Davis (Shifting Through Neutral, 2005) explores the ambivalent, often troubling experiences of African-Americans in Africa through the lens of a young woman who, having grown up during the civil rights upheavals of the 1960s and ’70s, struggles to find her place in the world during the less idealistic '80s.
Angie is at loose ends after graduating from Wayne State University in 1986. Her encounter with a Nigerian man who knew her oldest sister, Ella, during her student-activist days in Detroit a decade earlier stirs up Angie’s memories of growing up the youngest of three girls in a middle-class family: not only the way she idolized brilliant but dangerously obsessive Ella, seven years her senior and their father’s favorite before his early death of a heart attack; but also the havoc Ella wreaked on the family when she fell into drug addiction after dropping out of the University of Michigan. After Ella finally went clean, she and her boyfriend, Nigel, traveled to Nigeria, where she seemed to create a wonderful life as a journalist until she was fatally struck by a car while crossing the street shortly before Angie graduated from high school. Angie is still wallowing in her sister’s death. Now, over the objections of her mother, Angie decides to visit Nigeria to retrace Ella’s final days. She doesn't find the pan-African paradise she imagined from Ella’s letters. She's excited to find black people in charge, but her naïve, self-absorbed idealism is shaken by the squalor and the corruption she keeps finding, not to mention her own physical discomfort away from American creature comforts. Finally she finds Nigel, who helps Angie know the real Ella and frees her to envision her own future.
The difficult intellectual questions Davis raises about personal identity and an African-American's relation to contemporary Africa are particularly resonant given Nigeria’s current woes.