Nigeria. Nigeria unleashed constant reminders of one’s mortality: death via traffic accident, a bridge collapse, a plane crash, an especially bad case of malaria, a sloppy blood transfusion, a kidnapping gone wrong, robbery … The ways to die were endless.
Unfortunately while Tomi Obaro writes convincingly about her setting, this wasn’t enough to mitigate a rather uninspiring story line about three friends who are reunited for the first time in thirty years.
Reserved Zainab, beautiful and brash Funmi and homely Enitan were inseparable while at university in northern Nigeria. Then their lives diverged. Two remained in Nigeria where one married a wealthy businessman and the other married an academic whose failing health has left them struggling to make ends meet. The third moved to New York, eloped with the son of a family proud of their ancestral link with the Mayflower, and felt her identity slowly ebb away.
These three women are essentially sisters, though Funmi would chafe at the sickly sweetness of such a term. Their love has the makings of an ancient habit; it is automatic and unyielding.
The trio reunite in Lagos for the wedding of junior doctors Dele and Funmi’s daughter, Destiny. Though the pair are represented in the book title, they’re both fringe characters, supporting players to the story of the three friends. The title Dele Weds Destiny is thus a strange choice — the book isn’t really about the soon-to-be-wed couple nor the actual ceremony. It’s more a novel about friendship.
Dele Weds Destiny starts with a very short section depicting the day Zainab, Funmi and Enitan graduate from university. Then it quickly moves into 2015 as the trio come together for the wedding and Funmi gets stressed by the lavish preparations for her daughter’s big day. Destiny’s lack of enthusiasm for the preparations is evident but Funmi is so determined that nothing will put a spanner in the works she steams ahead regardless.
After this introduction to the main characters, the middle section of the novel winds back to the 1980s to reveal the exciting student unrestand the difficulties they’ve faced during the intervening thirty years.
This book takes a long time to get going and there’s a heavy reliance on “telling” us about the differing characters and experiences of the three women. Funmi, has everything that money and status can buy but her life has no meaning. Enitan, the most intelligent of the trio incurred her family’s wrath by marrying an American Peace Corps volunteer who taught at her university. Now they’re in the process of a divorce. The final member of the trio, Zainab, is the only one who didn’t become a nurse and the only Muslim. As a writer she’s the most bookish of the gang, now acting as carer for her bed-ridden husband.
There’s some modest tension of the “will-she-or-won’t-she” kind over Destiny’s indifference to her forthcoming nuptials. But we’re denied the more interesting question of whether the friendship between the three women can survive because right at the beginning we’re assured that they will remain “steadfastly in each other’s lives.” Without that element of drama, I couldn’t see there was much of a purpose to the story. The idea for the book was sound, it was the execution that let it down for me.
Dele Weds Destiny by Tomi Obaro: Footnotes
Tomi Obaro is currently deputy culture editor at BuzzFeed News. Dele Weds Destiny is her debut novel, published in June 2022 by Hodder and Stoughton.
Thank you to Hodder & Stoughton for making this book available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
For an alternative perspective on this novel, take a look at Liz’s review here.