Noir comes to Africa.
Abani’s introduction promises that these 13 mostly new stories—Nnedi Okorafor’s “Showlogo” already appeared in an earlier version, as did the introduction—will reveal “much more truth at the heart of this tremendous city than any guidebook, TV show, film, or book you are likely to find.” That claim is doubly disingenuous, since (1) the whole premise of Akashic’s far-flung series, that noir is different from place to place, encourages genre tourism in exotic locales, and (2) this is, in fact, a book. So what does it reveal about Lagos? For better or worse, pretty much what you already suspected. A. Igoni Barrett’s “Just Ignore and Try to Endure” and editor Abani’s “Killer Ape” emphasize the perilously narrow frontier between humans and animals. Jude Dibia’s “What They Did That Night” and Adebola Rayo’s “What Are You Going to Do?” sketch bureaucratic corruption so deep that it’s an unblinking fact of life. The family units in Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s “The Swimming Pool,” Onyinye Ihezukwu’s “For Baby, for Three,” Uche Okonkwo’s “Eden,” and Wale Lawal’s “Joy” intensify rather than providing respite from the pervasive darkness. Chika Unigwe’s “Heaven’s Gate” and Leye Adenle’s “Uncle Sam” suggest that foreign visitors to Nigeria are advised to watch themselves and their surroundings very carefully indeed. E.C. Osondu’s “The Walking Stick” provides a reminder that some mysteries just aren’t meant to be solved. And Pemi Aguda’s “Choir Boy,” perhaps the most evocative of all these stories, presents a deeply shamed robbery victim’s portrait of an even more devastated victim. In nearly every case, noir’s ritualistic revelation of evil fits surprisingly well in a city of tragically diminished expectations.
Nor should you think for a minute that Lagos has a corner on African noir. Akashic has Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Accra, and Marrakech waiting in the wings.