Forever There For You
by Chioma Nnani
As the only child of hardworking, over-achieving, and wealthy Nigerian parents, Nadine Nwaturuegwu is expected to follow their example and at 16 years old leaves Nigeria to study Law in England as an international student.
Nadine drives herself hard, fully immersing in her academics, and when she meets her soulmate, Raymond, life seems good. But tribal racism is rife back in Nigeria, and Nadine’s family are unlikely to accept Raymond. After embracing born-again Christianity, Nadine makes a life-changing decision to walk away from Raymond and marry fellow Christian Tony Okeke whom her family will welcome. It proves to be the worst judgment of her life…
Forever There For You will stay with me for some time. It is a novel written with passion and honesty that transforms an interesting narrative into a shocking story which is made all the more distressing by the gentle simplicity and matter-of-fact tone of the prose.
The book opens with a prologue set on Christmas Eve, 2010 in London. It’s a well-written, haunting beginning that immediately holds the reader’s interest before they are taken back to 2002 and teenage Nadine arriving in the UK.
There is no apology for the fact that she comes from a well-to-do family and is the apple of her father’s eye. She is spoiled and indulged but, is also relentlessly driven and single-minded to succeed in her studies to the point of making herself ill.
The first half of the novel is overly-detailed and considered, the reader is privy to almost all of Nadine’s thoughts, actions, and struggles. Nnani’s writing is clear and plain, imbuing Nadine with an air of innocence punctuated by undercurrents of rebellion. It’s engaging although the first half of the novel would have benefitted from a ruthless edit to have ensured a tighter construct and sharper focus.
However, the differences she has to confront in England are skillfully navigated both by Nadine and the author. Nnani subtly places the reader in Nadine’s shoes in terms of the cultural, climatic, and gastronomic shocks and it’s delicately amusing, thought-provoking, and sensitively handled without falling back on lazy tropes.
Nadine’s portrayal is heartfelt and authentic. The reader is given a convincing sense of her character arc from both her voice in the prologue as well as throughout the novel.
She can be frustrating to the point of exasperation, especially concerning Raymond, and naïve despite her fierce intelligence. She does give an occasional impression of emotional detachment, never seeming quite part of the landscape she walks through, which works in some areas of the novel but not so well in others.
There is also a palpable thread of sadness and fatality within her from the outset, which is curious as, on the whole in the early stages, her life is fairly brilliant, and this quiet yet constant apprehension points to Nnani’s underlying narrative.
Tony is introduced to the reader fairly suddenly and there are enough red flags for the reader to pick up on even if Nadine is unable to. The novel does shift markedly once they are married and the reader is taken into unpleasant territory. Nonetheless, the violence, sexual and physical, is not overly graphic and the blunt suggestiveness makes it all the more harrowing.
Nadine’s situation owes a lot to her Nigerian heritage. The conversation she has with her mother, Maria, regarding Tony’s brutality, is eye-openingly awful and the restrictions placed on women in the Nigerian culture are quite astonishing.
Nonetheless, Forever There For You speaks for all women regardless of background, education, and wealth. The novel demonstrates how horribly easy it is for excuses, silence, and shame to conceal abuse.
The ending brings the reader back around to the Prologue, which, I confess, I thought was going to end in quite a different manner. Nnani makes a brave decision with the conclusion, one that was unexpected and which hammers home to a devastating degree the cost of Nadine’s ill-fated marriage, not only to herself but to her family and friends.
Forever There For You is a novel that is not afraid to confront deeply entrenched cultural attitudes through the poignant and moving story of Nadine. Recommended.