Author: Chibundu Onuzo
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Year of publication: 2012
Number of pages: 286
This story has two main characters. On the one hand is seventeen year old Abike Johnson the favourite daughter of a very rich fellow living in Lagos, Nigeria. Her life is a very high end affair and as you read you can see that she is being groomed by her father for big things. This is with her daily game that she plays with her dad she calls “Frustration” which is a series of tests that started when she was ten and he ran over a dog that has been following her around. Instead of wailing like the child she asked the driver to run over it again shocking her dad. Thus begins a daily battle of wits between Johnson the father and the daughter. She lives in her father’s mansion with her nine other siblings, from other mothers and a battery of staff.
Then there is Runner G who is a hawker on the mean streets of Lagos. He makes a living selling his wares: first sweets then ice cream on the streets to support his sister Joke and his mother. His family was doing pretty well when his accountant father was alive but things went really wrong when the family lost the father to a car accident. The worst part of that is that the family had been living beyond their means for years so when dad died they have to move down in life. Runner G had to leave his private school and start learning at a government school. Eventually he left that school and started life on the streets. Mostly because the mother was numbed by poverty and had near lost her mind.
The two characters meet one fateful morning when they are going about their business. She is being driven around and he is selling. After selling her ice cream they start a “friendship” (that the word for romance on the continent no?) that will test both of them in ways neither of them had ever anticipated.
The thing I loved about this book was that the prose is so clean. Its a story well told and well crafted by the writer. Her characters are very life like and I can relate to these characters’ lives in their hectic West African city.
We see Nigeria in all of its glory and gory. The book shows the lengths that people in Lagos who are looking to improve their lot in life will go to. It emerges for instance that a beggar paid someone to cut of his hand so that he can ply his trade profitably; try and imagine that kind of commitment in our Nairobi begging community.
Its not just the pain that people go through. It shows the people of Lagos in motion; chatting about the Arsenal match that didn’t work out so well. Talking about pregnancy where we see the importance of children in that society.
We also see how the culture of money has affected Nigerian society. The rich kids talk about how the American universities they go to and the discussions are about the fact that the more expensive it is the more important they are in society. It affects even those that are less well off. Joke who has lived a not very affluent life still knows that she wants to go on her first date with a boy at the most expensive restaurant. The more expensive the more the person loves you. I’m seeing that happening more in my own Kenya society.
My only beef with this book? The writer Chibundu Onuzo was born in 1991 and the book came out in 2012. That means that she was 21 when her debut novel first hit the stores. How can you be this brilliant at this age? I is jealous!