Most narratives on toppled governments or military coup d’état have focused more on accounts by the coup plotters, the implications and the expectations of the new regime.
Zara’s story in The Reversal, on the other hand, is a fictional portrayal of such event.
It highlights the harrowing experiences of such abrupt and downward spiral in the lives of family members of a deposed Head of State.
The younger ones, such as Zara, find themselves suddenly stigmatised, shattered and unprepared.
In some cases, if not massacred, they are innocently violated, exploited or abandoned in life threatening situations.
The above explanations form the thrust of Pauline Otti’s The Reversal.
The 249-page novel presents an intriguing and suspense-filled story of the reversal of fortune in the life of a young lady.
It is a touching tale of the fall of a family from grace to grass; betrayal of trust, crimes, rape and abandonment.
The author also beams searchlight on the nagging issue of corruption among African leaders as captured in the illegal trans-national oil deal between Zara’s father and his foreign collaborators.
Set in 1972, in Africa, the author opens the narration with the life changing discussion between the 22-year old student of ‘Carindale’ University College, Cambridge and the school authorities.
“Ms. Ladi arrived this morning to inform us about the rather unsettling situation in your country. The Capital, we are informed, was under serious threat by the militants,” the school Principal announced.
Although, the young woman has been putting up with occasional threat to life and kidnap attempts, the fissure created by the latest news about the overthrow of her father and the consequences on the immediate family, drive the actions that sustain the remaining part of the book.
Though, the author presents Zara as a psychologically and emotionally devastated character, she is equally senn as resilient and persistent.
Also surprising, but a lifetime lesson, is that none of the friends of the head of state is ready to offer assistance in time of need.
The first blow dealt on Zara is her withdrawal from school by the management as a result of the unstable political situation in her country.
Without any option, the intelligent young girl is directed to leave the campus within an hour in the acclaimed ‘interest of her safety’.
Unable to hold back tears at this point, and in her confused frame of mind, she is unsure of what her response should be; and in a sudden burst of emotions, Zara asks:
“Don’t I have any other choice, Professor Pearse? You are all aware that this is midway in the first term of my final year?”
Unfortunately, her plea fails to elicit sentiments; and like a dream, Zara’s set goals and aspiration begin to fade away.
But greater surprises await her. Having left school, she heads straight to the Ambassador’s house, hoping to be celebrated as usual. Unknown to her, loyalty changes with power.
Thus, accommodating Zara poses a threat to the family that once worshiped her when her father was in power.
With her mother and only sibling victims of the coup, and her father smuggled to a missionary establishment for safety, Zara’s despair surges as she is left alone in a world of emotional and financial uncertainty.
“Once you are out of power, nobody wants to associate with you,” the author states.
Not even the secret love affair with the military attaché – Garvey – stands the test of time. The man is taken away from her when she needed him most.
“Garvey did not show up. In his place, a different gentleman was introduced to accompany her in another vehicle. Zara was disappointed and saddened.”
Determined as ever, she goes in search of Garvey, but again, she is betrayed by a friend – Naomi – and sold cheaply to kidnappers, who sexually assaulted her.
“Zara felt bruised up in her intimate region and observed the stained sheet. She was broken. It dawned on her she must have been violated.
Tears ran down her cheeks. In utter anguish and humiliation, she sobbed helplessly but quietly, with a feeling of a lump in her throat.
However, she reasoned, there would be time to cry later. Right now, this could be her only opportunity to escape, a chance to seize the moment, to save her life. Now is the time.”
Unknown to Zara, her father’s illegally acquired wealth lies in a Swiss Bank while she suffers. And when her father finally regains freedom and directs the bank to release the sum of $1 million to her, she declines the offer.
For her, the purpose has been defeated. She no longer has need for it, having gone through the most excruciating moments of her life without help.
She interrogates the genuineness of her father’s love towards her, asking: “If he loves me so much, why did he conceal his wealth from me?”
Coming from a society where women are considered second fiddle, Zara also wonders if her father’s action is aimed at relegating her and denying her the right of inheritance on the basis of gender.
Not finding a convincing answer to her many questions, she asks the Priest to hold the money.
The author’s heroine is imbued with rare character traits that stabilise her at every stage of her trial.
She is a near perfect personality created by the author to serve as role model to several other vulnerable women.
It is her dogged faith in God, her determination and self-assertion that bring about positive reversal at the end of the book.
After sending her out of school in the heat of her father’s scandal, Zara is restored and given scholarship.
She secures employment abroad, her travel documents are restored; she finds love and happiness after all.
Zara, no doubt, is a departure from the stereotype of a conventional physically weak, intellectually dull and emotional unstable African woman.
The author’s heroine is endowed with inner strength, she is resilient, dogged and epitomises the true character of an African woman – unconquerable.
Speaking on the choice of the 70s to situate her work, she states that it is a period synonymous with military intervention in governance within the African continent.
“It is a time of rampant military coup in the African region. The period was also synonymous with the affluent sending their children abroad for study.”
The author’s ability to sustain the reader’s interest leaves you wondering if the fiction has no elements of reality of which the author is privy.
“No, it was not about me. I wasn’t the daughter of the former head of state, but I am well aware of a lot of the inner workings of government in my early age,” she declined.
The truth, however, is that the author has a firm grasp of the situation, having worked closely to a military government.
“Of course, that government was also overthrown and I saw what his family went through.
So, in a way, this is a reality but I am not the one, it is Zara, Zara is the one, not me,” she emphasised.
According to the author, the worthlessness of stolen wealth as captured in the interface between Zara and father is designed as a moral lesson for politicians, who primitively acquire wealth while in public offices at the expense of the masses.
Also, the trans-national dimension of the act of corrupt perpetrated by Zara’s father while in office is revealed in what the author describes as trans-national diamond deals and illegal off-shore bank accounts.
The author, Professor Otti, belongs to the sciences; a specialist in community health. Her ability to creatively emerge with a suspense-filled account of a once phenomenal part of African history centres on her understanding of human nature.
“You find out that wherever you may be, human behavior is central in any society.
Unless you understand human behavior, whichever field you are in, you might not be all that successful because whatever happens, it is human being that will make A to move to B.”
But the creative world is fascinating, she confesses. “I started developing interest in creative writing and it is very fascinating.
You can’t believe that when I was writing this story, it kept me awake some nights.
“I will wake up 2am or 3am to go put in one or two paragraphs. The character, Zara became almost a reality. I created her and she really dominated my life.”
Otti is already on her second creative work that will not only tell a story, but also touches on mundane societal issues.
“But you know that writers don’t write in a vacuum – that is human behaviour.
So, my next work also focuses on societal issues, and I intend to have a bit of what females go through.
“It is a way of telling a story in another way that is not confrontational but highlighting issues that are happening among women and young girls in particular,” she stated.