'A very funny, intelligent, deliberately and engagingly resistant, and moving piece of writing' Amit Chaudhuri
A 'recovering writer' - his first novel having been littered with typos and selling only fifty copies - Frank Jasper is plucked from obscurity in Port Jumbo in Nigeria by Mrs Kirkpatrick, a white woman and wife of an American professor, to attend the prestigious William Blake Program for Emerging Writers in Boston.
Once there, however, it becomes painfully clear that he and the other Fellows are expected to meet certain obligations as representatives of their 'cultures.' His colleagues, veterans of residencies in Europe and America, know how to play up to the stereotypes expected of them, but Frank isn't interested in being the African Writer at William Blake - any anyway, there is another Fellow, Barongo Akello Kabumba, who happily fills that role.
Eventually expelled from the fellowship for 'non-performance' and 'non-participation,' Frank Jasper sets off on trip to visit his father's college friend in Nebraska - where he learns not only surprising truths about his father, but also how to parlay his experiences into a lucrative new career once he returns to Nigeria: as a commentator on American life...
Seesaw is an energetic comedy of cultural dislocation - and in its humour, intelligence and piety-pricking, it is a refreshing and hugely enjoyable act of literary rebellion.
Average rating from 11 members
Seesaw is a novel about a Nigerian writer whose failing novel is discovered by a white American woman who suggests he apply to the William Blake Program for Emerging Writers in Boston. Frank leaves Port Jumbo for America, where it becomes apparent he is expected to be an 'African' writer and talk about post-colonialism, and Frank doesn't want to be the stereotype, but being expelled turns out to be quite helpful for a writing career. The book is both a satire of literary culture and what is expected of authors, and the story of a somewhat lost man finding direction. It is told with hindsight, and the pacing wasn't quite what I expected, but I liked the parts that paralleled Frank's experiences with what he later uses in his reinvigorated career commenting on America. There was also some good light-hearted mockery of academic and literary language and how it can both mean nothing and specific things. Because Frank was the narrator, a lot of the book was more focused on what he did and saw than these elements, and for me I would've preferred more of them. A comic novel about a writer going in a strange journey to and around America, Seesaw is a light read that still delves into cultural difference and what diversity in literature really means, albeit in a satirical way.
About the book: Frank Jasper is discovered by a white woman in Nigeria as an up and coming writer. He’s flown to Boston to attend the prestigious William Blake Program for Emerging Writers. Once in America though, he is pressured to enforce stereotypes of where you come from. Refusing to do this rubs people the wrong way and eventually he’s expelled from the fellowship. This gives Frank a chance to travel to his father’s college friend, where he learns things about his father he wasn’t aware of. Frank discovers a new path in life and when he returns to Nigeria, he embarks on a lucrative career as a commentator on American life. My thoughts: I enjoyed the book and all the observations as an outsider navigating in the US. I guess the narration style wasn't for me. I felt like a story like this would have been more engaging with more detailed conversations and third person narration.
Such an unusual book in a way, but full of warmth and animation. I felt like I knew the characters personally and was sorry to leave them.
This novel starts with a slow, drawling sarcasm that, once you've adapted to its rhythm, realise just how clever this novel is. Our main character has published one novel, a novel he rejects and feels physically uncomfortable thinking about, and feels a failure, especially considering its print run of 50. Having destroyed almost every copy himself, he is surprised to find that a woman in the US has not only read it, but wants to offer him a fellowship on a prestigious writing programme because of it. He goes along, his heart not fully into it, and is a drop-out of sorts- he doesn't write anything more when there, and is bemused by the pretentious self-promotion of other writers on his programme, who all seem to think that they are writing The Next Great (insert adjective here) Novel. He has no such aspirations and becomes increasingly alienated from it all, and from himself. However, here is where the detached tone of the book does something quite extraordinary- the narrator is an observer of these other people who are so obsessed with themselves and their own mythologies that they fail to see the ridiculousness of the whole situation, or to see how they are putting our narrator on a pedestal to be an icon or role model for the whole of Africa for their own ends, failing to understand anything apart from the confirmation of their own biases. Although we are meant to see his inability to complete the programme as a failure, he ultimately emerges from the book perhaps the most grounded. The people he meets often want to be the one to have secured 'authenticity', whilst growing further from it every day. I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Frank Jasper’s coming-of-age novel sank without a trace, a relic of a time when Frank steeped himself in Huysmans and Proust and wanted to be a serious novelist. But just when Frank’s dreams of writing seem a distant memory, a chance encounter changes everything. One day he’s at home in Port Jumbo, Nigeria, then he’s an “ethnic writer” in America, expected to make his mark via the William Blake Program for Emerging Writers at an obscure, Boston college. Once enrolled, Frank’s swiftly outperformed by the other members of this select group who understand perfectly what the 'white establishment' wants from them: from ‘authentic blackness’ to commentator on the complexities of the ‘global, post-colonial world’. The hapless Frank seems destined to become the resident Bartleby, until he’s forced to strike out on his own. Once adrift in America, he goes in search of an obscure part of his family history, a piece of a puzzle that he may finally be able to solve. Timothy Ogene’s drily satirical, highly referential narrative draws on the campus and road novel traditions to construct a smart, subversive take on post-colonial studies, academic discourse and the restrictive roles on offer to black writers - required to live up to white audiences' expectations. But Ogene goes beyond critique to construct a stirring account of personal reinvention and making peace with the past. By turns witty and unexpectedly moving, I was quickly drawn into Frank’s world, although there were times when his story stalled or felt curiously static. I was less impressed by the portrayal of the women Frank encounters, they reminded me too much of the one-dimensional, fantasy figures littering the pages of books by men like Philip Roth or Saul Bellow – although it’s possible this was a deliberate echo. Thanks to Netgalley UK and publisher Swift Press for an arc
