“The hounding voice inside me would not let go.”
Thus begins Fidelis O. Mkparu’s novel about the emotional journey of Afamefuna Onochie Nwaku, a Harvard-trained medical doctor with a career most can only dream of, a loving wife, and supportive family after he receives a telephone call from his sister who lives in Nigeria that her life is being threatened.
Left with no other fair choice, Afam leaves behind his family, throwing his marriage into turmoil and risking the life he has built in Boston. When he arrives in Nigeria he expects to find the country he loves, that he needs, waiting for him. Instead, he finds a land and people he barely recognizes. Afam decides to stay but realizes that his future in Nigeria is as murky as the River-Niger after a torrential tropical rainfall.
As Afam sets out on a journey to reconnect with the family and heritage that he left behind, he must face new enemies in an increasingly corrupt Nigeria where many people see him as an American intruder. And through it all, he must fight to keep his family together—and alive.
“In Soulful Return, Harvard-trained medical doctor Afamefuna Onochie Nwaku appears to have everything—an education, a lovely wife, and a fine home. When he receives a phone call from Nigeria that informs him his sister is being threatened, everything he’s worked for (and everything he’s worked to escape from, in the past) is also placed at risk.
It’s not like Afam doesn’t long for his home: “Today, yearning for my homeland had brought me back to the river in search of relief, but the sights and sounds around me made me miss home even more. The river that had once brought solace to my life now pulled me in a new direction, leaving an empty longing for the grasslands of home and the rivers that glistened there in the tropical sun.”
Indeed, when he responds to his sister’s plea for help and returns to the land of his birth, he feels a renewed connection that refutes the very different life he’s built for himself in Boston. But his newfound feelings, combined with his revised status in Nigeria as an outsider and an American who brings with him the ability to confront corruption and change the lives and world of his former homeland, places him in a precarious position both in Nigeria and in America.
Fidelis O. Mkparu does an excellent job of depicting the moral, ethical, and cultural dilemmas of an immigrant who remains connected to two very different worlds.
As Soulful Return evolves, readers receive a vivid inspection of these issues from the viewpoint of a character who inspects his own emotions and motivations with candid honesty: “As more time passed, I reflected on the day I’d left home and how many years had passed. Memories of my parents overwhelmed me, and the fear of losing Elisha returned. I felt lonely, surrounded by strangers who weren’t cognizant of what I was going through. As much as I tried to forget the enormity of my inherited responsibilities, it weighed heavily on me.”
Others have cared for the medicine plants that are his famil’s legacy. It’s time for Afam to reconsider where his responsibilities and heart really lie—with his now-changed native country, or his newly-built life.
Mkparu has created a masterpiece of immigrant experience and connection, outlining many of the forces that influence and stress modern Africans and Americans alike.
His consideration of corruption, responsibility, family ties, and new beginnings lends to a powerful novel steeped in the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of Nigeria. This serves as a fitting contrast of the Western education and experience that Afam represents.
Libraries interested in powerful stories with literary and cultural value will find Soulful Return a thought-provoking inspection. It also ideally will reach into book club and discussion groups focused on the African immigrant experiences between two worlds.”
–D. Donovan, Sr. Reviewer, Midwest Book Review