When We Speak Of Nothing is a coming of age story about Karl, a transgender male who on top of having to deal with the constant bullying and discrimination which comes along with being different, has to take care of a mum so ill he needs a state-appointed guardian to look after him and had practically been adopted by Abu’s family. This is a pretty rough deal for anyone but Karl has Abu who more than anything is incredibly loyal to Karl and their friendship.
Life isn’t perfect but there’s a co-operation between Karl and Abu. They get each other, work well together, live and think together… It’s a bromance. Then a bombshell lands on Karl in the form of a father who just learnt of his existence because his mum had decided that sharing information with the parties involved was unnecessary.
Naturally, this is upsetting for Karl and he takes up an offer to travel to Nigeria to meet his dad. In Nigeria, despite a frosty welcome from his dad and the reunion not going as expected, Karl finds room in the new environment to be a person as opposed to a “queer” person and shows no desire of going back to his life.
This wish to extend his visit indefinitely does not go down well with Abu who starts making friends with the wrong sort, joins a riot and things just go downhill from there.
When We Speak Of Nothing is a beautiful story to narrate. It’s one of those books I don’t appreciate until I have to talk about it.
The fact is it was a difficult book to read. I know… How hard can it be to read a 252 page novel with massive fonts?! The answer is, “Harder than you’d think”.
My journey to completing this book is a story in itself. I was given a review copy in e-book format (Dead On Arrival) around June or July last year… I really tried to get into it but it just wasn’t happening. Then came the Nigerian launch in August, I decided to give it another go and it was beautiful.
I read the first 100 pages so fast and was having fun… until I wasn’t. It took me 4 months to go back and speed read the last chapters of this book. Basically just to get it over with.
Personally, I think there was too much rambling in When We Speak Of Nothing. Karl and Abu are great kids but philosophers they are not and they’d just go on and on about shit I can’t remember anymore.
Then there’s the bit were Karl learns about the injustice in the Niger Delta through his friend Godwin, chemist, activist and dreamer. The blurb makes it sound like there’s some huge movement Karl will get involved with, he’ll become a radical activist and bring change to the Niger Delta… That’s just marketing.
I get it, we’re in Nigeria, God forbid Karl comes here without visiting these poor communities that have been and are still being destroyed by heartless giant corporations. He needs to see these things so he can fully appreciate the fact his life at King’s Cross isn’t shitty enough. Seriously.
The most annoying thing about this tangent was that it leads to nothing. Unless you count the fact that Karl meets his first girlfriend through this relationship with Godwin, then that’s something I guess. I’m upset!
When We Speak Of Nothing, however, redeems itself in its beautiful characters. There are several but Karl is easily the most interesting.
I love how even when I’m shaking my head at him for wanting/preferring to live in a bubble, I also get it. I mean life can suck sometimes.
Someone will love this book. As in, fall head over heels for it and have only good things to say about it but that someone isn’t writing this review.
When We Speak Of Nothing by Olumide Popoola
Publisher: Cassava Republic Press
Release Date: August 2017
Genre: Literary Fiction
Find It: Jumia
Best mates Karl and Abu are both 17 and live near Kings Cross. It’s 2011 and racial tensions are set to explode across London. Abu is infatuated with gorgeous classmate Nalini but dares not speak to her. Meanwhile, Karl is the target of the local ‘wannabe’ thugs just for being different.
When Karl finds out his father lives in Nigeria, he decides that Port Harcourt is the best place to escape the sound and fury of London, and connect with a Dad he’s never known.
Rejected on arrival, Karl befriends Nakale, an activist who wants to expose the ecocide in the Niger Delta to the world. Increasingly distant from happenings in London, Karl falls headlong for Nakale’s feisty cousin, Janoma.
Meanwhile, the murder of Mark Duggan triggers a full-scale riot in London. Abu finds himself caught up in its midst, leading to a tragedy that forces Karl to race back home.
When We Speak of Nothing launches a powerful new talent. The stream of consciousness prose, peppered with contemporary slang, captures what it means to be young, black and queer in London. If grime music were a novel, it would be this.