BOOK REVIEW 10 Days with Minor, by Nsedu B. Onyile, $9.99; AuthorHouse; 168 pages
REVIEW BY SALLY PARSONS
What would be fulfilling to you in your final days of life? Do many of us at that point settle for less than is possible? Minor's journey as he moves quickly toward death gives pause for rethinking our own end days and what might give them meaning.
Minor is a gay man in his 30s who is dying of AIDS. He finds himself lonely, isolated in his bed in an empty house. Perilously close to suicide, he decides in one last desperate grasp at life to place an ad for a companion. Into his life walks Usukuma, a young Nigerian woman doing graduate studies in America. Their connection and exploration of different cultures is the essence of this moving fictional work, the first book-length work by Onyile, herself Nigerian.
Minor questions what his life has amounted to and comes up with precious little. He has never allowed himself to get close to others, except for his uncle Eugene, who does not pay much attention to him as Minor lies on his deathbed. Usukuma is a life-affirming free spirit. She and Minor take immediately to each other and skip right over the "warming-up period" most new relationships start with and plunge into intimate, honest and compassionate give-and-take.
For many of us, helping someone die is a deeply uncomfortable experience, even disturbing. Our culture for the most part does not deal very well with the final phase of life ( or transitional phase, as some believe ) . If you have ever wished for guidance in this process, you may find this small book comforting. In any case, it is eye-opening. Usukuma's methods may not be yours, but her philosophy gives pause for contemplation on what is important in the last few days before our loved ones, and the strangers among us whom we may choose to aid, leave this world. The book is full of wisdom, as only a perspective from another culture can sometimes bringand it is touching.
After their first meeting, Usukuma tells Minor she has been thinking about him. He wants to know specifics. She replies, "I was wondering if you were happy? Does somebody love you? Do you love somebody? Are you content? What is your passion? You know, all the stuff that fills the human soul!"
Minor responds that his poor soul is empty. "It is never too late, Minor. We will fix all that in due time."
With the promise that her conviction carries, Minor immediately feels stronger and is anxious to begin their journey together. Usukuma has plenty to offer Minor and, as it turns out, she learns much from him as well.
Minor learns about Nigerian oral traditions, including reincarnated soldiers from the civil war in Usukuma's country and about the traditional passage into womanhood and the warning signs of the "golden waist chain."
Usukuma has many strong beliefs and values, central among them are two mottos: "You cannot give what you do not have" and "I cannot please everybody all the time." The first steers her to choices that keep her healthy and happy so she is able to give to those who need what she has to offer. The second motto helps her stay sane.
Written in a matter-of-fact style, 10 Days presents physical details of the dying experience. The author knows what she is talking about. Onyile has a master's degree in nursing administration from George Mason University and is a trauma/emergency care nurse. Some of her friends have AIDS.
This book is a refreshingly honest and raw look at connecting with the dyingwhich is, at the same time, life-affirming. I am left wishing someone like Usukuma could hold my hand in my final days.
The Prospect of My Arrival
by Dwight Okita
$14.95; self-published; 274 pages
REVIEW BY SALLY PARSONS
Suppose you had the chance, before birth, to decide whether you wanted to be born? How might that work? Assuming science and technology could make that possible, should people mess with this area? What would influence your decision? Also, if you did choose to be born, would you grow up a happier adult?
These are some of the intriguing questions raised in this elegant book by Dwight Okita, a Chicago poet making his debut as a novelist. The Prospect of My Arrival is a book that is serious, poignant and engaging.
The Prospect in the title is the name of the protagonist. ( "I was given the name Prospect because people have high hopes for me." ) Prospect is a Pre-born, an embryo temporarily residing in the body of a 20-year-old. He is given three weeks and encounters with five Referrals to help him decide whether being born is a good idea. At the end of his search, he is free to choose birth or being thrown back into the gene pool.
The people with high expectations of Prospect include the scientist Trish Mesmer, who thought up the bio-experiment that is the premise of the story; Karl Bangor, the head of new product development at Big Farm Technologies ( who are financing the project ) ; and many of Prospect's Referrals.
Prospect's first Referral is his mom-to-be. After meeting her, he muses, "It's a nice feeling to have a mother, a family ….To come from something. A family tree to climb."
At the beginning of his journey, one finds such innocent charm beguiling. Sadly, the world Prospect encounters as he explores whether to be born or not chips away at his innocence, changing his perspective and interactions in ways that harden him. Following that journey, we find ourselves musing over the meaning of love and attachment, free will, and even life itself. Prospect ponders these things too. ( "Once you get over the miracle that you are born at allyou must get over the next miracle: that you are still here." )
Prospect's other Referrals include Lito Sanchez, 17, a biracial orphan with ADD; Trevor Grueling, 42, who opposes the project and will try to convince Prospect to nix the birth choice; Irene Iwanski, 71, a truly happy person and a retired greeting card writer; and Victor Pastelle, 49, a Muslim, a prophetic painter and an empath.