There is so much to love about this book. Delightfully irreverent about academia and the well-meaning liberal, white west, and yet soulfully engaged in the power of literature and communication between individuals, Seesaw made me laugh out loud and want to cry. Frank Jasper wrote a slim coming of age novel set in a fictionalised version of his hometown of Port Jumbo, Nigeria. Nothing much came of it. He started work in the post office. Then an American woman finds a copy whilst visiting her daughter in Nigeria and, on the strength of it, invites Frank to apply to a residency programme in America, the Programme for Emerging Writers at William Blake College in Boston. We begin the novel after Frank’s American journey. He’s back in Nigeria making money from his experience in the US even though we’re told very quickly that he was kicked out from his residency programme. What follows is the story of his time in America and the unravelling of his history. What is so engaging about the novel is not only it’s humour—Ogene does a great job of sending up the woke post-colonial discourse of a certain kind of academia, alongside thoughtfully critiquing his fellow African on the programme who wears a Maasai toga even though he’s Ugandan—it is also his ability to cut through to the complexity and connection of our global world. This is a generous, unpretentious, meticulously considered evaluation of the interlinked nature of our world. This is where the title comes in. Seesaw, up and down, sometimes in balance, mostly not. And it certainly also references the Don Covay song that Aretha Franklin covered where ‘your love is like a seesaw’. This could be in reference to Frank’s relationships to almost everything and to the west’s interest in Africa. Seesaw is a really fun, sharp and insightful read that warmly and carefully pokes a finger into the ribs of almost everyone and every nation and institution it encounters. If it doesn’t become an instant favourite (it comes out on the 4th November with Swift Press), it is sure to be a cult classic.
“I wanted them to know that I wasn’t advancing any single ideology or worldview or notion of progress, and wasn’t trying to attack anyone, that I just wanted to exist and cry and laugh and fuck and live and die without prefixing or suffixing my actions with any universal idea of blackness or Africanness or whatever thing out there that I was supposedly tied to as a POC or BAME or warped extension of someone else’s imagination”. A provocative read! Frank Jasper is a Nigerian student in the U.S. who has just been expelled from the creative writing programme where he had been admitted, and sets out to tell his story. Seesaw is the protagonist of the novel that has landed him there, and the word is a distortion of the way black Africans used to show obedience to their suppressors. The novel is somehow a black version of Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, with the narrator ripping through the hypocrisy of the world surrounding him, with hints of Ellison’s Invisible Man (both mentioned in the novel). In riveting prose and a smart biting satire that made me laugh out loud several times, Frank exposes the patronising attitudes of his sponsors and refuses to conform to stereotypical postures and images that white academia has of African students, expected to reflect -- and even fabricate and sell -- a naïve, primitivist view of life in Africa. This is achieved very well by his more successful colleague who typically shows up in a traditional costume holding a shepherd stick and poses as if representing the self-conscious voice of Africa, with predictable tirades that basically “lambast white audiences without losing their support”. The protagonist, whose ancestors were deeply colonised and enmeshed with the European mindset”, instead underlines the complexities of African life and the fact that the history has turned “the average city dweller in Africa into a hybrid creature whose life is split between the multiple influences and traditions”, and does so with unprecedented, uncompromising frankness. I can’t do justice to how engaging well written this book is, the satire of the academic world and rhetoric and of the way essentialism works is totally spot-on. At times the narrative drags a bit, and there is an interesting finale that I would liked to see more developed. However, on the whole this is an original, refreshing, complex, and thought-provoking debut. My thanks to Swift Press for an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Thank you to NetGalley and Swift Press for a free advanced reader's copy in exchange for an honest review. Seesaw by Timothy Ogene follows a young Nigerian man getting a fellowship at a university in the US, and the before and after of his presence at the university. At first, the tone of the novel read as quite detached and cynical, but after reading a chapter or so, I thought it worked really well - though it perhaps made the more vulnerable parts feel a bit flatter. I thought the novel focused on some interesting aspects of 'representation' of minority cultures and the weird expectations that come with that representation; for example how other fellowship writers leaned into 'representing' their culture, while Frank felt very uncomfortable and out of place by it. I thought it was very funny at points, and the making fun of academic language and conversations around post-colonial topics was very funny - also, the National Rainbow Alliance (NRA) made me laugh out loud.