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5 books set in Nigeria it’s worth checking out

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

With the hype surrounding the publication of The Death of Vivek Oji and its recent German translation, it might be easy to forget to put Akwaeke Emezi’s first novel Freshwater on your reading list in case you missed it when it came out. Freshwater sees Emezi already grappling with many of the questions of gender identity that appear likely to form an integral part of their body of writing. In Freshwater, Emezi artfully disrupts established Western discourses of medical science and mental health, as well as prescriptive notions of the gender binary. They do this in the body of the main character Ada, made up of no singular, coherent ‘self’, but of multiple brothersister selves. For the innovative things it does with its conceptualisation of subjectivity and gender, Freshwater is very much worth checking out. There’s a full review here.

Dangerous Love by Ben Okri

Booker-Prize-winner Ben Okri’s Dangerous Love follows the story of Omovo, whose life is held together by his art and his love for the beautiful but already married Ifeyiwa – the dangerous love of the title. The novel is set in Lagos, and in the context of a Nigeria still grappling with the traces of the violence of the Biafran War as well as the ongoing legacies of colonialism. Omovo’s work as a painter serves as a vehicle and manifestation of his personal growth, as act of empowerment and resistance. We published a review of it here.

“What to do when your child brings home a Mami Wata” by Chikodili Emelumadu

Chikodili Emelumadu is probably not the most famous name on this list, but she’s an up-and-coming writer of some talent. Born in Britain and raised in Nigeria, Emelumadu was a finalist for last year’s Caine Prize with her mock-instruction manual “What to do when your child brings home a Mami Wata.” Presented as a satirical “How to”, the piece advises parents on how to tackle the situation should their offspring bring home a Mami Wata – a water spirit who often appears in the form of an attractive but ultimately dangerous woman (though male Mami Watas, the text indicates, also exist). Evidently a tongue-in-cheek take also on homophobic attitudes to same-sex relationships, this beautifully executed piece of writing packs a sense of humour along with its punch. At poco.lit., we wrote about it here.

The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta

Acclaimed Nigerian-born novelist Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood, first published in 1979, is one of her most famous novels, and something of a classic of African literature. The novel allows readers to accompany Nnu Ego in the story of her life in Nigeria in the first half of the 20th century. Nnu Ego’s path meanders from rural beginnings to life in bustling Lagos, incorporating the woes of losing a child, the fear of infertility and the experiences of joy that motherhood brings her. All the while, the novel’s protagonist’s story is embedded in Nigeria’s grappling with colonialism and a rapidly changing socio-cultural context. Emecheta is sharp in her critique of both British imperialism and patriarchal structures. You can find a full review here.

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

I’ll confess to this one being my favourite on this list. Not for nothing is Nnedi Okorafor widely granted the status of being at the forefront of African speculative fiction, and her 2014 novel Lagoon is deservedly widely read and appreciated. Set in Lagos, the story imagines the arrival of aliens off the coast of the African metropolis. The drama and action that ensue make for a rough and tumble ride through what is both sophisticatedly executed genre fiction, and an intelligent deconstruction of established modes of science fiction as produced by white men. It contests exclusionary discourses of colonial knowledge production in animating indigenous epistemologies that are able to co-exist with the superior alien technology. And it does all these complex things in a way that makes for a totally enjoyable (if sometimes gruesome) read. We published a review of it here.

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