A Nigerian man wakes up white in Barrett’s (Love Is Power, or Something Like That, 2013) satirical update on Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.
The morning of a job interview, Furo Wariboko arises to find he’s become white overnight, this in a modest section of Lagos where many residents have “never seen red hair, green eyes, or pink nipples except on screen and on paper.” Unwilling to face his parents, with whom he lives, he sneaks off to Haba!, a company that sells business books, where he's promptly hired as a marketing executive, despite only applying to become a salesperson. Soon he's living with Syreeta—a suspiciously generous woman who, Furo suspects, knows “the going value of a white man in Lagos”—and conspiring to obtain a new passport, necessary to start work. Barrett is at his best depicting small moments of racial unease: a fraught negotiation with a cab driver who assumes Furo has more money than he does, a back and forth with a clothing salesman that becomes dramatically less strained once it’s revealed Furo speaks “pidgin like a trueborn Nigerian.” But too often the plot isn’t as rich as the premise. Furo’s dealings with a writer, conspicuously named Igoni and suffering identity problems of his own, end up distracting from the main story rather than complementing it. A promising twist involving Furo’s sister’s burgeoning career as a Twitter personality is abandoned too quickly. Most frustrating, Barrett waits until the novel’s final third for Furo to begin his new job, a tactical error given the rich opportunities for conflict that emerge once he’s there. Still, Barrett’s prose is consistently entertaining, and though the ending leaves something to be desired, readers will have plenty of fun getting there.
The story doesn’t quite live up to its brilliant premise, but readers in search of an incisive observer of contemporary life will find one in Barrett.