Blackass by A Igoni Barrett

Blackass Source: Personal Copy

Five words from the blurb: Nigeria, black, transformation, white, provocative

Blackass is a satire of the way people in Nigeria treat others differently according to the colour of their skin. The book begins with Furo, a black man from Lagos, waking up to discover that he has become a white man with ginger hair. The only remnant of his former appearance is a jet black bottom. Furo heads off to the job interview he had booked for that day, landing the position based purely on his new skin colour. The rest of the book highlights other differences in the way people react to his white complexion, not all of them positive, and many surprising to someone like me.

This book was supposed to be funny, but I didn’t find it humorous – perhaps because the situations described weren’t familiar to me. Instead I found it insightful and surprising. I was gripped throughout and thought the book did a fantastic job of showing how white people are treated in a country where the vast majority of people are black.

As for the outlying – economically as well as geographically – areas of Lagos, places such as Agege, Egbeda, Ikorodu: a good number of the inhabitants of these neighbourhoods have never held a conversation with an oyibo, never considered white people as anything more or less than historical opportunists or gullible victims, never seen red hair, green eyes, or pink nipples except on screen or paper. And so an oyibo strolling down their street is an incidence of some thrill. Not quite the excitement decibels of seeing a celebrity, but close.

I also liked the way the book explained other aspects of Nigerian culture. I finished it feeling as though I had a greater understanding of the country. Some of the terminology was new to me, but I was able to grasp the meaning of the new words via their context, and wasn’t confused in the way I have been with other books from the region.

I also liked the way the book mirrored other literary novels – similarities to The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka were especially apparent.

Overall this was an important book, dealing with a difficult subject in a refreshingly modern style. I suspect it will have more impact on those living with these prejudices, but I’d recommend it to everyone.



2013 Chunkster

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Five words from the blurb: America, Nigeria, experiences, race, relationships

I’ve enjoyed all of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s previous books and so was keen to try her new one. Americanah is very different in style and feels like a more accomplished piece of writing, but I missed the raw emotion of her earlier books.

Americanah focuses on Ifemelu, a young Nigerian woman, who moves to America. She begins a blog that highlights race issues in the country and when she returns to Nigeria we see how America has influenced her as she struggles to adapt to life back in her native country.

Adichie does a fantastic job of creating characters. I quickly felt as though I knew them personally and I loved the attention to detail. Entire scenes zinged with life and the dialogue felt natural, leading to several amusing passages.

“That not food!” Halima scoffed, looking away from the television.
“She here fifteen years, Halima,” Aisha said, as if the length of the years in America explained Ifemelu’s eating of a granola bar.

I also loved the blog entries. I thought they did a wonderful job of highlighting the differences between the treatment of blacks and whites in America. It was a wonderful device that allowed Adichie to show her skills as an essay writer to the full.

You see, in American pop culture, beautiful dark women are invisible. (The other group just as invisible is Asian men. But at least they get to be super smart).  In movies dark black women get to be the fat nice mammy or the strong, sassy, sometimes scary sidekick standing by supportively.  They get to dish out wisdom and attitude while the white woman finds love.  But they never get to be the hot woman, beautiful and desired and all. So dark black women hope Obama will change that. Oh, and dark black women are also for cleaning up Washington and getting out of Iraq and whatnot.

The main problem with the book was its length. The plot wasn’t complicated enough to justify the 470 pages and I found that I lost interest on several occasions. There were even a few points when I considered abandoning it. If you are happy to be immersed in the life one or two individuals then I’m sure you’ll love this book, but I longed for a more compelling plot.

It also lacked the emotional power of her earlier novels. I’m sure that most people will be glad that this book isn’t dominated by war and tragedy, but I found the scenes of everyday life less interesting. My experience with this book reminds me of The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides – another case where it is obvious the writer’s skill has improved (since writing Middlesex in this example), but with the increase in polish and literary depth comes less excitement.

