Some other writer could have subtly implied the intent to lionize biracial identity in such an audacious, long read. But, the author of ‘The Return of Half-Something’— Chukwudi Eze, goes full throttle in staking claims to this race theory without any form of veneer or window dressing. Eze makes a biracial character the novel’s protagonist and empowers him with irresistible magnetism and super-heroic ability in proffering answers to many questions the society repeatedly asks.
Just a few days ago, I had impulsively taken to writing an ode to the bat– an animal I think enjoys some rare privileges as a result of its peculiar ambiguity. A unique creature, the bat thrives on dual identity. Neither a bird nor a mammal–, the animal flies and hunts at night and does possess a set of dangerous teeth with which it enjoys the privileges that are the exclusive of mammals.
These features are what have created for the bat a class of its own and by extension, puts it on a higher pedestal. Mammals cannot fly. Birds don’t enjoy the luxury of mastication. The two advantages accrue to the bat and therein lies the correlation between the bat and the versatility of Emmanuel– the principal character in The Return of Half-Something by Chuwkwudi Eze. Emmanuel’s multidimensional persona distinguishes him from the bunch, and puts him in a pole position over colleagues, families, neighbours, competitors..
Discriminated against in New York and even in his homeland of Umuati– a fictitious locale somewhere in Nigeria, the ball and chain of this unpalatable experience doesn’t weigh down the principal character. On the contrary, he’s fired-up by it, to do more and to put his resilient spirit to work. In the end, he emerges a trailblazing star, celebrated by those who initially categorized him as an inferior being and the butt of all jokes.
This group of people, the 304-page novel declares, holds the keys to many doors and are in possession of the panacea to the myriad of challenges bedeviling humanity, more especially for those blighted by misgovernance and corrupt leadership. This is evidenced by the career trajectory of Emmanuel who, after rising to an enviable height in a company in New York, returns to his ancestral home of Umuati in Nigeria where he helps to confront the monsters of injustice and environmental despoliation as a result of perennial oil spill. In the end, Emmanuel wins a huge lawsuit against oil multinationals responsible for the pollution. Without any strong opposition, he is enthroned as the king of Umuati kingdom where he reigns with his delectable wife as a constitutional monarch. The fusion of culture and modernity resonates with keen observers of Afrofuturism as championed in the Black Panther.
Through the prism of a third person narrative technique, the omniscient narrator makes incursions into the personal secrets of the characters. This style hooks the reader on the intricate plot. Ultimately assertive, the author is without ambivalence in his voice that being a product of a biracial marriage doesn’t confer inferiority. If anything, ‘half-something’ is both the present and the future of humanity with a certain prescience that is able to give succor to ailing society. Indeed, the biracial offspring is the best of two worlds.
Emmanuel is presented as a symbol of multiculturalism. In a sense Eze, the novelist, avers that the future belongs to cultural diversity. The multiculturalism philosophy is commonplace, exemplified most especially in sports and the results have been tremendous. The book argues for the eclecticism of the human race, culture and other areas where varieties exist; all these have added colour to the beauty of mankind.
The Spock, Merboy or whatever derogatory noun is ascribed to the biracial person as seen in the novel, Emmanuel’s ambidexterity avails him the opportunity to reap from left and right. It’s the consistency of abuse and discrimination that gives steam to Emmanuel’s ambitions. In actual fact, the experiences incentivize him to strive for perfection at whatever he does, as if his entire life depends on it. Little wonder Rebecca, his wife, has this to say while consoling him after such a horrid experience:
“That’s fine, honey. This ‘half-Something’ is a Phi-Beta- Kappa graduate from an Ivy League school with a PhD in law. He has a distinguished work-achievement record at Peak Management Group and is now a fearless fighter against bigotry, environmental pollution and injustice.” (pg 207). By way of inference, Rebecca simply means to say; the world has since evolved beyond what the colour of the skin is, to what exactly an individual possesses or is qualified to do just as adumbrated in the famous “I have a dream speech” by Martin Luther King Jr.
There are other themes explored in the novel. However, the many other preoccupations, the theme of love seems to serve as the ligature in conveying the author’s main concern seamlessly to its preferred destination. So loud is the emphasis on the irrepressible power of love that, you can’t help but recall Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The love between Emmanuel and Rebecca- his Jewish girlfriend, then wife—gets ignited by some inexplicable forces or perhaps by what the Greeks have dubbed ‘Cupid’. It goes on rampage, blossoming into an unimaginable proportion with the supernatural strength to transcend every roadblock including that of race, tradition, religion and all forms of artificialities.
