Nigerian writer Ehirim's audacious debut novel follows a teenager's quest for self-definition in a country in search of itself.
In a prologue set in 1992, the narrator, Ihechi, and his friends run into the famed Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti, who proceeds to get the foursome—which includes Mendaus, a pretentious bookworm; his stepsister, Zeenat, who doubles as Ihechi’s love interest; and a young Christian known only as Pastor’s son—drunk to the point of threatening a police officer. Ehirim then moves back to 1985 as he retraces the steps leading up to that fateful event, which encapsulates the generational and class intersections propelling the novel. Most of the adults here are fixed in their worldviews. Their children, too young to understand the circumstances that have led their parents to be so rigid, socialize with one another though they come from different backgrounds and differentiate themselves through pop culture. Zeenat communicates through movies, Pastor’s son through Scripture, and Mendaus through books. Ihechi, however, is constantly seeking meaning and remains distant due to his banker father’s business relationship with the government and his mother’s religious fanaticism. These poles gesture toward what Ihechi sees as the underpinnings of Nigerian society: corruption and traditionalism. Fela, a musician who encouraged traditional African lifestyles and religions while being arrested hundreds of times for criticizing the Nigerian government, develops into the perfect centerpiece to represent both the cross-cultural appeal of music and Ihechi’s emotional confusion as a child. The next time the foursome sees Fela, a military crackdown leaves Zeenat dead; Mendaus radicalized; and Ihechi’s mother fearful for her son’s impressionable spirit. She sends him away to live with his uncle and cousins, Pentecostals who look down on him—though it turns out that Ihechi’s cousin Tessy is sneaking out at night to work in a brothel. Through her connections, Ihechi winds up working for a major general in Nigeria’s army, setting the stage for a confrontation with his childhood friends that forces him to reckon with what both he and his country have become.
Told in beautifully evocative prose, a panoramic novel showing that the price of growing beyond one’s origins might be steeper than anticipated.