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Bizarre City Pulse: Lagoon

LagoonLagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

I was unsure about this novel: a fantasy novel set in Lagos? With environmental themes? Could I possible enjoy this?

Three disparate strangers meet on a beach in Lagos: Adaora, a marine biologist. Anthony, a famous rapper from Ghana. Agu, a soldier in trouble with his superior.

When a meteorite hits the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three will find themselves bound together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars. They must race through Lagos in order to save the city, the world… and themselves.

First Impressions: The first few chapters were well written but I found the plot was a little stilted as the sea creature alien arrived and settled into Adaora’s house. As it is a fantasy novel and this was a vital plot development you sort of just had to go with it and I’m glad I did.

Highlights: There is so much to like about this novel! Never having been to Nigeria, I am guessing that Okorafor has created a perfect representation of Lagos. I wonder if her life in America has provided a good distance in which to make such accurate comments? I laughed to read that Aliens chose to land in Lagos as the corruption would mean they could exist undetected. I later found out that the author started this novel in response to everything she disliked in the South African Film District 9.

Many people talk about London as being an addictive place to live but I had never considered Lagos to have the same pull to its residents; people look for greener pastures but always return. I found all the different Lagosian groups and tensions that Okorafor includes incredibly interesting and naturally written about, particularly the Muslim-Christian anxieties. I have never included quotes in a review before but I think this perfectly sums up daily life for residents of Lagos:

Some blamed the Muslims of the north. Others blamed the Americans. Al-Quaeda. Sickness. The British. Bad luck. Devils. Poverty. Women. Fate. 419. Biafra. The bad roads. The military. Corruption. (page 61).

My favourite character by far was the charlatan charismatic  religious leader Father Oke. I also loved the underground LGBT group from the university; so unexpected yet a perfect addition to this novel. Along with other terms peculiar to Lagos such as ‘Area Boys’ and ‘face me, I face you’ apartments, Pidgin was used successfully in some chapters and I wasn’t bothered by the fact that I didn’t understand it all, which really surprised me. Juju and other superstitions are seamlessly integrated into the mindset of many of the characters including Adaora’s businessman husband who believes in the three types of witches: white, physical and marine.

If I was an editor: I would still be a fair-weather fantasy reader and would like the fact the fantasy elements don’t overwhelm the story. There are a few (needed for the plot) chapters with fantasy elements towards the end; any more and I may have begun to lose interest but the author obviously kept a good balance with these elements. It is, after all, a fantasy novel.

Overall: Lagos brought to life.

Lagoon: 5 Stars

Thank you to Bookbridgr for a copy of the novel to review.

 

8

Colossal in Scope: Americanah

AmericanahAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I absolutely adored both Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun and was thrilled to find time to read Americanah before the Bailey’s Prize winner was announced!

Ifemelu and Obinze are high school sweethearts in Lagos, a place where a foreign passport is a status symbol. As time rolls forward both seek their fortunes abroad; Ifemelu in the USA and Obinze in the UK. Thirteen years later Ifemelu is the successful author of a topical blog and Obinze is a ‘big man’ back in Nigeria. Ifemelu has decided to be like many other successful expat Nigerians and move back herself, shrugging off the doubts that often creep into her mind.

First Impressions: There is something about Adichie’s writing style that draws you in. The novel begins with Ifemelu mundanely waiting for a train to go and get her hair braided. Within three pages Adichie had managed to tell a story everyone could find something to identify with whether they are African, African-American, White American, or White (other).

Highlights: I loved the scenes in the hair salon as it provided a voyeur insight into how hair braiding businesses work! I thought the charcterisation was interesting as Ifemelu’s two American love interests were almost extreme caricatures but they probably needed to be in order for Ifemelu to learn and grow. Interestingly, Ifemelu was often a silent observer herself. I thought that all the high school friends in Nigeria were quite interchangeable but I assume that may have been the point. Adichie indicated that many Nigerian women will compromise their wants to have a ‘big man’ and experience luxury; the shallowness of so many lives has saddened me. I thought the constant conversations people started about charity work they support in Africa quite an accurate sign of the times and loved one character’s comment that doctors aren’t just needed in Africa but also in small northern English towns where hospitals have real staffing issues.

If I was an editor: As a Londoner, I would have loved to read more of the nitty gritty about Obinze’s UK experience! On a more serious note, I did feel the novel was a bit too long. I enjoyed the journey Ifemelu took with her blog as it became inextricably linked with her relationship with Blaine. However, Ifemelu’s reporting on the layers of covert racism had been successfully made earlier in the piece and there was clearly only frustration left in her relationship with Blaine. While people remain in stagnant relationships in real life, I don’t necessarily want to read about it unless it adds to the story. I did also wonder at Ifemelu’s social circles in the USA; is this really a common experience for all university educated African migrants? Finally, I will be honest and say the end lacked the emotional punch I was hoping for.

Overall: Brilliantly written and colossal in scope but unfortunately let down by the ending. Perfect in so many other areas. My pick for the Bailey’s Prize.

Americanah: 4 stars

 

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