"/> The Caine Prize’s Prehistories: Tope Folarin’s “Miracle” — The Airship
By Misha Grunbaum

The Caine Prize for African Writing is back and, as we did last year, we’ll be joining Aaron Bady’s community to discuss what makes the five finalists tick. This year, however, I’ll be taking a close look at each story’s prehistory, from its influences to its allusions. This week’s entry comes from Nigeria: Tope Folarin’s excerpt from his forthcoming novel The Proximity of Distance, “Miracle.”

Despite his Nigerian heritage, Tope Folarin was born and raised in Utah and Texas, and his “Miracle” reflects this American upbringing. The story is set not in Lagos but in a Northern Texas Pentecostal church. The language is not Hausa or Yoruba, but English. And yet the subject, a religious service featuring miracles performed upon churchgoers, is not unique to either locale. Many Nigerians who moved to the United States found themselves culturally isolated; consequently, many turned to religion and brought Nigeria’s particular brand of Christianity to their new homeland.

The narrator of “Miracle,” an asthmatic and bespectacled teenage boy, is at such a performance of miracles, not unlike the ones in Steve Martin’s Leap of Faith. As we follow his thoughts from the service’s beginning to the morning after the eponymous miracle, we are confronted by the many miracles hoped for in a Nigerian-American life:

We need jobs. We need good grades. We need green cards. We need American passports. We need our parents to understand that we are Americans. We need our children to understand they are Nigerians . . . We need to forget the harsh rigidity of our lives, to remember why we believe, to be beloved, and to hope.

In comparison, we are led to realize, the miracle of restoring perfect vision to a nearsighted boy with glasses seems trifling. And yet we watch the miracle worker’s exhortations to “pray today like you have never prayed before,” to see something truly religious happen. The only thing preventing the fulfillment of their prayers, he insists, is their unbelief.

But are the miracles that have already happened actually a consequence of belief?

I think about the miracle of my family, the fact that we’ve remained together despite the terror of my mother’s abrupt departure, and I even think about the miracle of my presence in America. My father reminds my brother and me almost every day how lucky we are to be living in poverty in America...

The crux between blind belief and suspicious disbelief has deep roots in Western and non-Western thought; Robert Browning’s dramatic monologue Bishop Blougram’s Apology explores the issue brilliantly. But a deeper question than belief undergirds this story: what a miracle really is. Are the narrator’s glasses, the story seems to ask us, a miracle already performed? Is this narrator’s new life in America, far away from Nigeria’s difficulties, a miracle that makes this story a deeply African one?


For other perspectives on Tope Folarin's "Miracles," follow these links to posts by fellow Caine Prize 2013 bloggers: 



image credit: Flickr user Antti T. Nissinen. Used with a Creative Commons license.