By Toyin Falola
The story of Jacob's family is a popular tale among religious families, but there is an aspect of the Biblical story of Joseph to which people do not pay attention. There are many aspects to that story, but the one that seemingly gains less attention is Jacob's favoritism of Joseph over his brothers. The eventual end of Joseph's story and the portrayal of Jacob's bias, as a part of the larger plan to see Joseph become a governor in Egypt and the savior of his people, makes it difficult to critique the Jacobian bias. If Joseph had not aligned himself with the set plans for his life, he could well have perished due to his father's bias for him. As often as this critical part of the Joseph story is neglected, the truth remains that the cons of favoritism in a family—nuclear or extended, monogamous or polygamous—outweigh the pros.
What happens when parents, in a typical Jacobian move, favor one child over another? What happens when parents do not allow for individual differences in their children? What happens when all children are scrutinized from the same high pedestal without factoring in their individual strengths and weaknesses? What happens when parents overlook a child's flaws just because such a child seemingly covers up for it with excellent academic performance? What happens when parents flippantly ignore concerns of heightened sibling rivalry?
In a world where the sad news of sibling-rivalry-induced vices such as killing, injuring, or kidnapping is prevalent, Adetanwa Odebiyi's seven-chapter Twisted Love explores these salient questions in a way that exposes the grave dangers of open bias for a child over others. True to the maxim that literature is the mirror of society, Twisted Love is a social commentary wrapped in the skin of fiction, and its comments touch primarily on the overreaching and dangerous effects of singling out a child as the continual recipient of biased familial love. In 208 pages, Adetanwa Odebiyi explores how sibling rivalry, if left unattended to, can degenerate into a lifelong hatred among siblings and go as far as murder. She does not waste time on unnecessary themes; the subject matter is clearly treated from the outset, and her level of expertise in seeing that such a subject matter is sustained to the end, without losing readers' interest in the book, is worthy of accolades.
Twisted Love is a book set in early post-colonial Nigeria, and it opens with a description of life in the family of Mr. and Mrs. Adeoti, a middle-class family with both parents as top civil servants in the educational sector. The Adeotis have four children: Funmi, Ronke, Bayo, and Lolu. From the beginning, the reader is made to understand that the Adeoti's family places primacy on intellectual prowess and excellent academic performance. They are blessed with intellectually sound children, save for the second child, Ronke, who is not as academically bright as her siblings. The other children are indulged, and their excesses are overlooked because of their brilliance. Mr. Adeoti does not mind when Funmi shies away from house chores, and he sees no wrong in Lolu being a spoiled boy, as long as they keep their excellent grades. Also, Mr. Adeoti does not hide the fact that Funmi is his favorite of all the four children, and he expresses this by showering her with gifts. Ronke, having noticed her parents' bias for Funmi, learned to throw tantrums and circumvent her parents' decisions. So she can get a new pair of sandals, Ronke destroys the used sandals passed down to her from her sister. All through their childhood, Ronke strives to be as accepted as Funmi, but she does not possess the qualities that Funmi has, and her parents are not ready to give her the same level of attention, not minding her person.
Mr. Adeoti's bias for Funmi clearly shows in how he handles her tantrums even after she fails to do her daily chore of wetting the flowers. Instead of punishing Funmi for over-logging the flowers with water, Mr. Adeoti explains to her why she should have responded differently; whereas, he flogs Ronke with a belt at the slightest provocation. Of course, this style of scolding is not lost on Funmi's siblings, especially Ronke, and it contributes to their perception of their father as a biased parent. There are many instances in the book where Mr. Adeoti flogs Ronke, particularly when she asks him why he did not give Funmi a harder punishment for overlogging the flowers with water.
As the children grow, so does the animosity between the girls. As the animosity between Ronke and Funmi waxes strong, their father scolds them almost every time, but this only leads to Ronke being overly outspoken and confronting what she believes is her father's unfair treatment and bias for her sister. Ronke's perceived lack of encouragement and support from her parents pushes her to be self-defensive and gives her the effrontery to stand up to her father's unfair treatment. Age does not reduce the level of animosity that Ronke has for Funmi, as their father predicted.
Some chapters into the book, we see that Funmi continues to excel in her studies, even in medical school, where she emerges as the overall best student. She goes on to marry Kunle, one of her classmates, and they give birth to three children. Another recurring theme that Odebiyi explores in her book is that of infidelity among husbands. Mr. Adeoti, Funmi's father, cheats on his wife when he is transferred to Umuahia and Bauchi as a civil servant. He enjoys staying out late, frequenting nightclubs, and having affairs with other women. These same vices are found in Funmi's husband, Kunle Ojo, who has affairs with two people at his workplace—Rosemary, his departmental secretary, and Peju, a nurse at the hospital where Kunle and Funmi work. He also engages in another extramarital affair with Dolapo, Ronke's erstwhile classmate, at Ronke's urging.
Twisted Love is a tale of many plots woven into the fabric of favoritism and how it breeds other problems. It is written in an easy-to-read manner, with a defined plot progression, and there is a balance between the narrative technique and the dialogue technique. This makes it an engaging prose work. The author's plot development techniques are so subtle that at a surface level, especially in the first few pages of the first chapter, the average reader will find it difficult to pinpoint the book's protagonist. Is it the girl suffering from perceived maltreatment and a degree of rejection from her family? Is it the girl whose name and deeds keep recurring on the pages of the book? It takes a careful following of the events in the book to unravel the mystery of the plot and character development–that Funmi is the protagonist, and her sister, Ronke, is the antagonist; as Ronke's ordeals in a family where it seems that she is not loved and accepted turn her into a villain.
A clearer reading of the book reveals that Ronke must have interpreted her father's preference for Funmi out of proportion. Mr. Adeoti does not hate Ronke; rather, he talks more about Funmi because she possesses the qualities that every parent would want in their child, qualities that a parent could boast of to their fellow parents. However, that is not to say that Ronke's talents and skills are not admirable. It's just that she gets so used to being asked to emulate her sister that she has little time to give to the development of her own skills and talents. Twisted Love provides all the motives one could ever think of in cases of aggravated sibling rivalry, and it is proof that scars never fade. It is a book that teaches parents to be cautious of how they train their children because there will be instances to refer to many years later, and the aggrieved never forgets.
Men are portrayed as people who lord over their wives and who would always want to have their way. While this may seem true in part as it concerns some men, it is imperative to focus on changing societal perceptions on affective issues and seeing to ways to bring about change, not projecting and promoting such issues. If the author wants to condemn wife battery and unbridled husband dominance, then it is to be known that things went south, as that scene only succeeds in passing the wrong message and proving that a married man could do whatever he wants without questioning or fear of the consequences. If Twisted Love is to be rewritten according to the message of change it preaches, Mr. Adeoti will love Ronke as much as he loves Funmi. Beyond that, he will advise her to embrace her strengths and support her career in the culinary, catering, or music industry. Not every child has their future divinely tailored from the sufferings that stem from their parents' favoritism; therefore, parents should desist from placing one child above the others, as there are far-reaching consequences for this familial vice.
Twisted Love has all it takes to be a much-sought-after book. It is written in an accessible language. It touches on salient issues, brings to the fore the rippling effects of favoritism in a family, and encourages all-round familial love that factors in individual differences.
This is a review of Twisted Love by Adetanwa Ibironke Odebiyi, published by Abbi Books, 2021)