- Post 03 January 2012
- Last Updated on 04 January 2012
- By Myne Whitman
Monty is a full length novel by Philip U. Effiong whose father was the Biafran second in command during the Nigerian Civil War. This Philip is a writer and teacher, his areas of specialty are literature, writing, drama, and cultural studies.
"Monty is the byproduct of war, not the actual occurrence, but the usually silent yet brutal aftermath that haunts freely as it achieves untold mental damage. The initial setting is a picturesque refugee camp where life oscillates between the grim, the gothic, and the vicious. It is located in the fictional nation of Beuvera, whose attempts at seceding from Cape Toria, a fictional nation too, results in a Civil War. A dreadful consequence of the War, the camp is the birthplace of the central character, Monty, who is born to a faceless father and refugee mother that dies minutes after he is born. Left to the mercy of pervasive devastation and death, the near-dead infant is rescued by a reverend sister who, herself, is shot and dies soon after delivering him to a secret escape airstrip. Thus rescued and miraculously kept alive by Father Brendan who also names him Monty, the child begins a phenomenal social and physical journey that covers two continents."
And so starts the story of Monty, a mentally challenged child who has to find his place in the world. He is first taken to Ireland and then to Wisconsin in America under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church. In the homes for special children where he is raised, Monty begins to realize that he is different from what is considered normal. Not only is he an orphan when most other children had parents, he also looks different.
At about 15, Monty is introduced to playing the flute, and when he gets a gift of a flute from one of his host families, he is on his way to being a well known musician. He is taken to a school for special and gifted people where, even his awards and renown for flute playing is not enough to integrate him into the mainstream student body. There is a sense of alienation, and of coming to terms with his difference at this stage of the book. Monty barely interacts with those around him, only showing them the superficial aspects of him, and retreating into a shell of loneliness.
Monty manages to overcome this separation when he finishes from the school and gets assigned a room at a Catholic Coop Housing scheme. He gets a regular job playing the flute at mass and begins to explore relationships with those around him. One of his neighbours is of particular importance in exposing Monty to the seedier sides of life, but their friendship is shortlived as their life views are on opposing sides. Also at this stage, Monty's infatuation with a girl he has known for years comes to head, but not in a favorable manner. Still, he is able to go on and develop a platonic relationship with another woman.
At this point in his life, Monty has become curious about his origins, and begins to ask questions and act out against the Catholic authorities that have always sheltered him. The author in the way he affects the future for Monty shows there are ways of showing protest and dissidence without resorting to violence. Monty gets deliberately rebellious when his wishes to find out about his family and country are thwarted and finally, it is decided to send him back to his country. Back home, he is rewarded with the truth and decides to stay.
The book starts out in a surreal landscape of chaos and the degradation of humanity that is a bit off-putting, and the following few chapters wobble as well in drawing one into the story. But by the time he's a teenager, Monty has developed an intriguing personality that will keep the reader turning the pages, trying to see the world through the eyes of this unique individual. This novel, for me, is an interesting exploration of what makes us who we are, and how our individuality is formed. Tough the narrative is bogged down by over exposition and sometimes a repetition of thoughts and material in several places, I like the overall theme on the things that make us different and how one can come to terms with their place in life and still excel.
Monty is a full length novel by Philip U. Effiong whose father of the same name was the second in command on the Biafran side during the Nigerian Civil War. After teaching in the university for over ten years, this Philip worked as an Oracle Programmer and then as a full-time writer and editorial consultant from late 1998 to 2006. He is still writing but also started teaching at the University of Maryland in the fall of 2006. His areas of specialty are literature, writing, drama, and cultural studies. After reading Monty, I engaged him in an interactive -
Why did you write Monty, was it in any way autobiographical?
Monty is largely informed by my recollections of refugee camp situations during the Nigeria-Biafra war. However, the goal is not to present a war or refugee camp story, but to demonstrate that the impact of war continues even after the guns stop blazing. Sections of the text are definitely a recreation of personal experiences.
The character of Monty is an intriguing one, where did the idea come from?
Even though Monty is a byproduct of refugee camp situations (as already stated), the character is designed to function as a universal delineation of what it must feel like to be an outsider (which can be engendered by origins, physical appearance, belief systems or mental attributes). This is in addition to portraying how the horrors of war can continue to manifest in various ways even after the ceasefire takes place. The name of the character suggests his rescue on a Monday.
Please tell us why you think people should read Monty.
People should read Monty because it tells a good story about the unconquerable human survival spirit. It also reiterates the well-known, even if clichéd message that we should treat others as we expect to be treated, in spite of our several differences. At the background of the plot is the presence of an overwhelming, invisible war-centered influence, which constantly reminds us of the horrors of war and the fact that it is an aberration to human dignity and existence.
Read the full interview -