Title: Cynthia’s Diary; The First Quarter
Author: Ayodeji Erubu
Publisher: Partridge Africa
Reviewer: Niyi Marcus
Love is best known for its many unpredictable entrances. It is often a lurking stranger who suddenly swoops on an unsuspecting interest. Sometimes, it is likened to a butterfly hopping around a bed of flowers; within reach, but hard to reach or keep. In this medicosocial thriller, Cynthia’s Diary, love comes to Bimbo Douglas, a naive countryside bartender in the arms and allure of a drug kingpin, stirring a sea of unimagined possibilities. Against the backdrop of her turbulent childhood, it is only fair that she envisages eventual happiness: dreams of starry-eyed lovers, strolling leisurely into a golden sunset, or of their sand-streaked bodies sun-bathing in an exotic Cypharian bay. Reality soon drags her back into consciousness with a love child meandering and moulting in her insides, a love story gone awry, and a future morbid and unsure.
Enter Cynthia Douglas, the protagonist, the product of a short-lived love, an unusual teenager who battles an alcohol addiction, and the fallouts of family and societal dysfunction. In this quest, she encounters a friend’s comforting solidarity, a mother’s helplessness and a lover’s fierce desperation. From Funmi, her best friend, whose pre-occupation with her psychiatry classes tainted her perception of people and situations, to Professor Turnbull, a doctor who survived a gunshot to the head from a ‘disturbed’ patient, to the congenial love between Cynthia and Femi Cruz, and how that love will put him through delicate circumstances, the plot shines.
Set in an imaginary country, Cyphar, whose brilliantly-conceived geography and culture highlights the tone of the entire story, the main theme of this novel captures the subject of substance abuse and it showcased the far-reaching consequences of alcohol addiction in the youthful Cynthia as she journeyed through the horror-laden sidewalks of addiction. As substance abuse continues to silently ravage a massive number of Nigerian youth, it is expedient to build a conversation around the menace, especially among teenagers and young adults, and the need to seek appropriate help. Also conveyed are themes such as the prominence of family bonds and the far-reaching consequences of evil – how the long legs of karma transcends time and generations. The odd intertwining of religion and crime also continues to be a major dialogue.
An allegory story of teenage battle with substance abuse is seen in Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood, a critically acclaimed memoir by Koren Zailckas, who recounts that she abused alcohol from age fourteen, and cites lack of confidence and a get-away from unhappiness as the prime reasons for her experimentation with illicit substances.
Medicine and writing have so long a history that it is safe to say that a union between the two disciplines has become a traditional commonplace. The author’s language in this book is heavily swabbed in his medical milieu, which further endorses the story’s inventiveness.
While the novel is not without its array of flaws (which may be discounted as the teething problems of a nascent conception), this first serving by Ayodeji Erubu is no doubt a captivating and entertaining piece. The images are alive and crisp, and exciting. With this thriller, he has etched his name into the pages of medical doctors who moonlight as writers. Among other things, Cynthia’s Diary illuminates the dark alley of addiction, and aims to promote a better understanding of our mental health, and it holds ample evidence that Erubu’s voice is distinct and vibrant, and vital.