Written by Claudia Efemini
As a second-year History and Politics student at the University of Edinburgh I am currently in the midst of editing my debut novel A Letter Away From Asaba, set to be published in spring 2023. It is a book that I wrote during the course of my first year at Edinburgh and I am still quite shocked that it will be transformed into print next year. Nigerian history is something that I am greatly passionate about and looking through a degree programme that makes little mention of Nigeria sparked a burning desire in me to fulfil my passion through writing historical fiction. This is not at all to say that my time in Edinburgh so far has not helped me cultivate ideas for this book. The lectures on oral history in the infamous Historian’s Toolkit and varying topics in my first-year courses helped me develop the analytical skills that I used to carefully embed historical information within an engaging fictional narrative. Nevertheless, I cannot deny that the general neglect of African history during my first two years has only made me hungrier for history pertaining to Nigeria.
A Letter Away From Asaba, an epistolary novella, is a historical fictional narrative centred on the Asaba massacre of the Nigerian Civil War. The story follows the lives of best friends Onome and Chioma. Onome is an international student from Nigeria studying law at King’s College London whilst Chioma lives in Asaba, Nigeria. Chioma experiences the Asaba massacre, an overlooked and traumatic event of the war, and is forced to confront issues of censorship, grief, and trust. Whilst in London, Onome notices the blatant censorship of the event within the British press. Through a series of diary entries and letters these two young women attempt to come to grips with the massacre and fulfil their desire of publicising its existence in opposition to this censorship. This is far from easy, and they await a series of hurdles in ways they least expect that, in contrast, try to ensure that the victims of the massacre die in vain.
The Asaba massacre is not an entirely new subject to me. I wrote an article about it published in the Retrospect Journal during my first year of university. But I was first introduced to the event before university. I came across a book entitled The Asaba Massacre: Trauma, Memory, and the Nigerian Civil War by historians Elizabeth S. Bird and Fraser Ottanelli. Bird and Ottanelli are one of the few historians to have conducted historical research on the Asaba massacre, as the event remains largely neglected within scholarship. Nevertheless, I chose to write an essay about the significance of Nigerian and British press censorship during the Asaba massacre in Nigeria. Fast-forward to today and I am set to publish a book dedicated to the Asaba massacre, seeking to respond to this gap in scholarship and global awareness. Put simply, it all started as an extended essay that I wrote in my last year of the International Baccalaureate diploma programme that I later decided to translate into a fictional narrative during my first year of university. It grapples with a plethora of themes relevant to modern day Nigeria and the role of the press across the world. I am beyond excited to be working with my editor Lily Laycock and self-publishing my book in spring 2023.
I recently made an instagram page @aletterawayfromasaba dedicated to my book where I plan to document my journey. If you are interested, please do give it a follow to get an insight into the entire publication process and join me on my journey to publication.
Featured image credit: Photo by AFP PHOTO / Francois Mazure. Accessed via “Nigeria’s civil war 50th anniversary, a reflection”, The Guardian, 5 February 2020: https://guardian.ng/opinion/nigerias-civil-war-50th-anniversary-a-reflection/. Used under fair use policy.