SWALLOW by Sefi Atta


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Atta (Everything Good Will Come, 2007) focuses on two women fighting against sexual harassment and trying to make a meaningful life in Nigeria.

Rose and Tolani (the novel’s narrator) share both a friendship and a workplace—a bank in Lagos—but at the beginning of the novel, Rose is sacked for refusing the advances of the repulsive Mr. Salako, a senior manager. While Rose is somewhat relieved to be out of an awkward situation, she’s mortified when Tolani is named to her position—and Tolani also finds herself harassed by the relentless Salako. Rose is fundamentally unhappy being Nigerian and instead wishes “she had been born in Czechoslovakia because the name sounded sophisticated.” Besides Salako, Tolani has problems with her lover Sanwo, who can’t quite commit either to a job or to her. She wants to give him an ultimatum that she hopes will result in marriage, but she’s fearful of the possible consequences because she finds it hard to imagine her life without him. Meanwhile, the increasingly desperate Rose takes up with OC, recently returned from a successful yet mysterious business deal in America. OC’s sleaziness makes Tolani uneasy, and her friendship with Rose—like her relationship with Sanwo—begins to falter. Tolani’s intuitions about OC turn out to be correct, for he’s a drug dealer who wants to use them both as mules to transport heroin in condoms to the States. Neither Rose nor Tolani can quite get the hang of swallowing the undigestible packages, and Tolani eventually decides on moral grounds that she doesn’t want to be exploited in this way. In increasingly distressed financial condition, Rose winds up being OC’s drug courier but dies when the package “explodes” inside her. By the end of the narrative, Tolani, who comes from a small Yoruba village, decides that life in Lagos is too wretched and corrupt, so she returns home to her mother, looking to start afresh—and include Sanwo in her future.

Atta writes lyrically and eloquently about ordinary life.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56656-833-3
Page count: 296pp
Publisher: Interlink
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2010


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