In Ihejirika’s multifaceted debut novel, the death of a dictator shakes up the denizens of an apartment complex in Lagos, Nigeria.
It’s June 1998, and Sani Abacha, the “dark-goggled” leader of Nigeria’s military dictatorship, has died. That event has consequences for the inhabitants of the apartments at 1998 New Nigeria Road. They represent the diverse ethnic, religious and economic groups within their country and have either benefited or suffered under Abacha’s regime. Now, these businessmen, criminals, students, servants, spouses and mistresses must each evaluate the personal ramifications of the power shift as democracy threatens to overturn the status quo. As eight narrators tell their tales of survival in a corrupt system, readers are treated to the recent history of Africa’s most populous nation. The stories focus on the trials of attempting to do right by one’s people, one’s family and oneself. In one tale, a pimp of high-end escorts wonders if the incoming government’s ministers will have the same taste for companionship as those of the old. In another, a conflicted public relations wizard, thrilled at the promise of a new order, may have to flee the country because of the work he did for the previous one. Ihejirika masterfully presents the complex systems of patronage, exploitation and outright theft that exist at all levels of society. He illustrates his characters’ harsh pragmatism with sympathetic exactness even as he continually reminds readers of the idealism that lies dormant within them. The prose does have a distracting fondness for American idioms, and earlier chapters sometimes feel bogged down by exposition. The casual style of narration also works against the tension of some storylines. Ihejirika often relies on concluding twists to illuminate his chapters, which yields moments that are either wonderful or predictable. At his best, however, he presents characters of moral complexity that are suited to their times and suggests that they can only begin to evolve when confronted with the startling fact that their system is moving on without them.
A novel in stories that oscillates between ordinariness and brilliance.