Title: Welcome to Lagos
Author: Chibundu Onuzo
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars
“Welcome to Lagos” is a delightful read. It is about strangers who meet on a bus – from different walks of life and end up sharing their burdens, their hopes and above all their fears as they enter Lagos. They are runaways from Bayelsa and all in search of a better life. It wouldn’t have mattered where the story of this book would have been set. The beauty of the book lies in its plot and structure. It could have been any city. Onuzo chose a city that is close to her heart – where she grew up – Lagos and it comes through stunningly in this book.
There are moments of joy and then there are those tragic moments in this book that make you want to jump in and hug those characters. To tell them that it will all be okay and things aren’t so bad. The book is political to a very large extent as well, but what sets it apart from the other books on Lagos (fiction and non-fiction) is that there is a lot of soul and heart in this one. Onuzo portrays her hometown’s history and situation lucidly through her characters’ eyes.
Chike, a soldier who has deserted an army unit after being disillusioned by his commanding officer. There is Fineboy, a militant who is more interested in radio and deals than violence. Isoken – a woman who has lost her family and come too close to losing her autonomy. Oma, a wife who is fleeing her husband and Yemi, Chike’s right-hand man who is an illiterate and yet is deeply rooted to his country’s welfare and history. These are the five characters that Onuzo introduces us to and makes the fabric of their lives intricately connected to ours. These renegades prefer to go about their lives quietly and yet as their paths converge with that of an unwilling benefactor, the story turns itself on its head.
There is endurance of spirit in the book. A lot of compassion between characters for each other which I loved the most. Lagos’s vibrancy, cultural exuberance and the tribal traditions are succinctly brought out in Onuzo’s writing. The book is graceful, almost soft in its approach. There is violence for sure, but Onuzo shows us the Nigeria that she belongs to, the Nigeria her characters belong to and how they go about life and love in all the conflict that is within.