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Welcome to Lagos
2018
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Evening swept through the Delta: half an hour of mauve before the sky bruised to black. It was Chike Ameobi's twelfth month as an officer in Bayelsa, twelve months on the barren army base. His first sight of the base had been on an evening like this, bumping through miles of bush, leaves pushing through the open window, insects flying up his nostrils and down the dark passages of his ears. They came to a clearing of burnt soil with charred stumps still rooted in it. Out of this desolation had risen the grey walls of his new home. Later, he would note the birds perched on the loops of barbed wire wheeling round the base. He would spot the garganeys and ruffs gliding through the sky, their long migration from Europe almost over. He had grown quite fond of the canteen he was making his way to now, a low, squat building with thick plastic sheets tacked to the windows, the walls crumbling with damp. Officers and lower ranks sauntered into the building in an assortment of mufti: woollen bobble hats and black T-shirts, wrappers knotted over the arm or tied round the waist, the slovenly slap of slippers flip-flopping their way inside. Colonel Benatari sat by the door, watching the soldiers file past. Chike's commanding officer was a stocky box of a man, his bulk filling the head of his table. The most senior officers on the base flanked the Colonel. They ate from a private stash of food cooked separately in the kitchen. There was always a struggle to clear the Colonel's table, lower ranks jostling for the remnants of fresh fish and the dregs of wine left over in the bell-shaped crystal glasses. Chike threaded his way through the hall, edging past square wooden tables and round plastic ones, past benches, stools and armless chairs, no piece of furniture matched to another. His platoon was already seated.He was in charge of twenty-three men, charged to lead them in battle and inspect their kit, to see to their hygiene and personal grooming. They were all still in uniform, not a single button undone. When he sat down, they stretched their hands, the clenched fists of their salutes blooming like doorknobs on each wrist. The conversation did not stop. 'O boy, you see Tina today? That her bobby.'v 'What of her nyash?' 'Like drum.' 'I go beat am.' 'Nah me go beat am first.' 'You think she go 'gree for you?' 'Why she no go 'gree?' Tina was a new kitchen worker. His men could talk of little else these days. Chike too had opinions on whether Tina was more beautiful than Ọmọtọla but he knew not to add to these conversations. If he spoke, they would listen politely and then continue, a column of ants marching round a boulder. Still he ate dinner with them instead of joining the junior officers' table. He felt an officer should know the men he was in charge of even though these soldiers under his command would rather not be known. They obeyed his orders but questions about their lives and families were met with a silent hostility. His only friend was Private Yẹmi Ọkẹ, the lowest-ranked man in his platoon, now seated next to him and eating his beans without bothering to pick out the weevils. It was the fourth day in a row they were eating beans and dodo but Yẹmi did not seem to mind. 'Did you shoot today?' Chike whispered to him. 'No.' 'Good. Meet me by the generator hut when you finish.' There were a few slices of dodo left on Chike's plate, overripe and soggy with oil. Yẹmi would eat them before coming. Chike left the canteen and went outside to wait for his friend. Excerpted from Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
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  New York Times Review

