Casualty-Character in Theresa’s Gasp: A Review of The Novel ‘Gasp’ by Ebi Robert


Preliminary Information:

Title: Gasp

Author: Theresa Ebi Tobuyei

Pages: 276

Publisher: Parresia Publishers Ltd

Place of publication: Lagos, Nigeria

Year of publication: 2021

ISBN: 978-978-983-108-1

Price: Amount not stated




The novel, Gasp, was launched at the Castle Hotel, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, on the 16th day of December, 2021. The event was graced by literary giants, literary enthusiasts, and well-wishers. The one-worded title of this magical piece is not misplaced as it is carefully chosen to drive the book's readers to introspection. The cover page flashes hands showing strokes of fire and the casualties yet to die. Indeed, the casualties are not only those who are dead. They are well out of it.


A necessary synopsis


The casualties are not only those who are dead. This is the opening line of J.P. Clark’s poem, The Casualties. This poetic line assembling these strong words sends more than a thousand messages about the aftermath of war. Yet, Gasp has done likewise. But beyond this, it exposes one literary quality worth this praise.


Theresa’s novel tells the story of three young girls who lived in the same neighbourhood at Lower Erejuwa in the Warri Local Government Area of Delta State. The book’s first chapter presents a pinch of what happened in the Warri crisis of 1997. The new group of mayhem makers, The Hunters, had stormed the St. Theresa International School premises, leaving the compound in disarray as everyone fled for their dear lives. However, Mr. Femeiya was struck down, making him one of the casualties who kissed the earth ‘goodbye’.


Subsequent chapters reveal what became of the lives of the three major characters: Tonye Fameiya, Ivie Udi, and Imabong Nyang. This trio offers a perfect example of casualty-characters in a literary piece like Theresa’s. Gasp is not strictly a war novel like the Marcus Luttrell’s non-fictional lone survivor, or a typical crime thriller, even though it captures themes such as crime and maybe a bit of war-like scenes. Here is a fiction that narrates the story of the trio who were forced to face the heart-breaking aftereffects of war. But for the purpose of this review, Tonye Fameiya and Ivie Ude will be considered our casualty-characters, though Imabong can make a good example as well.


Tonye and Ivie, as casualty-characters


Tonye Fameiya found herself in Italy a few years after her father's demise. She became a professional prostitute who rode men for a living. At the early stage of her unfortunate career, she linked up with one Timothy Eze and was involved emotionally—a romance which metamorphosed into something with an abysmal end. Her dreams of having a family were cut short when she realised that Timothy Eze was only a farce well staged to rope in her innocence. After she was pulled off the hook by chance, she joined the Mafia and eventually rose to the rank of heiress, second-in-command to the dreaded and very brutal Dmitri. This didn’t happen by chance; it was well planned. The author clarified this in her narration.


Tonye mapped out her survival plans in the mafia. Her strategy was simple; she would date Vadim, the head of the guards, and climb up the hierarchy until she became Don’s mistress. She smiled as she imagined herself as the mistress of Don and the power she would command.

Gasp, @ page 53. 


Her life was one stained with the pleasure of the flesh, skimming, and survival. Though she had the option of making something good out of life, just as Imabong did, the experiences she got prove that the casualties are not only those who are dead. Tonye was exposed to a world of violence and crime. But she couldn’t help to rescue herself from the way the sight of blood at fourteen affected her psyche. The fact that she also treasured a man of violence, power, and influence also evidences the fact that she was a dynamic character whose change was reflective of what her childhood built.


Ivie on the other hand, was an example of a local breed that was forced to stay quite close to the fresh memories of the crisis. Chapter two of the book takes us through the story of a teenager who ends up with a man (Ebidou) because she wasn’t sure if fortune would smile on her. After losing her first child to the cold hand of death due to medical negligence, she also lost the man who had shown her love and care as the bread winner of the family. She was shattered. Her dream of a beautiful home was destroyed. Worse still was that she wasn’t given the opportunity to even give him a befitting burial. Further details about her in later parts of the novel reveal the story of a mother with different children for different fathers.


The story of Ivie represents the situation of many African women whose dreams were cut short because society left them with limited choices to make. We can see how the author aptly sends this point:


She shook off the memories and looked at Ebidou. He had just offered her accommodation. She knew the implication of that. Many girls at Ofoni cohabited with men and bore children for them from even the young age of thirteen. She was eighteen. But what if Ebidou became like her father?... @page 17.


Ivie accepted the offer, and that marked the beginning of womanhood smeared with grief and regret. Ivie and Tonye are casualty-characters who were made to make decisions they wouldn’t have made if life was fair enough. Being exposed to the evil of this world at a tender age was all that evil needed to consume their dreams and make them victims of the balefulness of man’s depravities. But Pearl Bailey had said, ‘a crown, if it hurts us, is not worth wearing’. I leave us with this quote.


Concluding with Theresa’s craft


The author has not only given us twenty-four chapters’ masterpiece that speaks of the woes of war. She has written this prose brilliantly, employing a variety of literary devices and techniques. Her beautiful use of imagery and language is jaw-dropping. Although she had painted a foreign scene using the Mafia world to tell her story, her ability to spice it up with local colour is admirable. For instance, apart from indigenous places, she named some of her characters with Ijaw and Yoruba names.


This and even more make her target audience broad, cutting across lovers of crime thrillers, casualty pieces, war novels, etc. Theresa’s use of simple words makes her narration easy to appreciate. Every chapter could be made into a flash fiction or a short story, and the story of each major character was enough to stand tall as a book of its own. This is how good this author has mastered her craft. Anyone can pick up her fiction and read to the end without stopping. Without mincing words, this is indeed a page turner, a work recommended to lovers of good literature.


Is there anyone who wants to know more about the book? Kindly grab your own copy.


Review by Ebi Robert


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