Can one live again, after already living and dying before?
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim answers this question in his latest speculative fiction- When We Were Fireflies.
Yarima Lalo is what the Yorubas would call an Akundayaa. He has lived before, twice for that matter but was killed by his rivals due to women he chose to love and had once loved. He is living his third life as an artist who was once in the Nigerian Army. One day, he goes to the train station and memories of his past lives begin to come to him and due to the way he died in his past lives, he feels his third death is eminent.
After the train station, Lalo start to encounter yarinyas (young girls) who gather fireflies and allow them to float in the sky. He also meets beautiful Aziza at the train station and with time, they become friends and something more. Aziza has a distraught past and the two of them go on a journey to find the people who killed Lalo in his past lives. I enjoyed Lalo and Aziza conversations and I found their relationship cute and funny.
The story begins in Abuja but the author took us to Kaduna, Kafanchan, Jos and Maiduguri. I liked that the author was unapologetically Hausa by including Hausa phrases and words in the book without interpreting them as this made me search out the words to know their meaning. I also liked that we saw different characters POVs and back stories so I was able to understand some characters and not out rightly hate them.
My favourite scenes which I found really amusing were when Lalo thought he was going to die and a thought popped in his head saying- Yarima Lalo, you idiot. Are you really going to die without finishing the painting of your mother? And also this;
“Are you going to ask me in or not, Mister?”
“I’m sorry.” He stepped aside and with a flamboyant gesture ushered her in.
She folded her arms across her chest and turned her nose up. “Ask me in nicely.”
Lalo giggled. “Would you please like to come in?”
My favourite chapter was The Gift of a Name. Here’s an excerpt below:
The breeze blew across his face, bringing with it memories of a previous life, of a season of innocence, of a love bud wilted by the harmattan of reality, of growing up and growing apart.
Lalo was my favourite character, I loved his quirkiness and sense of humour. An honorable mention goes to Indo, that woman has rizz!!! In general, I totally enjoyed reading When We Were Fireflies and I think everyone else should read it. It’s my first Nigerian speculative fiction read and I look forward to reading more of that genre and also other Abubakar Adam Ibrahim books. I recommend this book to lovers of speculative fiction, young readers and people looking for something different and thrilling. It’s a perfect book.
P.S. When We Were Fireflies would be having a film adaptation. Abubakar Adam Ibrahim confirmed it at Ake Festival.
This review was written by Olamide Ojediran as an activity under Black Boy Review’s Book Grants program