I’m probably being overly harsh, because I was expecting so much. The writing in this book is fantastic and there is a lot to love; it just didn’t become a favourite in the way I hoped it might. Recommended to people who enjoy character driven novels.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

one of the best books I’ve read this year. Slightly Bookist

Americanah is about a lot of things, and so it eventually turns out to be about nothing in particular. Amymuses’s blog

Interesting, not compelling Ready When you Are, CB



1950s Classics

Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart (Pocket Penguin Classics)

Five words from the blurb: masterpiece, strong, man, African, awareness

Things Fall Apart has been on my book shelf for a very long time. I knew it was an important book, but it intimidated me and so I avoided reading it. I imagined it to be a complex, disturbing read and so was surprised to discover its fast pace and simplicity.

The book shows how a small African village is affected by the arrival of missionaries from Europe. We see events from the perspective of Okonkwo, a man famed for his strength, but plagued by difficulties beyond his control. His flawed character was fascinating to read about as although I didn’t warm to him I felt great sympathy for his situation.

I also loved the insight into Nigerian tribal life and now feel I have a better understanding of their culture. Achebe did a fantastic job of portraying both the English and African people in a straight-forward, non-judgemental way; allowing the reader to form their own opinion of who was in the wrong.

“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”

The ending was especially poignant and I think this is one of those books that will grow on me over time. I can see why it has become a classic and I hope that people will continue to read this book for many years to come.


I read this book for Amy’s Nigerian Independence Day Reading Project. Head over there to see many more Nigerian book recommendations.

2010 Orange Prize

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives – Lola Shoneyin

  Longlisted for 2011 Orange Prize

Five words from the blurb: polygamous, family, wives, children, Nigerian

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is set in Nigeria and gives an insight into the problems faced by women within a polygamous marriage. In a series of interwoven narratives the book tells the story of the four women married to Baba Segi, a rich patriarch. We see the strict hierarchy that exists within the family and the wives’ struggle to conceive the children that their husband demands.

The book was very easy to read – the text flowed simply and quickly. There were many humourous sections and the book retained a light tone throughout, despite some darker moments.

I loved seeing the relationships within the family change with the addition of each new wife and it was really interesting to see things from the perspective of each woman.

Iya Segi has two children. The eldest Segi, is fifteen. She is a dutiful sister to her siblings but I think she is afraid that I have come to take her place. I see anger when I offer to help the other children with homework. She doesn’t speak to me but I often see her shadow by the door.

My only complaint is that there was very little description of their surroundings. By the end of the book I felt I knew the wives really well, but I couldn’t picture their house or village at all.

Overall this was a wonderfully entertaining novel that raised many important issues. Recommended.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

….a startling but beautiful evocation of a Nigerian woman’s inner world. Lotus Reads

The author set out to expose the ugliness of polygamy. And she does achieve this but it comes at a cost to her characters. Kinna Reads

 I found myself laughing out loud at some of the episodes in the book. CardiganGirlVerity

My faith in the Orange Prize has returned. I wouldn’t have come across this book if it hadn’t been longlisted for the Orange Prize and I am very pleased that I read it. I hope my next Orange is just as rewarding.

2008 Other Prizes Recommended books

The Other Hand – Chris Cleave

 Note: This book is published as Little Bee in the US.

It has been a long time since a book has moved me to tears, and even longer since one this length (375 pages) has been compelling enough to read in a single sitting, forcing me to stay up late into the night to finish it.  

This book is one long emotional roller coaster. The horrific lows enhanced in intensity by the touching, laugh out loud highs. The poignancy of the book was increased for me, by the fact that my eldest son is a very similar age to the little four-year-old boy in the book. My son’s character is so similar to his,  so I kept picturing my family when reading the book, with moving results.

The book is set in Kingston-upon Thames, which is only a few miles from my house, further increasing my relationship with it. The story focuses on two women, one a mother leading a supposedly normal life in England; the other a young woman from Nigeria who has come to the UK seeking asylum. After meeting each other their lives are never the same again.

I won’t give away any more of the plot, but just be assured that this is going straight into my top 20 books of all time.

Highly recommended.


I have just discovered Chris Cleave’s blog and it has instantly become my favourite author blog. His humour and observations are so original. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chris Cleave becomes one of my all-time favourite authors on the publication of his next book.

Have you read this book?

Have you read a more emotional book this year? Ever?