Reader's Comments
Tiny Sunbirds Far Away By Chrisite Watson

Tiny Sunbirds Far Away

By Christie Watson

PBR Book Review:

Winner of the 2011 Costa First Novel Award This is a compelling coming of age story told from the perspective of a young girl. As the novel opens, Blessing is twelve years old and living in a modern Nigerian apartment. When her parents divorce, she moves to the Niger Delta with her mother and brother. The life style change is dramatic for them Ė itís a poverty stricken area lacking clean water and electricity. Local hoodlums terrorize them and they are constantly besieged by the challenges of living in this volatile area. The author does a great job of incorporating the injustices being played out by the rich oil companies into the story. This is an area rich in oil, yet for the local residents it does more harm than good. The characters in this book are full of life and the author infuses the book with political conflicts and social issues. In short, an excellent debut novel, with engaging characters and a clean writing style. Short listed for the Costa first novel award. Recommend.

Book Club Talking Points:

Set in Nigeria, a culturally rich book that addresses some sensitive political and social issues, such as the impact of the big oil companies on the area and the pollution of the air and surrounding waters. Itís also a study in family and womenís issues with strong emphasis on the love that bonds people together. The topic of genital mutilation is examined as well as the importance of education and the draw of young boys to gang life.

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*Other Books by Same Author: Debut novel for this author

*Discussion Questions

1. Ezikiel and Blessing share a special sibling bond. How did it change when they moved from Lagos to Warri? Do you think there was anything that Blessing could have done to save Ezikiel?

2. Blessing tells her story in her own distinct voice. How would you characterize her style as a narrator? Discuss Blessing's development from an unsure, shy girl to a confident young woman. How does each character in the novel encourage--or stifle--Blessing's maturation?

3. Watson originally tried writing Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away from the perspective of Dan, the white oil worker. How would Dan's perspective have changed the book? What insights might his narration have brought to the novel? What limitations might Watson have faced?

4. From the very first line of the novel, "Father was a loud man," it's clear that her father is of crucial importance to Blessing. How does her opinion of him change throughout the story? How does her relationship with him affect her relationships with the other men in her life?

5. Discuss the power of the women in Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away (Grandma's rally) versus the power of men in the novel (Alhaji, the Sibeye Boys). How does the expression of power differ between the genders?

6. It's estimated that three million girls are at risk of female genital mutilation in Africa. Discuss Grandma's choice to perform the practice. How does it inform Blessing's own career as a midwife? How do Grandma and Blessing determine where to draw the line between ethical responsibility and cultural tradition?

7. Legend and tradition play significant roles in Blessing's family--from Grandma's stories to Alhaji's disbelief in Ezikiel's medical condition. How are religion, education, and tradition balanced in the novel? Do they coexist? When and why do they clash?

8. Though foreign companies and Nigeria's own government gain enormous wealth from the oil industry, the majority of people residing in the oil producing regions of the country continue to live in extreme poverty. How does the presence of the oil industry impact the lives of the characters in the novel? Does Watson offer any hints as to what could be done to better the situation?

Book Summary
Other Press- May 10, 2011 - Fiction - 448 pages - ISBN 1590514661
Winner of the 2011 Costa First Novel Award

When their mother catches their father with another woman, twelve year-old Blessing and her fourteen-year-old brother, Ezikiel, are forced to leave their comfortable home in Lagos for a village in the Niger Delta, to live with their motherís family. Without running water or electricity, Warri is at first a nightmare for Blessing. Her mother is gone all day and works suspiciously late into the night to pay the childrenís school fees. Her brother, once a promising student, seems to be falling increasingly under the influence of the local group of violent teenage boys calling themselves Freedom Fighters. Her grandfather, a kind if misguided man, is trying on Islam as his new religion of choice, and is even considering the possibility of bringing in a second wife.

But Blessingís grandmother, wise and practical, soon becomes a beloved mentor, teaching Blessing the ways of the midwife in rural Nigeria. Blessing is exposed to the horrors of genital mutilation and the devastation wrought on the environment by British and American oil companies. As Warri comes to feel like home, Blessing becomes increasingly aware of the threats to its safety, both from its unshakable but dangerous traditions and the relentless carelessness of the modern world. Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away is the witty and beautifully written story of one familyís attempt to survive a new life they could never have imagined, struggling to find a deeper sense of identity along the way.
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