This a beautifully written epic poem, riven with joy and despair, that combines classical Gods, basketball and brutality as a way to illuminate how women struggle and succeed against the odds in a deeply unequal world.
It’s a simple story, of Demi, the son of Modupe, a beautiful woman who was raped by Zeus. Demi, the half God of the title, is conceived – part man and part powerful being, who among other things is able to conjure up water and rainfall when in despair.
Growing up in Nigeria, he joins the basketball team and discovers that he has skills and ability beyond compare, a consequence it turns out, of being a half God. He leads the Nigerian team to the world basketball finals, but just as the deciding game begins, the crowd chanting for Demi, he has his Godly powers removed, making him nothing more than a normal player and his team is destroyed. Angry he confronts Zeus and is killed, and his family, his mother Mordupe is distraught.
It’s a beautifully written, elegant poem, that tells of the despair, the rage, that so many people feel because they lack control over their lives. Demi, of course, who has a gift but not the power to direct it when he needs to. But also, and more than anything, this is a poem about women – about the powerful, resilient Modupe who despite being attacked by Zeus, despite being oppressed, remains a strong woman intent on raising a brilliant child.
The fact that Zeus, a privileged, powerful, untouchable male is able to brutally attack and rape her with impunity is the horror at the heart of this poem, one that both she and Demi try to seek justice for, and one for which they both fail. A reflection, surely, of the realities of our unequal world where Zeus-like men can get away with, quite literally in this case, murder.
The style of the poem is lyrical and upbeat and beautiful, and one that optimistically celebrates the power of the powerless, but nevertheless it is this sad theme that is the main message of the book.
You get this mix of power and despair in the opening lines to the second part of the poem:
“They say when Modupe was born her own mother,
Who worshipped the God of vision and fiction, screamed
When she foresaw the future looks of her daughter:
the iridescent moon she’d resemble, the dream
she’d seem to men and thus the object she’d become.
Her mother had known these men her whole life, had seen
them all … from the weak and pathetic overcome
by lust, to warlords who to crush rebellion
would attack the women to daunt their men and son.
She’d suffered such brands of violence. It had churned
her for years.”