6 September 2016
For most literary millennials, the first contact with Isidore Okpewho began with his book: “The Last Duty” – A recommended text for Senior School Certificate Examinations.
Most candidates would have had to read it at least twice, studied the themes and subject matter, looked at the characters and attempted to understand what the book was about on a deeper level to aid comprehension and guarantee success in their Literature-in-English exam.
For me, The Last Duty was all that and much more. It has been more than half a decade but the characters and scenes remain fresh in my memory, as well as the most striking feature of the novel, its narrative style which was one of the first things that endeared me to literature.
Simply put, it was not what he said, it was the way he said it. Actions were in present tense, and the entire story was told from different points of view. Utilising this technique with such expertise to divulge just enough but never too much so readers can fill in the spaces on their own.
The ending haunted me for months after reading. Carrying such a heavy and important part of a story and giving it to a child to narrate was both genius and effective. It left me with that longing that I have come to crave in any novel I now pick up to read.
I did not know much about Okpewho when I first read The Last Duty. I had no idea he had taught at the University of Ibadan where I would a decade later be taught myself.
I was not aware that he had written three other books, and received awards for them, but I am not surprised.
Isidore Okpewho passed away on Sunday, September 4, 2016. According to news reports, “he died peacefully, at a hospital in a town in Upstate New York”, surrounded by family members. He was aged 74.
According to the same report, only two years before, the University of Rochester Press had published his last book to which he had long committed his intellectual resources. It is titled: “Blood on the Tides: The Ozidi Saga and Oral Epic Narratology.”
And it is the last thing the literary community will ever receive from him. Right up to the end, he was doing what only great literary icons and giants do; adding to literary discourse.
However, with the four novels, five works of non-fiction and countless hours spanning decades of academic lectures he has spent bequeathing knowledge on eager minds, the literary community has more than enough to remember Isidore Okpewho by. And his legacy has enough to live off for the next seven decades after his death and seven more after that.
For me, my copy of “The Last Duty” will continue to remain a prized possession. Carrying with it all the weight of the love and hope I had delved into the literary world with and all the appreciation and respect for the man that helped capture it.
Author: Aderonke Adeleke
Writer. Music lover. Movie junkie. Social Media Enthusiast. Aspiring dancer. Aspiring photographer. Social Introvert.