Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun is the longest title in the series on older Women in fiction around the world. The novel brings you a woman of 75, living in San Francisco and of Nigerian origin. The author Sarah Ladipo Manyika was born in 1968 and raised in Nigeria. She taught English Literature in San Francisco State University. It’s a rich mix of American location and the Nigerian origin of the narrator.
Morayo de Silva
Our first impressions of Morayo da Silva are from her own narration. Her voice begins the novel with these words.
The place where I live is ancient. ‘Old but sturdy,’ our landlady tells us. (1)
Later she tells us
For I, like the building am ancient. Ancient if you are going by Nigerian standards, where I’ve outfoxed the female life expectancy by nearly two decades. (2)
Here is a nice set of tensions. Age is relative to the location, whether referring to buildings or people. Neither African nor American buildings can compete with the age of some European buildings. And people in the US can expect to live longer than those in Nigeria.
In her mail that morning Morayo receives a notification that she must have medical and sight tests to verify her fitness to drive now she is turning 75. She is aware that her sight is failing. We also learn that she is a flamboyant dresser, has travelled widely and is well educated.
She was once an English Professor but these days she arranges her books not alphabetically but according to which characters should be talking to each other.
That’s why Heart of Darknessis next to Le Regard du Roi, and Wide Sargasso Seasits directly above Jane Eyre. The latter used to sit next to each other but then I thought it best to redress the old colonial imbalance and give Rhys the upper hand – upper shelf. (23)
This is eccentric, but has a logic. Books are treasured and she is upset when a well-meaning friend causes some of her books to be thrown away.
As she walks on the streets of San Francisco we are shown different aspects of Morayo by other characters. We see her talking with a Palestinian stall holder, a gay man who pays her a compliment, a homeless girl, and we see that she notices these things, loves the city that is so friendly, loves to stand out in it.
Morayo has a strongly independent spirit, but when she falls and is injured she has to go to a care home to recuperate. The staff find her independence threatening, but she makes friends with the Guyanese husband of a resident who visits every day, and with the substitute chef called Toussaint whose food is tastier than the regular diet.
And when she returns home she faces her physical limitations but is defiant. Not for her the acceptable behaviour of aging women with failing sight.
Reading Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun
The changes of point of view take a little getting used to. But the writing is direct and immediate and the main character is so full of life that this book is easy to enjoy.
There is not much story to this short novel, but it moves along as people meet and talk and these incidents add together in small and important stories. The reader also learns more about Morayo’s rich past. Like a Muleis less a story, more a portrait.
The novel’s title is the last line of a poem, and seems to me to speak of those who take life, despite its obstacles and challenges and push on being alive. And Morayo does in her 75thyear. You can read the poem by Mary Ruefle, Donkey On or see and hear the poet reading it on You Tube.
The author has written about older people in fiction in an essay called For the Love of Older Characters in Good Books.
Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika, published by Cassava Republic in 2016. 118pp. It was shortlisted for the Goldsmith’s Prize in 2016.
Posted by Caroline Lodge of Bookword