A glimpse into the insular world of upper-class Nigeria during the mid-1970s.
Remi Lawal is a middle-aged shop owner living in the exclusive Ikoyi neighborhood of Lagos in 1976. When she meets Frances Cooke, an American art dealer who has come to Nigeria to collect beads that are seemingly valuable to everyone but Nigerians, it begins a series of tête-à-têtes between the two in which Remi describes life among Nigeria’s elite while Frances offers comparatively little about herself. What looms over Remi’s descriptions of Nigerian life, however, is the question of whether Frances is a CIA agent, an idea initially floated by Remi’s husband, Tunde, a banker who has recently been “retired” from his government job due to a military coup. Despite Tunde’s understandable suspicions, Remi is unconvinced and proceeds to invite Frances into her inner circle, wherein larger questions of colonialism, marriage, motherhood, and Nigerian identity are interwoven with the everyday occurrences that make up Remi’s rather privileged life. Unfortunately, the award-winning Atta (A Bit of Difference, 2012), though meticulous in rehearsing the various maneuvers that have gotten Nigeria to this moment, overburdens the first half of the novel with details of Remi’s daily life that could have been left on the cutting-room floor. The novel doesn’t really find its legs until the second half, when it finally crescendos with yet another coup and an incident at a golf club, in which Frances plays a key role, which could rival a reality-TV show starring bored and moneyed housewives.
Despite the fascinating combination of post–civil war Nigeria and good gossip, Atta’s novel can’t quite overcome the ennui that dominates the life of its main character.