All these Referrals in their own way influence Prospect's impending decision about whether to join the human struggle. Irene, the happy Referral, gives Prospect an important lesson about life. "Life is a feast, but everything costs something." The cost is indeed high for her.
Trevor believes that science does not belong in the delivery room. He was victim of a different kind of bio-experiment. He donated a personality traithis sense of wonder. He didn't think he needed it and has been searching for a way to rekindle it ever since. Trevor will do whatever it takes to stop Prospect from deciding to be born.
However, it is Lito, the one who wishes he was never born, who has perhaps the greatest influence on Prospect. The two form a special bond, sealed by a kiss. But waitif Prospect chooses to be born, he will be a baby. So, you wonder, two young men separated in age by only three years when they meetone a natural-born teen, the other in a borrowed 20-year-old's bodywould at Prospect's birth have an insurmountable gulf of 17 years between them. ( On the other hand, if Prospect decides not to be born, they would never meet at all. )
The book's time frame is somewhere in the not too-far-distant futurewith cool technological devices such as the Preb-Cam, the CyberSavant and hyper-holograms, for example.
There is humor, too. Prospect describes his life in the womb before he was plucked out for the experiment. "Life in the womb is not all fun and games. You sleep a lot … you dream some … you extract nutrients … you divide your cells over and over."
The thread of loveits importance and finding it or notruns throughout. On the other hand, Trevor says the whole love thing is overrated. "Don't be born for love," he warns Prospect. "Don't be a sucker."
The streets of Chicago, a house in Evanston and the O'Hare Hyatt are among the settings that dot the landscape for this "quirky cautionary tale" ( Okita's description ) .
The Prospect of My Arrival made it to the top three among 5000 submissions in the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel competition sponsored by Amazon.com and Penguin Publishers. Okita is currently at work on his second novel The Hope Store.
At the book's end, and based on his meetings with the Referrals and his reflections and experiences, Prospect makes his decision about whether to be born. Whether we agree with his choice or not, our meeting with Prospect has been rewarding, a chance to reflect on the meaning of life as encroached on by science and technology and corporate greedand that is a good thing.
Interested readers can order The Prospect of My Arrival through CreateSpace at http://www.createspace.com/3543701.
Okita will make an appearance at Women and Children First, 5233 N. Clark St., on Wed., Oct. 26, 7:30-8:30 p.m. See www.womenandchildrenfirst.com .
The Gay Icon Classics of the World
by Robert Joseph Greene
$12.99; Icon Empire Press
REVIEW BY SALLY PARSONS
I can see this charming little book gracing a coffee table to pick up and enjoy a story or two ( because they're short and perfect for tiny delectable bites at leisure ) . They could also be read at bedtime to a child ( or to the inner child of a grownup partner ) or used to start a conversation at a dinner party.
Banatu's Song and the Soiled Loin Cloth, a tale from the Ivory Coast, was the first story Greene put together on the theme of gay romantic love that forms the basis of the collection. He wrote it based on a story a female student from the Ivory Coast told him while they were at summer school at UCLA. Here's the gist: Ofasu was about to be beaten by the Mukasa chief for soiling his loin cloth, which was forbidden in their society. Ofasu had soiled it when refusing to acknowledge to a gang of boys who he was singing about in a love song; they dragged him into the mud as a punishment for his silence. Banatu then took Ofasu's beating for him, realizing that Ofasu loved him and because he felt shame that he had not come to Ofasu's rescue when he was being harangued by the gang.
We meet many engaging characters in this series: Asfar, a kind-hearted Arabian prince; curious Haakon with the cold soul; Graham, whose histrionics portraying female characters make people laugh; and many more.
As Greene explained in an interview with The Watermark, a central Florida gay publication, most of his stories are allegories meant to give gay men an understanding of "the spiritual and mental aspects of love over mere sex or lust." Greene is particularly interested, as he states in the Introduction to his collection of tales, in stories from cultures that have deep homophobic views. "I feel that seeing gay people exist in their culture will help them realize that love is a universal truth which is not limited to heterosexual relationships."
There are 10 tales in the collection, gathered from numerous sources. Some were presented as hearsay; these Greene wove into complete stories. Others ( his Introduction doesn't make entirely clear ) apparently were presented to him complete. While the title suggests the collection pulls together stories with a global perspective, in actuality they consist of five from Europe, two from the Mideast, two from Africa, and one from Mexico. None from Latin America, Australia, or Asia. Still, an impressively varied collection. Several stories originally appeared in various publications.
Greene refers to the collection as "… a series of allegories set to teach gay men about valiantly [ sic ] , chivalry and selfless romantic acts." They are lovely, indeed.