WELCOME TO LAGOS
Chibundu Onuzo, Catapult (MAY) Hardcover $26 (304pp), 978-1-936787-80-7
Welcome to Lagos, Chibundu Onuzo’s US debut, follows an unlikely group of Nigerians bound together by circumstance. As their lives converge, five travelers from the Niger Delta are thrown together with two of Nigeria’s privileged class; high class or low, all of them must survive Lagos itself.
In the Niger Delta, Chike Ameobi and Yemi Oke, two disaffected soldiers, desert their post. Fleeing, they pick up the human detritus of their actions: Fineboy, a young rebel soldier, and Isoken, the teenage orphan he may have tried to rape. Spotted as deserters, they’re forced to take these two witnesses to Lagos, too.
A fellow traveler, Oma, helps them find a hotel. She stays too. They’ve arrived, but suddenly they’re five. Meanwhile, the tides are shifting among Lagos’s elite. While the minister of education, Chief Sandayo, decides he won’t go quietly if he’s replaced, the Nigerian Journal‘s editor in chief, Ahmed Bakare, wants to combat the country’s stagnant corruption. Soon, Lagos will bring them together for a moment that subverts and confirms everything they’ve ever known.
Lagos as a framing device illustrates the shifting, often tenuous connections between the public and private lives of Nigeria’s citizenry, and the specificity of Onuzo’s details fully embodies each character. Both concordance and witness to the story of its people, from the wealthy elite to those disappearing into the anonymous darkness found under its bridges, Lagos is full of “[big] cars, models you would never see anywhere else in Nigeria. Large houses. Money everywhere. And under these fantastic stories of riches, always a layer of unease: of daylight robberies and mysterious disappearances.”
Threaded with a buoyant despair, Welcome to Lagos is a “rationale to explain a world that never got better. Despite one’s best efforts, despite one’s highest hopes: the world did not change.”