My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

mysistertheserialkillerMy Sister, the Serial Killer
by Oyinkan Braithwaite
2018

This book was very good and I highly recommend it, but it was also not at all what I expected even though I’m not quite sure what I was expecting. I’ll start by saying that it’s Nigerian noir. I haven’t read very much Nigerian literature or very much noir, so I’m not sure if it was one of those aspects or something entirely unique to the author that had the characters and their interactions fall into a sort of odd uncanny valley for me. It was unnerving and I was never quite sure what to expect. And despite it being less than two hundred pages, I had to take multiple breaks to relieve my poor nerves, as I walked around the house going, “oh no…., oh, no….”

The premise is pretty much exactly what the title says: at the beginning of the book, Korede’s sister Ayoola has just killed her third boyfriend “in self defense.” One time, sure: that’s terrible but good for her for defending herself. Two times, is terrible, how can these things keep happening to her just because she’s so beautiful. Three times, though, three times, Korede feels is just increasingly unlikely to be self-defense.

Then Ayoola shows interest in dating the guy Korede has a crush on. And events proceed.

The book was very factual and never gory but it sure ramped up the uncertainty of events as they happen while at the same time revealing in bits and pieces events from the past.

Anyway, I highly recommend this not only because it’s excellent but also because I desperately want to hear someone’s take on it. I’ve now read a bunch of other reviews online, but this is pretty much the perfect book for a bookclub where the members can get together later and talk about it with a lot of waving hands and inarticulate noises of amazement and distress.

7 comments on “My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

  1. Kinsey says:

    I just put a library hold on this based on your review!

  2. Anna says:

    Oh, man, this is so good! It is a short and fast read, since the drama and tension really keep it going, but I’ve been thinking about it since I finished a few days ago. It has deceptively simple language that still manages to cover the tension that often exists between familial relationships and romantic relationships and how patriarchal thinking endangers both.

    When looking at published reviews, a male reviewer for the Washington Post, who I also assume is white, included in his review: “…it is a playful yet affecting examination of sibling rivalry, the legacy of abuse and the shallow sexism of Nigeria’s patriarchal society,” which was almost rage-inducing in its white maleness.

    It is neither “playful” nor “affecting,” both sort of infantilizing terms. It is funny, clever, and thought-provoking; and an extremely well-done noir mystery with elements of a psychological thriller.

    There is truly no sibling rivalry – there is a complex but loving relationship between sisters that the book’s male characters dismiss as rivalry, and that mischaracterization is a major theme. For a reviewer to be compounding this assumption, when the book itself is trying to challenge it, made me sputter in anger.

    And finally, “the shallow sexism of Nigeria’s patriarchal society” is a very white attempt at “othering” the patriarchy as some foreign, primitive culture, when the vast majority of the book was very, very familiar to me. Braithwaite writes simple dialogue that will cut to your very core with its accuracy and familiarity.

    (I will allow him “the legacy of abuse,” but also that seemed like the least important theme in a beautifully simple and complex novel.)

    • Rebecca says:

      Yay! I’m so glad you read and liked it and yeah, that review really missed a lot of the story. There really is a pretty classic set-up for sibling rivalry and at the same time there’s a strong disagreement between the sisters, and yet, it’s not a matter of rivalry. And the conflict is so interesting and so misinterpreted by other characters. It really is an incredibly thought-provoking book.

      • Anna says:

        Thinking about it further, one of the more subtle themes is physical beauty and how it is often perceived to be more meaningful than it is actually is. So, that both sisters, one who is extraordinarily lovely and the other who is average, both recognize physical looks as just a genetic luck of the draw with little connection to one’s actual character. Unfortunately, everyone around them does not see this, and assumes the less attractive sister must be jealous of her more attractive sister, which is annoying to both of them.

        • Rebecca says:

          That’s a really good point. I think part of what the sisters understand that others do not is that both physical beauty and a lack of that beauty come with their own dangers. Neither is free from danger due to beauty standards just because one of them meets those standards and the other doesn’t.

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