”The only time something is wrong in Nigeria is when you’re caught.”
i struggled at the beginning of this book. short chapters with many characters coupled with my limited reading time meant that i was having to start-and-stop this a lot, and every time i picked it back up, i would have forgotten the differentiating details between the characters and their backstories were blurring, but once everyone actually got to lagos and their separate stories started to become one story, things not only got easier, they got excellent.
first and foremost: lagos. onuzo does an excellent job ‘welcoming’ a reader to the city of her birth, displaying it, dissecting it, bursting her story up out of as many different aspects as possible to give an exuberant cross-section of the flavors of the city and the attitudes of its people. as much as it makes me cringe to use a cliché, lagos is as much a character as chike or isoken.
as for the human characters, they’re a marvelously mismatched bunch of travelers shaped by fate and circumstances into an unlikely family; rough around the edges, but essentially decent and well-meaning. it’s basically The Breakfast Club scenario, where people from different experiences and opportunities are forced into close quarters for an extended period of time during which their differences become less apparent and working towards a common goal reveals how alike they are and how much they have to offer one another and yadda.
it’s less wonderfully cheesy than an 80s movie, but there’s a sweetly optimistic vibe to this that sets it apart from other novels i’ve read set in lagos, a city of crime and struggle that rewards creative ingenuity but leaves many trampled in the streets. (meant figuratively, but in the “traffic cop” scenes, it can also apply literally)
this group of strangers meet while in transitional stages of their lives—leaving something painful in their rearview for the bustling anonymity of lagos and its possibilities, before becoming caught up in someone else’s crime and presented with the opportunity to choose between self-interest and altruism.
not as gritty as i usually prefer, but not all sweetness and light, either. she’s got a really strong voice and i’m unquestionably going to get my hands on whatever she does next.
Bravery was to dash out of the bomb shelter and grab the child left crying on the veranda. Courage was to go to the stream the day after a bomb had scattered your friend on that path because water must be fetched to sustain the life that was left. Everyone saw bravery but courage was in secret.