Book Review: Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo

Welcome to Lagos

I’ve been reading a ton of books by Asian authors this year, and have been enjoyed many of them. However, reading them has made me realize just how many places I have never read a book about. One of those places is Nigeria, which is why I was thrilled to stumble across this book at my trusty library. I won’t say this book is perfect, but it is the first book I have read which was set in Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria, and threw me into a world I was fascinated to learn more about.

Release: Jan. 2017

Synopsis: Chike Ameobi is a Nigerien soldier who deserts the army after refusing to kill innocent people and sets out for Lagos to lose himself in the massive city. On the way, he is joined by four companions: an army private who was in the army with him, a rebel, a hurt young woman, and a runaway abused wife. As they reach the city, however, they are drawn up in a convoluted plot of embezzlement and corruption as a journalist attempts to find truth behind lies.

Review:

I have mixed feelings about this book (why do I seem to start off every review I do with a similar statement?). On one hand, the setting is brilliantly done. I always felt immersed in the lush world and culture of Nigeria, even though I have never been to Lagos. I could hear the sounds, smell the smells, taste the food. I could imagine the filth and poverty, the danger and hurt. If I was judging this book merely for the setting, I could easily give this book five stars. However, a book is not just its setting. Some of the characters, especially Chike and the journalist Bakare, were interesting, but many of the characters fell into simple boxes. The plot was slow-moving, and I expected more action or plot progression to accompany watching the characters as they live their daily lives. But I never felt that interested in what was happening in the story.

Many of the characters felt as if they are thrown in to hold some particular position in the group. For example, Fineboy is introduced as a militant working against the government, constantly thinking of himself and no one else. He brings conflict to the group. His character never grows or moves past that, for better or for worse. In real life, Every person is always changing, whether they are learning to be a better person or sinking further into selfishness. Similarly, many of the characters took the same route. They were introduced as one sort of person and remained that way for the rest of the book. The only character I honestly saw change in was Bakare the journalist, who wasn’t one of the main characters.

Similarly, the plot didn’t really seem to go anywhere. A few things changed and one character died, but that’s about it. I never felt like the plot was making any progress or showing deep change in the world or characters. It was just there.

The writing style also felt a bit…crude. Onuzo did not shy away from describing body parts, or crass language. Everything was very…amoral and yet immoral at the same time. It is strange to describe. For example, the characters would simply talk about a woman’s breast, with little respect, even the supposedly moral characters. And yet the story constantly told us that those characters were good in a cruel world. Saying that, I understand that Nigeria is a very different culture, with different mores and norms, but I just didn’t like some of the crude language or word choice.

The one thing I cannot fault this book for was the deep cultural examination. From religious contexts (like Christian undertones of the society) and cultural issues (like poverty and corruption), the world felt detailed and realistic. I never felt overwhelmed by being thrown into a confusing world so different from the middle America I call home. Everything is flawlessly woven into the story as to not feel confusing but to still convey a world with similarities and differences of its own.

I could easily recommend this book merely for its setting, even though I wasn’t a fan of the plot and characters. In the end, I gave it three out for five stars. It’s not horrible, but I wanted more from the story itself.

Have you heard of this book? Who are some of your favorite African writers? I’d love to hear if you know of any books set in Africa, because I’d love to read more. Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo

  1. Great review. I have heard of this book, but because of some mixed reviews I read I decided not to read it at that point. I do not mind “plotless” books if the author has some other exciting idea to justify it. But it sounds like in this one merely portraying life in Lagos is not enough. Talking about books set in Nigeria, I am eager to read “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, which is considered “a modern classic” and “a masterpiece”. I shelved it to read it this coming November.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll have to look up “Things Fall Apart” because I do want to read more books set in Africa. As for this one, I don’t mind “plotless” books sometimes either, but this one just didn’t have enough to keep me interested. You’re probably wise for not reading it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Never heard of it. My only literary experience of Africa are the Tarzan stories of Edgar Rice Borroughs, which don’t count because ERB’s dark continent, while entertaining, is mostly a construct of his imagination. The few tales of H. Rider Haggard I’ve read provided a little more genuine view of Africa. He at least spent some years on said continent and used his experiences and observations to detail and color his tales.

    On the surface, WELCOME TO LAGOS reminds me of SHANTARAM by Gregory David Roberts, a perfect novel, if ever the modern day produced one. It’s setting is Mumbai in all of its exotic and gory glory. The book’s cast of characters, minor and major, are all as richly detailed as the city in which they scheme and dream, live, love and die. Some might consider the novel’s plot to be slow moving, but I dare say, they would be suffering from stunted attention spans. To this day, it remains the only book of which I could say that it made me laugh and cry – repeatedly.

    I recommend it every chance I get.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I tried reading Tarzan…I couldn’t get through the first book. But King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard is one of my favorites! The detail of Africa really comes through in the book. I haven’t heard of Shantaram. I’ll have to check it out.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve rarely ever read a book set in Africa, too, if I’m honest. That’s probably something I should put more effort into – actively looking for diverse settings! But, kind of like you, when I do get to a book set in a very foreign region, I absolutely love learning about the place! It’s not really a recommendation, but recently I continued on with the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, and the fourth book was set in Africa – that sequel is now one of my favourite book ever, and the setting is part of the reason why!

    Liked by 1 person

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