CERTAIN CITIES - New York, London, Paris, Berlin - are commonly associated with the drama of self-exploration. Their stories, at the center of countless novels, plays and films, are familiar, their terrain well-worn. In comparison, postcolonial cities feel fresh, the landscape of their literary and artistic production ripe with potential. And with that their narratives continue to change, not just in how they are told but in who does the telling and to whom. "Welcome to Lagos," the American debut of Chibundu Onuzo, a Nigerian writer whose previous novel, "The Spider King's Daughter," won Britain's Betty Trask Award, offers an earnest - though at times frustratingly frenetic - portrait of Nigeria's sprawling metropolis. The book opens in the Niger Delta, with an army officer, Chike Ameobi, and his friend Pvt. Yemi Oke, who are tired of killing civilians in the name of an obscure national mission. Chike is a serious man with "a rigid morality underlying his mildness"; despite his self-proclaimed agnosticism, he finds solace in the Bible. Yemi, on the other hand, remains a mystery for much of the novel and his quiet demeanor is often mistaken for stupidity. During yet another violent raid on a village, the two men abandon their posts and head for Lagos. On the way, they encounter Fineboy, a clever young man obsessed with honing his radio voice; a recently orphaned young woman named Isoken; and Oma, who is running from her abusive husband and oppressive life. The five form a kind of family, each hoping to fashion a different, if not altogether new, life. Lagos comes most alive early in the novel, when survival is the group's only concern. Their walks through the streets, attempts to find jobs and search for makeshift lodging give Onuzo an opportunity to provide colorful commentary on the city. The crew's first home, under a bridge, offers a view of hawkers who "sauntered by, holding their wares to passing traffic while traders sat beside fresh fruit and vegetables, waiting for customers to beckon," and "thin, agile conductors" who hang from moving minibuses, "calling for passengers." A near accident with a motorcycle snaps Chike out of a daydream and reminds him that "Lagos would kill you if you wasted time on yesterday." Nostalgia is a luxury he can't afford. Unfortunately, in the second half of the book, Onuzo sacrifices meditative sketches of the city to narrative momentum. Characters initially thought to be minor - like Ahmed, the idealistic editor of a Nigerian newspaper, and Chief Sandayo, the former minister of education, on the run after stealing $10 million from the government - play larger roles after colliding with Chike's ragtag crew. As Onuzo attempts to juggle the stories of these individuals (and many others), the novel abandons its portrait of Lagos in favor of fastpaced comedy. When the members of the group place Sandayo under citizen's arrest, they decide to donate his money anonymously to schools across Nigeria. Yet this good deed is interrupted when Sandayo leaks information about government corruption to Ahmed, turning a regional story into an international political scandal. But despite the blunders, missteps and excessive plot twists of "Welcome to Lagos," its dialogue rings true. Conversations between Onuzo's characters move fluidly between Igbo, Yoruba, pidgin and English, demonstrating her skilled ear. In a scene where Sandayo tries to bond with Yemi over their shared Yoruba heritage, the dialogue reinforces their differences and loyalties: "It's like he didn't really like the dancing," Sandayo says, referring to Yemi and Chike's job controlling traffic. "Nah so he talk? He no sabi better thing," Yemi replies. "Of course. The two of you won't be able to see eye to eye. Iru ore wo l'omo Yoruba nse pelu omo Ibo?" To the uninitiated, the complexity of Lagos can seem like chaos. But, as Teju Cole wrote in his novel "Every Day Is for the Thief," this is a city dense with stories: "All I have to do is prod gently, and people open up. And that literary texture, of lives full of unpredictable narrative, is what appeals." Like any city, Lagos is evolving, shedding old stories for new ones told by those who understand its contours and see beyond "a self-effacing sprawl that makes no sense," as the poet John Koethe foolishly wrote in 1945. A steady stream of writers, from Cole to Chris Abani and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, has kept the city's depiction in capable hands, with each attempt to render its image feeling more evocative than the last. Navigating these urban landscapes requires a willingness to experiment with the delicate interplay of individual stories while preserving the city's character. "Welcome to Lagos" starts this way, but by the end Onuzo has split her narrative into too many parts. The band of characters we met at the beginning has been lost in the crowd. LOVIA GYARKYE is on the editorial staff of the Book Review.

  Publishers Weekly Review

In her winning U.S. debut, Onuzo anatomizes a tumultuous city and its inhabitants, from street hustlers to well-connected government ministers. Seeking refuge in the metropolis for various reasons, several Nigerian travelers group up en route to Lagos, including morally upright army deserter Chike; swaggering teenage militant Fineboy; well-to-do Oma, who is fleeing her abusive husband; and a precocious but traumatized girl, Isoken. These characters form a family of sorts as they are welcomed to Lagos coolly, obliged to live in a homeless encampment before settling in an unoccupied house. There they encounter someone desperately trying to leave Lagos: an education minister who has gone into hiding with $10 million meant for Nigeria's schools. What to do with the minister, and more important, with his money? Onuzo's representation of Lagos as "a carnivore of a city that swallowed even bones" is often unromantic, but she also criticizes how the city is represented, or misrepresented, by Westerners: "Scandal, murder, intrigue. Quintessential African politics," thinks one BBC correspondent covering the minister's story. Onuzo's briskly plotted novel is a rewarding exploration of the limits of idealism and transparency against widespread cynicism and corruption. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Summary
An Official Belletrist Book Pick <br> An American Booksellers Association Indie Next Pick <br> Selected to Best of Summer Reading Lists by Parade , Elle , NYLON , PopSugar , The Millions , PureWow , Women.com, Hearst Media, Bitch Media, Read it Forward "Storylines and twists abound. But action is secondary to atmosphere: Onuzo excels at evoking a stratified city, where society weddings feature 'ice sculptures as cold as the unmarried belles' and thugs write tidy receipts for kickbacks extorted from homeless travelers." -- The New Yorker <p>When army officer Chike Ameobi is ordered to kill innocent civilians, he knows it is time to desert his post. As he travels toward Lagos with Yemi, his junior officer, and into the heart of a political scandal involving Nigeria's education minister, Chike becomes the leader of a new platoon, a band of runaways who share his desire for a different kind of life. Among them is Fineboy, a fighter with a rebel group, desperate to pursue his dream of becoming a radio DJ; Isoken, a 16-year-old girl whose father is thought to have been killed by rebels; and the beautiful Oma, escaping a wealthy, abusive husband.</p> <p>Full of humor and heart, Welcome to Lagos is a high-spirited novel about aspirations and escape, innocence and corruption. It offers a provocative portrait of contemporary Nigeria that marks the arrival in the United States of an extraordinary young writer.</p>
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