Every year, many Africans leave behind strong ties forged since birth to explore new connections in Canada. Some realize their dreams of stability and prosperity; others fail and yield to despair. Saskatoon-based Nigerian writer Michael Afenfia is familiar with the challenges many immigrants deal with in North America, having emigrated from Nigeria to Canada in 2019. His latest and sixth novel, Leave My Bones in Saskatoon, is about Africans pursuing the Canadian dream.
Afenfia had already established himself as a notable and prolific writer in Nigeria. He served as the chair of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) in Bayelsa, his home state, and published five books there. He currently works as a diversity, settlement, and inclusion practitioner and is actively involved in the Saskatoon literary scene. He recognizes the value of literature.
“Writing serves the dual purpose of enlightening and entertaining,” Afenfia remarks. “There is always a message in everything we write; even when we do not think about it, it is there, and our readers find it. Even when we say it is art for art’s sake, the reader finds something, and they hold on to it.”
Unlike his previous stories set in Nigeria, Leave My Bones in Saskatoon shuttles between Nigeria and Canada to reveal the transnational lives of African migrants. There are stories no one tells people who decide to relocate to a new country. No one told Afenfia that life would not be rosy across the Atlantic when he decided to leave his home country.
Yet he admits that it takes great courage to resettle in another country, and the possibilities of success are there. This fact and other reasons inspired him to write this book because he hopes it “will speak to and for all the brave men and women who come to this country every day and who are either too ashamed or afraid to tell their stories or share their experiences.”
The novel opens with Owoicho Adakole, a TV presenter, who has finalized plans with his wife to leave Nigeria with their four children. For the Adakoles, this is a dream come true, a dream sought by many Nigerians eager to flee the ruthless politics in the country. Yet, in the moment of joy, his family suffers a tragedy that puts their relocation on pause. Meanwhile, in faraway Saskatoon, Oroma still hurts from heartbreak, wary of finding love again after her boyfriend exploited her and abandoned her for another woman.
Afenfia presents these lives in spare, unaffected, and brisk prose, capturing moments of human fragility, duplicity, betrayal, avarice, and fraud. But there is love in the stories he narrates – love and its redemptive potential. Indeed, he has written a powerful, if harrowing, story of human resilience and healing amid tragedy.
Afenfia is excited about his next project, a collection of short stories. The book, his first foray into this genre, will further explore the struggles of Nigerians at home and in Canada.
“I put my heart and soul into anything I write,” Afenfia says, “and I take writing as a very important task.”