Sefi Atta first caught the attention of the literary world with her award-winning story collection, News From Home. This, her third novel, once again explores Nigerian mores and people in transit between cultures.
Deola, a 39-year-old single woman is at a crossroads in life – unfulfilled at work, based in London while pining for Lagos, and uncomfortably aware of her biological clock ticking. Despite her troubled inner life, Deola is all poise and sangfroid in public, and the writing style matches the character.
A novel devoid of histrionics, major crises and mind-bending twists is a rare beast these days. But Sefi Atta is onto something. The characters, the patois, the social interactions that touch on race, class and generational differences are all brilliantly observed and Atta’s unerring eye – and ear – are served well by her understated style.
Deola is a sympathetic heroine – smart but not too smart, and self-aware. The scenes of her at work – she appraises organizations to see whether they are worthy of charity donations – are subtly compelling, and the depictions of her relationships with friends and family are also handled with a masterly lack of sentimentality. I also enjoyed the development with the enigmatic Wale, a charming Nigerian businessman who will play a central role in Deola’s life.
Ultimately, it’s the narrative voice – calm and shrewd – that makes this novel stand out. A quiet book but a powerful one.