A Review of Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun – Kike Muchachos

Genre: Adult Fiction

ISBN: 978-1-911115-04-5

Publisher: Cassava Republic Press

Year of Publication: 2016

Imagine a talking mule, whispering tales into the ears of the sun. Lean forward and try to listen in. I’m quite certain the experience will be a remarkable one (that is if you can somehow manage to dredge up that weird picture) albeit having a mellow, dreamlike, serene and maybe, even a retro quality to it. That is exactly what it felt like reading this work. Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s storytelling flows like a river at sunset, with an aching calm that almost lulls one to sleep. In this work, she subtly tackles issues on aging, loneliness, race, identity, memory, loss and self-exile. These themes almost go unnoticed by the reader who’ll probably be so engrossed with the rhythmic voices in this simply woven plot, in anticipation of a climax that never comes.

Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun is set in modern day San Francisco. The plot revolves around Dr. Morayo Da Silva, Nigerian, a retired professor of literature who lives alone in an apartment filled with books on the last floor of an ‘old but sturdy’ building in Belgrave. Between repeated readings of her favourite authors, having conversations with her favourite characters, erotic cravings and daydreams, enjoying road trips on her vintage Porsche, chatting up strangers and making friends with younger folks, Morayo makes the best of retirement and aging. She appears strong and independent and without a care. But in truth, she is a lonely woman who has only her memories and her books for company. Memories of pasts and futures, and of what could have been; of a diplomat ex husband and a poet lover. Memories made profound by the absence of close friends and family long left behind in her search for the American Dream.

Morayo’s fears and concerns are pushed to the fore when on the cusp of her seventy-fifth birthday, a home accident lands her in a rehabilitation centre for the old. With her independence gone, and without the support of family, she is forced to rely on friends and chance encounters to make the best of her situation.

The story is told in short chapters by different, distinct voices; Morayo, a few of her friends and a few chance encounters – characters who mostly stray or stumble into the story. There is Sunshine, the Indian wife who loves Yoga; Dawud, a charming Palestinian shopkeeper; Sage, a homeless lady looking for love; Reggie, an academic whose wife is battling memory loss and a few others. A rainbow of sorts. While this mix of voices not unlike a mix of bright colours aided style and plot, and gave lyricism to language and also allowed for the mellow/intimate quality of text especially since the characters all spoke in the first person narrative, it also made the book come off as a collection of short stories – different lives painted on the same canvas, most, with their only connection being a stray brush of paint.

Humour jumps off the pages from the very first page where the protagonist talks about the possibility of an earthquake and of how living on the top floor would ensure a quick recovery of her corpse in the event of one. Then there is the scene about the emergency bag packed by Morayo on the event of an earthquake, and a few more scenes like that, birthing the occasional chuckle while reading. The short chapters also help with pacing, making the pages fly. The language is simple and lyrical; the diction is apt with a sprinkle of metaphors. The dialogue, or what little of it there is, is straight forward and lacks ambiguity.

The feeling of being in a dark, but familiar room is present for most of the scenes. A little lamp of guidance in the form of more precise descriptions would have helped create more distinct pictures as the story unfolded.

The employment of monologues and stream of consciousness is interesting as characters reveal themselves without unnecessary dialogue. But, that in itself kind of stilted characterization and made the characters stick-like instead of life-like. They were like drawings on a page with their stories etched around their heads like halos as against actual 3D figures with full lives that could unfold before the reader. Apart from Morayo, the other characters were half-baked, incomplete and I found one or two to be inconsequential. And even with Morayo, there is no remarkable character growth: she starts off with her worries and ends up with them without a concrete resolution in sight, although one could pass off her last-chapter indifference and free spirit in the midst of her worries, as one.

Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun is a good read. Told in the first person present tense narrative style by a polyphony of voices, it deals with the themes of aging, memory, loss, race, love, loneliness and self-exile amongst others. On a scale of one to ten, one being the lowest, I’d give it a five. But hey, don’t take my word for it. Go get a copy, read it and let’s hear your thoughts on it.

Reviewer’s Bio – Kike Muchachos is a free-spirited book lover, lawyer by day and literary enthusiast and critic by night. Currently working on being a literary agent. Soon.

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