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Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo

Welcome to Lagos - Chibundu Onuzo

This is an interesting book, generally fun and humorous but also inconsistent in plotting and tone; the author is young and probably still finding her feet. It begins with two young men deserting the Nigerian army after being asked to participate in the massacre of a Niger Delta village; on their way to Lagos to start a new life, they attract a motley crew including a well-off woman fleeing an abusive marriage, a teenage girl who has just lost her parents, and a young man chasing his dream to be a radio producer. The five band together and are struggling to make ends meet when their paths cross with a corrupt ex-government minister, toting a stolen $20 million.

Initially this book reminded me of I Do Not Come to You by Chance, as a lighthearted portrayal of serious issues in Nigeria. But I think this book is not quite as good. And perhaps it isn’t even intended to be lighthearted; it seems that way due to its short chapters and optimistic, rather superficial portrayal of the motley band that soon comes to form a sort of family, but its ending is sobering enough to make me wonder if the author intended something more serious all along.

Unfortunately, its plotting also suffers, especially in the second half, where a large chunk of pages are spent on drama among journalists. I only really cared about our original band of five and what would become of them and the ex-minister, and the romance between two journalists and rivalry between another two – almost all of these people not introduced until the second half of the book, and most of them not Nigerian – felt like an intrusion in a book that wasn’t about them. But all this takes a significant amount of pages away from the principals, and leaves our original main characters to be carried along by others’ actions as we lose track of them in the crowd.

Still, this was enjoyable enough and a quick read. It’s a confidently Nigerian book, with some characters speaking in pidgin, and with the author not stopping to explain historical and cultural references. It has a strong and vibrant sense of place, and a quickly moving plot with a lot of dialogue. You could do worse, but the unevenness makes it hard to recommend.