Their first meeting could be said to be fortuitous but the sheer positive vibe that Emmanuel exudes, at some point, becomes irresistible to his subject of admiration. This is pivotal to the eventual takeoff and steady sail of the relationship. At the beginning of their love journey, huge obstacles show up but are soon surmounted. Matter of fact is, there is a reversal of role by the obstacles. What are regarded as the put-offs and considered irreconcilable differences soon become the pillars upon which the strong foundation of their eventual marriage is predicated.
A constellation of man-made impediments – the traditions of men, threaten the survival of a genuine emotional synergy. Notwithstanding the paternalistic roles and doting concerns of Rebecca’s billionaire parents, the reader is supplied with a certain foreboding that the emotional investment between the two consenting adults would triumph over the mounting pressures. Maybe the level of sanity and civic awareness in the locale of the narrative does this giveaway but, while reading the book, the certainty of this feeling is imminent. The unflinching display and steady confessional love could be a model for the future. Regardless of the dispiriting turmoil in the background, the pair remains stuck with each other like King Solomon and the Ethiopian Queen of Sheba!
The racial narrative mode of the story can be explained by the fact that author—Chukwudi Eze, is a migrant from Nigeria to the United States. Migrants have always had to combat the ugly monster of racial stereotype more so if the migrant is black or is from a minority ethnic stock. Racial profiling of black Americans has been a topical issue of late, one which gained worldwide attention on the heels of the brutal murder of George Floyd which stirred a universal domino effect that ineluctably gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Because of institutionalized racial prejudices, a lot of people have resultantly formed a hurried or uninformed opinion. Like Mr. Sam in the book, he gives an account of his mistreatment of people of other races simply because of preconceived notions without having a personal relationship with the races concerned. Consequently, he makes a true confession that he would be happy to let the feeling of guilt off his chest and offers to pay for the couple’s meal upon encountering Emmanuel and Rebecca’s charming conviviality at a neighborhood restaurant.
Resilient, brilliant, articulate and industrious are some of the superlatives that rightly capture the traits of a true biracial person. These qualities are arguably in consonance with the personality of Barrack Obama, the 44th president of the United States of America to whom allusions are made in the book. Obama is idolized in this book so that, he’s ascribed an ideal paragon of the biracial identity who came on a rescue mission to salvage the dwindling fortunes and misdirection that the US was headed after the rule of president George W. Bush. In all these, Jerry John Rawlings of Ghana comes to mind as the only president of biracial descent in West Africa leadership history.
The novel itself is a mishmash of half of everything that ranges from– crime fiction to romantic scenes; which in my opinion, are quite evocative of the best of James Hadley Chase, racism, culture clash and alienation, etc. There is also the use of a high dose of traditional African proverbs, the familiarity of which creates an air of facetiousness for those who are familiar with the writings of Chinua Achebe. Sometimes the reader is jarred by the suddenness of some actions and inactions. For instance, the same manner Anna’s boyfriend Carl emerges as an officer in the US marine is the same way he vanishes into thin air. The minimal roles of Rebecca’s brother—John, gives an impression that his creation as a character didn’t come through a painstaking process
I wasn’t expecting the book to be perfect. Is there really a book that’s impeccably edited? There’s handful of typos in The Return of Half-Something despite the manuscript having been handled, I learn, by some renowned writers and editors.
The author exhibits a firm grasp of American English and delivers vivid description of certain historical sites. The plot of the novel is in medias res, which implies a non-sequential arrangement. Beginning from the multitude of challenges faced by Emmanuel as a result of his skin colour, the use of flashback to reenact the earlier role of his father—Uchechi, appears to me as the Nollywoodization of the Nigerian novel. The authors’ laudable attempt to lionize people of biracial identity as portrayed by the central character Emmanuel– a dynamic character, brilliant, resilient and endearing to all, albeit sometimes it becomes too obtrusive to the reader, doesn’t necessarily make the book a propagandist novel.
Racial ambiguity does have its own advantages and disadvantages. This is the world Emmanuel– a multiracial character, bestrides. Often the kind of segregation visited on such people is made manifest in the two worlds where they belong. A friend once remarked that, if Barack Obama was the president of Kenya, he would have been regarded the first white man to do so. Whereas in the US, being the 44th president, Obama, is seen today as the first black man to reside in the prestigious white house and he did so for eight years on the stretch.
At some point I was beginning to toy with the idea that the author, Chukwudi Eze-a dark skinned Nigerian with Master’s Degree from New York’s Columbia University who also studied creative writing at the University of Toronto-does have hands-on experience in fathering a biracial child to have been able to radiate such high-level confidence in marshaling his points. This depth of knowledge might as well come from a thorough research. But what is beyond speculations however, is that he has been convincing in assigning, in a work of fiction, some very enviable character traits to people of mixed race.