THE PLOT: The narrator returns to Lagos after living in the United States for several years. He is struck by the corruption in Nigeria and each chapter is a vignette of how corruption infiltrates every level. As he speaks with family and friends, explores some old haunts and new, creative enterprises, the narrator debates whether to return for good.
RATING: This book is more like a personal essay than a novel, which is why I’m only giving it three stars. I’ve seen it described as a novel or novella in different places, but I’m not convinced it meets the criteria. There isn’t really a narrative – it’s like a tour guide through Lagos explaining the key sights, as well as the modern customs and nature of Nigerian people.
GOOD BITS: It was a quick, easy read that made me reflect on my personal recollections of Lagos. The descriptions of the city were rich and I thought about the flourish in arts and culture since my first trip (I was around 10 years old), as well as the all-pervasive corruption that plagues the city.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: The musings in the book weren’t groundbreaking. It felt like they fed into the idea that Nigeria needs to imitate Western countries in their arts and culture (classical music lessons at Muson, privileging jazz above reggaeton, the need for more bookstores). Although there was a lot of insight into the problems with Nigeria (over reliance on imports, lack of infrastructure, poorly paid public servants leading to demands for bribes) there was an overriding feeling that ‘west is best’ which slightly irked me.
OVERALL: I’m not sure if I’d recommend this book, although I’d still read Teju Cole’s other novel Open City. I’d really like to know what other Nigerians think of Teju Cole, particularly those born and bred in Lagos.