Sugar Baby by Chinua Achebe, 1972
The magic trick:
Using a seemingly light-hearted character quirk to welcome the reader into a very serious story about serious subjects
Another story from Chinua Achebe this weekend. This one recalls Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry stories, as we see love and anger filtered through the Nigerian Civil War.
The focus is on Cletus’s addiction to sugar. It may almost seem silly to an American reader, and the narrator, Mike, seems to make light of it at times. Or Cletus would prefer him to make light of it. The reality is much more complex, as the story of sugar addiction truly is the story of friendship, war, and a society being torn at the seams.
And that’s quite a trick on Achebe’s part.
“Tell them about me and sugar, Mike, tell them,” said Cletus to me.
Well, I said, there was nothing really to tell except that my friend Cletus had what our English friends would call a sweet tooth. But of course the English, a very moderate race, couldn’t possibly have a name for anything like Cletus and his complete denture of thirty-two sweet teeth.
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