5 Books Set in Nigeria That We Love

5 Books Set in Nigeria That We Love

Tuesday, 24 November, 2020

Located on the west coast of Africa, Nigeria is a country of fascinating extremes. One in every six Africans is Nigerian, and there are more than 500 languages spoken there.

The capital Lagos is the megacity of futuristic dreams — a colorful parade of markets, nightlife, music, and the second-largest film industry in the world.

Perhaps surprisingly, then, Nigeria inspires stories of dramatic events and emotional journeys on an all-too-human and relatable scale.

Here are five books we love that transported us to Nigeria on the page: a gripping sci-fi-noir novel, an evocative travelogue, a darkly comic story of sisterly love, a multi-generational family saga featuring Nigerian cuisine, and the tale of a village girl on a quest for an education.

To hear us discuss these books and more, listen to our podcast Nigeria: Jollof Rice, Nigerian Pidgin, and So Much Hustle.


My Sister, the Serial Killer - Oyinkan Braithwaite

My Sister, the Serial Killer
> Oyinkan Braithwaite

The setup is right there in the title: one sister kills her boyfriends when they become problematic, and the other (long-suffering) sister bails her out over and over again.

But buckle up! This smart, snappy, fast-paced literary thriller is not really a serial-killer story, nor is it a crime novel. Instead, it’s an astute and moving (and darkly funny) investigation of what we’ll do for the people we love.

Ayoola, our killer, is the exact opposite of her sister. She’s flirty and curvy and bubbly with a devil-may-care attitude (which you might expect from a serial killer). Korede is her dark-mirror opposite: angular, responsible, less confident.

In streamlined, percussive prose, this novel subtly explores the culture of Lagos: the esteem for money and good looks, the oppressive heat, the social pressure, the pursuit of a good time. Let’s dance while the world burns!

As we get to know the sisters, we watch them bicker and make up, deal with messy murders, and endure a love triangle. Slowly, we also learn their history and how they became the women they are. {more}

It takes a whole lot longer to dispose of a body than to dispose of a soul, especially if you don’t want to leave any evidence of foul play. But my eyes kept darting to the slumped corpse, propped up against the wall. I wouldn’t be able to do a thorough job until his body was elsewhere. — Oyinkan Braithwaite

Looking for Transwonderland - Noo Saro-Wiwa

Looking for Transwonderland
> Noo Saro-Wiwa

Born in Nigeria and raised in the UK, journalist Noo Saro-Wiwa returned to her homeland to make peace with its riotous chaos and her brutal personal history. The result is this sharp mashup of travelogue, memoir, and history — a guided tour (with a sardonic host) to the best and worst Nigeria has to offer.

The word ‘intrepid’ is apt here, as Saro-Wiwa travels throughout the country, experiencing and documenting it all. (And surrendering herself to questionable modes of transport, including public busses with aisle-based preachers, hair-raising motorcycle taxis called okada, and rides with strangers in assorted cars and trucks.) Her journey begins in Lagos, a city that ‘never failed to deliver buttock-clenching excitement’ and, on her way to the broken-down amusement park of the title, continues through beautiful mountains, a surreal dog show, Christian churches, and the film sets of Nollywood.

It’s a complicated homecoming, shaped both by her memories and her new experiences. She shows us Nigeria through her eyes. These are no rose-colored glasses, but in the end, there is an acceptance of Nigeria’s complexities and an appreciation of its people — loud, proud, energetic, and enterprising. {more}

As a teenager, I virtually had to be escorted by the ankles onto a Nigeria Airways flight at the start of the holidays, not only because I wanted to avoid all that airport angst, but also because i didn’t want to reach the ultimate destination. Having to spend those two months in my unglamourous, godforsaken motherland with its penchant for noise and disorder felt like a punishment… I would arrive at an airport that hadn’t been refurbished in twenty years. The humid viscous air, pointlessly stirred by sleeping ceiling fans, would smother me like a pillow and gave a foretaste of the decrepitude and discomfort that lay ahead. — Noo Saro-Wiwa

The Girl with the Louding Voice - Abi Daré

Adunni is the remarkable heroine of this coming-of-age story set in a Nigerian village called Ikati and a mansion in Lagos. More than anything, Adunni wants to read, to think, to get an education so she can become a teacher. To help other girls. To save all their lives.

