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BOOK REVIEW: BLACKASS (Igoni Barrett)


Book cover- Amazon.com


Imagine what it feels like to be white-skinned, and thrust at the centre of a city like Lagos, one of the most populous cities in Africa, where foreigners are common in some parts, but rare in most. The protagonist, Furo, a Nigerian from the Niger Delta wakes up suddenly one day to find himself, for some reason, a white man. He tries to cope with this new identity, as it charts a whole new course for his life to follow. Because of this newfound ‘advantage’, opportunities open up to him abundantly, yet the whiteness was not without its own challenges, for example, being automatically assumed for a wealthy person, or being stared at incessantly.

There’s a catch. Though the protagonist is now white-skinned, his buttocks remain black, to his embarrassment and annoyance. He tries to deal with this problem in various ways, yet without success. To the normal observer, Furo looks like an average ‘oyibo’ (foreigner). Yet, the presence of his blackass remains to serve as a reminder of his actual identity.

We watch another character, Igoni, also transform in identity, though in a different way from Furo’s transformation. At the climax of the story, the secrets of both their identities are thrust out from underneath the entire unreal-ness- the story that had explored who they ‘were’, circled back to who they really ‘are’.

This is a book on misplaced identity, a confusion of who a person is, versus who they want to be instead. Change is never total or complete. A tiny part, of who one actually is, still remains in them, however hidden. The writer has addressed two examples of differences in physical appearance that many people in the world today aspire to. It was like he said, “Fine. You want to be this? Okay, lets say you are like this. This is what people like this face in Nigeria (a more specific setting, Lagos). This is the kind of life they live, the kind of trouble they run into, the opportunities they get. Would you give up your identity for this?”

Even though the plot was light, and could only sustain so much building-upon, making the story got tedious at some point, the author infused humour to sustain the attention of his readers.

Barrett’s style of writing is fresh and different. The writer writes this story from a unique angle, different from common pro-African, anti-white themes, yet not without that style, that slant that says, ‘Africa is not all about poverty’. Here, to buttress his point, through Syreeta, he puts the lives of the very rich in Lagos in a display case for us, the readers to see, thus showing us, rather than telling- a very fundamental writing principle.

Seun Ajijala

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