An American Booksellers Association Indie Next Pick
Selected to Best of Summer Reading Lists by Parade, Elle, NYLON, PopSugar, The Millions, PureWow, Women.com, Hearst Media, Bitch Media, Read it Forward “Storylines and twists abound. But action is secondary to atmosphere: Onuzo excels at evoking a stratified city, where society weddings feature ‘ice sculptures as cold as the unmarried belles’ and thugs write tidy receipts for kickbacks extorted from homeless travelers.” The New Yorker When army officer Chike Ameobi is ordered to kill innocent civilians, he knows it is time to desert his post. As he travels toward Lagos with Yemi, his junior officer, and into the heart of a political scandal involving Nigeria’s education minister, Chike becomes the leader of a new platoon, a band of runaways who share his desire for a different kind of life. Among them is Fineboy, a fighter with a rebel group, desperate to pursue his dream of becoming a radio DJ; Isoken, a 16-year-old girl whose father is thought to have been killed by rebels; and the beautiful Oma, escaping a wealthy, abusive husband. Full of humor and heart, Welcome to Lagos is a high-spirited novel about aspirations and escape, innocence and corruption. It offers a provocative portrait of contemporary Nigeria that marks the arrival in the United States of an extraordinary young writer.
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Evening swept through the Delta: half an hour of mauve before the sky bruised to black. It was Chike Ameobi’s twelfth month as an oﬃcer in Bayelsa, twelve months on the barren army base. His ﬁrst sight of the base had been on an evening like this, bumping through miles of bush, leaves pushing through the open window, insects ﬂying up his nostrils and down the dark passages of his ears. They came to a clearing of burnt soil with charred stumps still rooted in it. Out of this desolation had risen the grey walls of his new home. Later, he would note the birds perched on the loops of barbed wire wheeling round the base. He would spot the garganeys and ruﬀs gliding through the sky, their long migration from Europe almost over.
He had grown quite fond of the canteen he was making his way to now, a low, squat building with thick plastic sheets tacked to the windows, the walls crumbling with damp. Oﬃcers and lower ranks sauntered into the building in an assortment of mufti: woollen bobble hats and black T-shirts, wrappers knotted over the arm or tied round the waist, the slovenly slap of slippers ﬂip-ﬂopping their way inside.
Colonel Benatari sat by the door, watching the soldiers ﬁle past. Chike’s commanding oﬃcer was a stocky box of a man, his bulk ﬁlling the head of his table. The most senior oﬃcers on the base ﬂanked the Colonel. They ate from a private stash of food cooked separately in the kitchen. There was always a struggle to clear the Colonel’s table, lower ranks jostling for the remnants of fresh ﬁsh and the dregs of wine left over in the bell-shaped crystal glasses.
Chike threaded his way through the hall, edging past square wooden tables and round plastic ones, past benches, stools and armless chairs, no piece of furniture matched to another. His platoon was already seated.
He was in charge of twenty-three men, charged to lead them in battle and inspect their kit, to see to their hygiene and personal grooming. They were all still in uniform, not a single button undone. When he sat down, they stretched their hands, the clenched ﬁsts of their salutes blooming like doorknobs on each wrist. The conversation did not stop.
‘O boy, you see Tina today? That her bobby.’v
‘What of her nyash?’
‘I go beat am.’
‘Nah me go beat am ﬁrst.’
‘You think she go ’gree for you?’
‘Why she no go ’gree?’
Tina was a new kitchen worker. His men could talk of little else these days. Chike too had opinions on whether Tina was more beautiful than Ọmọtọla but he knew not to add to these conversations. If he spoke, they would listen politely and then continue, a column of ants marching round a boulder.
Still he ate dinner with them instead of joining the junior oﬃcers’ table. He felt an oﬃcer should know the men he was in charge of even though these soldiers under his command would rather not be known. They obeyed his orders but questions about their lives and families were met with a silent hostility. His only friend was Private Yẹmi Ọkẹ, the lowest-ranked man in his platoon, now seated next to him and eating his beans without bothering to pick out the weevils. It was the fourth day in a row they were eating beans and dodo but Yẹmi did not seem to mind.
‘Did you shoot today?’ Chike whispered to him. ‘No.’
‘Good. Meet me by the generator hut when you ﬁnish.’ There were a few slices of dodo left on Chike’s plate, overripe and soggy with oil. Yẹmi would eat them before coming. Chike left the canteen and went outside to wait for his friend.