When we meet her, she’s just 14 years old and has been promised in marriage — to a taxi driver three times her age with two wives already — by her good-for-nothing father. In exchange for sacrificing his daughter, her father gets a bride price — to pay his rent, buy a better couch, treat himself to a new TV.

Adunni falls victim to a series of unfortunate circumstances and soon finds herself in indentured servitude. The Lagos mansion with tile floors, mirrored walls, and a tall fence to keep out the world may be posh, but rot and corruption are rampant in this outwardly pristine estate. Observant and curious beyond good sense, Adunni learns more about how the world works than a teenager should know. But she also finds allies who help forge a path toward the future she deserves.

Author Abi Daré possesses a masterful and magical gift for conveying awful events and simultaneously making us believe it will be OK. That’s in no small part due to the character of Adunni, a small girl with backbone, faith in herself, and a fire in her heart. {more}

I rub my chest, where the too many questions is causing a sore, climb to my feets with a sigh, and walk to the window. Outside, the moon is red, hanging too low the sky, be as if God pluck out His angry eye and throw it inside our compound. — Abi Daré

Rosewater - Tade Thompson

> Tade Thompson

This novel – set in Lagos, Nigeria, and the fictional village of Rosewater — is a nifty combination of sci-fi and noir with a powerhouse (anti)hero. Set in the near-future of 2066, it’s a tale of alien invasion. But forget everything you know about alien invasion stories.

These aliens are not little green men; they’re microscopic fungal spores, some of which live in a biodome. It’s a place for healing and hope, so it’s become a refuge for the helpless, a pilgrimage for the faithful — and a source of suspicion for the wary.

At the center of the story is Kaaro, a former criminal and current agent for a secret government organization that takes advantage of his unique ability to see into the minds of others. Kaaro has been inside the biodome, and he didn’t much care for the experience. Now, someone is killing off people like him, and he must defy his orders to get to the truth.

This is a carnival-ride of a book — think Blade Runner meets Afrobeat with a blast of biological apocalypse. Tade Thompson is a gifted storyteller, weaving a gripping story and subtly commenting on the trauma of colonization and government interference. {more}

I can read minds, but I still don’t understand women. Or men. Humans. I don’t understand humans. — Tade Thompson

Butter Honey Pig Bread - Francesca Ekwuyasi

Butter Honey Pig Bread
> Francesca Ekwuyasi

This glorious novel is a celebration of food, family, and forgiveness. The story begins when we meet Kambirinachi. She believes that she’s an Ogbanje, a magical being that tortures its mother by being born and dying in childhood, over and over again. One day, Kamrinachi decides to ignore the voices of her ancestral kin and chooses to live. That fateful decision drives and shapes the rest of her days.

But her life is bright when she falls madly in love and gives birth to twin daughters: Taiye and Kehinde. They’re devoted to each other, as close as twins can be. But then a Very Bad Thing happens, and the family ties begin to unravel. Taiye kippers off to London. Kehinde flees to Montreal, Canada. The sisters who were so close are estranged from each other, their mother, and their home.

After more than a decade, the twins are drawn back to Lagos, to their mother’s house, and to each other — to heal, to hope, to fight, and to eat.

Francesca Ekwuyasi’s prose engages the senses; it’s almost tactile. There’s sex and food and the heat of Lagos, tension and joy, fear, tenderness. And yes, there are moments of darkness — the event that sends the girls to opposite sides of the globe is tragic. But the overall vibe of the novel is all the ways we can love each other. {more}

There were lovely things about being alive, she had to remember, like the taste of guavas. Their existence filled her with so much joy that it burst out of her in gleeful laughter. This is how she ate them: She found the sharpest knife in the kitchen, hiding it if her mother was near, the woman could shout, eh! Holding the blade as far away from her body as her thin arms would allow — because images of her throat, tattered and bloody, flashed through her mind whenever she saw a knife; knives could also be doorways — she sliced the bumpy emerald skin off, always trying and often failing to make a single long ribbon of the tart rind. After taking delicate bites of the soft pink flesh, shallow bites to leave the grainy seeds undisturbed, until the fruit became a knobby, slimy ball, she would pop the entire thing into her mouth, and spit out the fruit’s tiny seeds, one by one, all sucked clean. — Francesca Ekwuyasi

Top image courtesy of Ayoola Salako/Unsplash.

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Nigeria embodies contrasts: colorful tribal culture and the tragedy of slavery, stunning natural beauty and the megacity of Lagos, Christianity and Islam, sweet puff puffs and habanero peppers. One constant: hustle.
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