Lagos is one of the biggest cities in Africa, and a prime destination for anyone visiting the continent. Lagos, with a population of over 20 million from various walks of life, is truly the melting pot of Nigeria. Like any ‘Big City’, it is where everyone comes to ‘make it’, and therefore it is a perfect location for a novel. Whilst one might compare Lagos to New York or London, or any other big city in the world but there are many unique features that make this city stand out from the crowd. Here are 10 books set in Lagos that will help you to begin to uncover the riches this city has to offer:
1. Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle
Easy Motion Tourist gets its name from a popular song by Nigerian musician Fatai Rolling Dollar. This thriller centres on the Lagos crime scene, prostitution, ritual killing/ body parts trade and the incompetence of the police. Amaka, our heroine runs an organisation which caters to the safety of call girls in Lagos. She holds a directory of all the men who solicit the services of these girls, she knows what they like and who is dangerous. Guy is a British journalist who has come to Lagos to cover the upcoming elections. But when a dead woman’s body is found at a club, Amaka enrols Guy to work with her in order to get to the bottom of it all. This novel gives a real and raw depiction of Nigeria’s most notorious city.
2. Graceland by Chris Abani
Chris Abani takes us through the coming of age of a young boy, Elvis living in Maroko, one of Lagos’ slums. In this novel, we are taken through Elvis’ life, moving between his life in the village of Afikpo and his life in Lagos; the people he comes in contact with and the underlying political unrest in the late 70s and early 80s. We watch him get mixed up with a few shady arrangements and gets involved is some drug trafficking and other criminal activities as he tries to find his place in the world.
3. Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria by Noo Saro-Wiwa
Looking for Transwonderland reads like a travel journal by a tourist. Noo Saro-Wiwa travels through Lagos, Ibadan, Abuja, Port-Harcourt, cities in Nigeria, and describes her journey with observations of the everyday life of the Nigerian. The blaring noise, chaos and filth in Lagos, are well-described here. This book highlights everything that is wrong with Nigeria, but also praises the things that unite us as Nigerians. If you’re planning to take a trip to Lagos, read this as an introductory course to Africa’s most populous city.
4. The Baron of Broad Street by El Nukoya
The Baron of Broad Street tells the story of two friends: Disun and Ige, who while growing up in the slums of Lagos decide that they want a different life. Ige chooses the fast route, convinced that the only way out of their condition is through crime, while Disun determined to beat the odds of his simple upbringing, ends up at a bank on the famous Broad Street of Lagos Island. The story travels from the slums of Makoko, on the banks of the Lagos Lagoon to Broad Street, the other side of the bridge, Lagos’s commercial hub, mentioning a few other key parts of Lagos such as the University of Lagos and Ikoyi.
5. Blackass by A Igoni Barrett
What would you do if you woke up one day to find that your skin was now white?
The book begins with Furo Wariboko, a young unemployed graduate who wakes up one morning to find that his black Nigerian skin has become white. His entire life changes with his appearance as he learns of and experiences all the privilege and challenges that come with being a white man in Lagos. A Igoni Barrett uses Furo’s transformation to take us through the city of Lagos, the mainland-island contrast, with the rich on one side, living a different reality from the people on the other side. It’s a funny story of a funny man.
6. Swallow by Sefi Atta
Swallow is set in mid 80s Lagos as Tolani and her roommate Rose go about their ordinary lives working on the other side of town at a bank until Rose slaps her boss and gets suspended. The two ladies are offered the opportunity to change their lives by trafficking drugs. The novel takes us through the “austerity measures” era in Nigeria and the military government’s War Against Indiscipline. We’re also given a glimpse into the life of Tolani’s mother and her spirit through flashbacks and dreams.
7. Love’s Persuasion by Ola Awonubi – romance in Lagos
Love’s persuasion is the story of lovebirds Tony, a returnee who’s come to take over his father’s company in Lagos, and Ada an employee at the company. Tony and Ada come from two different socioeconomic backgrounds and live in completely different areas of the city, but somehow manage to find a shared connection in their love for books. This leads them find a way to be together against their differences and odds.
8. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Americanah is an amazing book which spans 3 continents, over 2 decades and a great number of issues including race politics in America and hair. However, it is in Lagos that we watch Obinze and Ifemelu’s love story begin as young teenagers in secondary school. We get a glimpse into Lagos life in the wake of eager Pentecostalism, the military government in the late 80s and early 90s, Ifemelu’s Aunt’s affair with a General and two adolescents falling in love. Americanah returns to Lagos later in the 2000s, to a different Lagos which has grown to accommodate the changing lifestyles of the people; one with malls, fancy restaurants, cinemas and returnees who constantly carry around water bottles.
9. Everything Good Will Come by Sefi Atta
Everything Good Will Come is set in Lagos across many decades, from Enitan, the main character’s school years in Lagos to her return to Lagos, working at her father’s law firm post-university in England. We follow the lives of Enitan and her friend Sheri, best friends with very different realities. We see Enitan become a political activist amidst the wrongful imprisonment of her father while dealing with the gender roles attributed to a wife. The book also explores different Lagos neighbourhoods and aspects of Lagos society and the roles women play in it.
10. Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
I’m not sure that there are many Science Fiction novels set in Lagos, but here is Lagoon by Nnnedi Okorafor, author of Akata Witch and Zahrah the Windseeker. Aliens invade Lagos as their point of first contact through the Lagos Lagoon. The events occur around the lives of 3 principal characters Adaora, a biologist, Agu a soldier and Anthony, a famous rapper, as they interact with Ayodele, the representative of the aliens. Much of the novel draws on a lot of mythical creatures and traditional gods and superpowers that make this novel different from the cliche science fiction novel. There’s a lot of Pidgin English and local dialect writing so make sure to use the glossary when reading.
Is your fave missing from the list? Let us know in the comments below.