Sunday, July 20, 2014

(Nigerian) book review

My apologies, but I just haven't been feeling inspired lately. Or at least, not inspired to write. At least I've been reading a lot though!

And all that downtime I spent reading shouldn't go to waste! I thought I'd share my thoughts on the Nigerian books I've read so far, particularly for those who might be thinking of bidding on Nigeria or who just want to get a broader sense of the culture than what you'd get on TV.

So here are my book reviews - somewhat limited by the fact that I only have so much time for reading and I also kind of like to read books that aren't about Nigeria.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

This is the first and only book that I'm reviewing that I read before I knew I was coming to Nigeria. I almost wish I'd waited because I think I would have noticed more and read a little closer. I remember thinking at the time 'Wow, Nigeria is depressing'. The story mostly centers on a man named Okonkwo and his struggles in the village. I think I'll reread this someday. I recommend it.
The Trouble with Nigeria by Chinua Achebe
I promise I didn't go out looking for a book that picks on Nigeria, but it was in the CLO library and it was nice and short, and by a Nigerian author, so I checked it out. It is by no means one of Achebe's more famous books, but it was worth a read. It turned out to be thought-provoking, particularly because the troubles that Chinua Achebe sees with Nigeria are solidly not the same as the troubles that struck me on first glance. Of course, there is the age-old issue of leadership and political culture but me and Mr. Achebe have different feelings about Nigerian driving skills (see my earlier post about how driving here has been an inspiration for me) and part of me thinks he places too much responsibility for problems on leaders and not enough on the people who are supposed to be keeping those leaders accountable. Anyway, it also got me thinking what he would have written if the book were instead 'The Trouble with America'. (I'm guessing there would have been a lot more pages in that one! Kind of makes you humble, no?)
Ake: The Years of Childhood by Wole Soyinka

This book - by the Nobel Prize winner (who I actually got to see in person earlier this year) - offered a lot of insight into Nigerian culture and family life. It's basically just his autobiography up until he leaves home for boarding school. One of the reviewers on Amazon talked about how it gives a 'flavor' of Nigerian life, and I'd say that's about right. Until reading books like this I really had no idea about the spiritual and traditional beliefs that coexist with all the modern trappings of Nigeria. I recommend it and I'm hoping to read more by Soyinka when I get the chance.

I Do Not Come to You by Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

This one hits particularly close to home. It's about a 419 scammer (419 is the section of Nigerian law that covers fraud, and 419 scams are something I deal with ALL day, every day as an ACS officer in Lagos). I found it interesting, if not exactly a classic, though the ending drove me crazy. Recommended if you're coming to Lagos, especially if you'll be doing consular work.
The Famished Road by Ben Okri

My friends will laugh about me including this, because I've mentioned so many times how much I disliked reading it, but darn it, I want to get some credit for this slog!

So, full disclosure, I thought it was boring and the phrase 'self-indulgent' would probably be best to describe my feelings on the writing style. That said, it echoed a lot of the spiritual/traditional themes from Ake and it certainly did give me some insight into Nigeria, so it wasn't all bad. If you like more mystical writing you may enjoy this one.

My other issue with this one, beyond the style, is that the story was just infuriating. THIS book could really have been the one titled 'the Trouble with Nigeria' as riots and poverty and drinking problems and violence are pretty much the whole story.

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This is a collection of short stories. It was ok. And as a bonus, there's a short story called 'The US Embassy'. It is not about a heroic visa officer struggling under the crush of humanity that is the visa line - which is unfortunate, because I think that could be a great short story.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Another by the same author - this one is about the Biafran war. Having heard almost nothing about this conflict before I found out that I was coming to Nigeria I found it interesting. Most of my friends didn't care for it, but I thought it was pretty well-written. If you are looking for something different about the war, try Chinua Achebe's There was a Country.  I do want to see the movie sometime but I'll have to wait until I get back to the states since it's been censored here.
There are still a number of other books I'd like to read by Nigerian authors. We'll see how many I get to (I do have my hands full with Game of Thrones after all) and how many I can actually track down here. Ironically I end up buying most of these on Amazon because book stores are few and far between in Lagos.
Also, I realize there isn't really much non-fiction on the list. What can I say? In my experience, the things I want to know about a foreign country are best discovered through the stories of the people who call that country home.
So on that note, happy reading!

1 comment:

  1. totally know how you feel by "not being inspired lately"! Have been reading so much but totally unmotivated to write. wondering if it's just that point in the tour or what? Also started some home leave planning last week and echo your feelings about looking ahead... still doing our best to be all here since I'm sure time in shenyang is fleeting. just started adiche's americanah this weekend and really love it. Looking forward to seeing you at FSI in 2015!