this is a science fiction novel in which aliens descend upon lagos. i have read plenty of african fiction, but this is the first time extraterrestrial life has ever been a part of the story. fortunately for sci-fi noob me, the aliens are not metallic chitinous types toting advanced weaponry, and the story has more of a folktale feel to it than anything more traditionally spaceshippy. since folktales frequently make their way into african fiction, or any other culture’s fiction where there is an emphasis upon oral tradition, it was not terribly jarring for me to get into the swing of this story.
and like most folktales, this story is a little allegorical twist that simultaneously tells its alien invasion story alongside the story of modern lagos; its social ills and potential, and the strength and failings of its people.
the aliens in this case set up camp under the sea. strange aquatic species begin to appear in the waters, sonic booms fill the air, and a wave crashes over the beach. three people are taken by this wave, four are returned. adaora is a marine biologist, anthony is a celebrated rap sensation from ghana, and agu is a soldier. these people were chosen to become intermediaries between the aliens and the humans, and the fourth body that washes out of the wave is one of the aliens themselves – a shapeshifting being who takes the form of a human woman, named ayodele by adaora, after a childhood friend.
the four of them go back to adaora’s home, where she has a lab set up, and they run tests and begin to plan their next steps. ayodele’s promises of peace and security are undermined as more people begin to find out about her presence – religious groups fear her and accuse her of being a marine witch, the military wants to destroy the aliens, the local drug lords want to kidnap her for profit, and the lgbt community wants to use her as a spokesperson. add to this adaora’s husband’s jealousy, a sick president, various crimes where people are taking advantage of the chaos to loot and riot, and things just aren’t going to go as planned.
there are many different voices in this novel. some appear for only a chapter or two, and some recur with greater frequency. some chapters are narrated by creatures like spiders or swordfish, and some chapters end with the death of its narrator. it gets a little confusing to have this mishmash of perspectives, and the story itself kind of balloons out past what is comfortable or recognizable as a cohesive narrative, and there are parts in dialect (helpfully translated at the end, discovered too late for me to have used it during my reading) but it’s hard not to like for all of its confusion.
it’s more of a celebration than a story – a shining a spotlight on the many different elements that make up a city, and how all these conflicting elements would appear to an outsider in all their harmonious disarray. even when i was unsure where the story was taking me, i enjoyed being enfolded in it, so i will definitely check out more of her work.
if that’s not enough for you, there is a road. and it eats people.