Baby Factory

Baby Factory by Sulieman Ocheni, published by BooksGoSocial on 21 December, 2021

I hate to publish negative reviews, but this one didn’t work for me. I hope what I have to say won’t discourage the author, but will act as a constructive criticism.

The novel had a great start. The opening paragraphs were touching as Aleeza gets to know her newborn baby. Her mother was a humouress presence, and we receive a surprise with the arrivals for her best friend with the baby’s father in two. He, it turns out, was not only estranged from Aleeza, but didn’t know of the baby’s birth until the best friend spilt the beans.

The baby is taken away and all is well until, the next morning, Aleeza finds out the baby had died. She insists on seeing the body, only to notice a telltale birthmark is missing.

This is a great setup. It could do with less (or no) use of the word “literally,” but was engaging. But it didn’t keep me engaged. We then turned to not one, but two different retellings of Aleeza’s relationship with the father, by the end of which I was thinking that I had misunderstood the book and that, rather than build on the strangeness of the missing birthmark, I had stumbled onto a touch tale of how the father helped Aleeza get over her loss.

But no. It took me a couple of chapters to shake that impression, but by Chapter 6ish it was clear that the book was indeed about the missing baby. This was the strongest part of the book, as she turns up one avenue after another only to find them blocked. Until she happens across an old newspaper article about a woman who went to the same hospital and experienced the same thing. With rather too much ease, Aleeza visits the woman and identifies the culprit.

At this point, the book seemed to be back on track. But then, it derailed. Aleeza, with basically no difficulty whatsoever, recruits an ex-KGB torturer who happens to work in a deep basement in an office tower in Canary Wharf – a dungeon of which the owner is apparently unaware. Credibility was already thin on the ground – I cannot believe that a mother would be permitted to remain asleep in hospital if her baby were dying – but to recruit a professional torturer so easily sent the bullshit alarm ringing loud.

Then the culprit is abducted and tortured, with Aleeza and her ex- looking on, and without the faintest thought that the culprit may be innocent, without the faintest hint on Aleeza’s part that she worries that the culprit may be innocent, and without slightest thought of proportionality.

I didn’t want to read any further, so I didn’t. Sorry, but not for me.

On a minor point, I’d rather hoped that the author would make more of the experience of being a Nigerian in London. There was only one reference in the half of the book I did read, and here it is:

Although Aleeza had fallen in love with London, she occasionally missed her homeland of Nigeria – the food, the hectic lifestyle, the loud fabrics people wore in the street, and even louder people themselves. However, what she did not miss was the insecurity and going day to day wondering when someone was going to finally get you. It was a basic rule of life in Nigeria to operate under the assumption that someone was going to try to cheat or steal from you. This was one of the reasons Aleeza was glad to have left her home behind; the stress of looking over one’s should was not how she wanted to live her life.

I would have liked a lot more of this. Sadly, despite a token sprinkling of Hausa words, the sense of displacement that comes from moving abroad wasn’t really explored.

This is a shame. The setup had potential and the characters came across very well. But the book lacked the specifics that make the improbably believable, and that let it down.